Insofar as it operated through government, the marital institution was originally a means of government licensing of both sexual activities and child rearing. If you wanted to have sex or to have children, you were in a much better position if you had a license from the state. In fact you might well have needed that license, no less than you now need a license to drive. A state license was a way of ensuring that sexual activity would not be a crime; and it was difficult to adopt children outside of the marital relationship. But official marriage no longer has this role. Indeed, people now have a constitutional right to have sexual relationships even if they are not married—and people become parents, including adoptive parents, without the benefit of marriage. Now that marriage is not a legal precondition for having either sex or children, the state’s licensing role seems less important.
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