The Texas Attorney General is appealing the ban on same sex marriage in DeLeon v Perry. No big surprise there – lots of people are terrified of the idea that a gay couple might enjoy the same state-sponsored benefits that heterosexual couples have had available for a hundreds of years. Yes, I said state-sponsored benefits. Did you really think that they’re worried about saving the souls of the “sinners”?

No, when it comes to laws, the real issues are mostly about who gets the benefits. In the US, those benefits include different income tax rates (though some would say this is a detriment – an irony of a tax system which is purportedly designed to encourage socially desirable behavior), community property laws (with all the good and bad that comes with them), inheritance rights, and the ability to receive social security benefits based on the spouse’s earnings, among other things.

Seriously, I don’t care whether gays get married. I want my gay friends to be as happy as my straight friends, and I believe that they should have the same rights. But ultimately, I would never recommend that they marry. Why? Two reasons.

First, because as soon as you do that, you have to take the certainty of interference of the government along with the potential of benefits down the road. For example, once you’re married, you’ll need the permission of the state to break up. Divorces cost money, and lots of property. Every time there is a divorce, both parties end up poorer. That’s partly because while they’re married, there’s a strong tendency for both of them to feel like everything they own belongs to each of them – if you divide everything you own in two, and take out some for the process, and you’re going to be a lot poorer. The only married people I know that even begin to understand their real solo net worth are those who had a lot of it before they were married. (Separate property can’t be divided on divorce. Remember that, keep it separate, and keep good records!)

Second, our vision of marriage is flawed. If you’re married by the state, it’s presumed to be forever, even though we know better. By trying to pretend that it will last forever, we automatically condemn most marriages to failure. Here’s how it happens:

A couple marries, thinking their love is eternal. But once they marry, one of two things often happens. Either one of them begins to feel that “Now that I have the girl (or guy) of my dreams, no further work is necessary.” Of course, this is the death of the relationship.

Alternatively, one of then begins to feel “OMG I’m trapped! Must Get Free Now!” That person begins working too much, drinking heavily, sleeping around or some other activity designed (consciously or otherwise) to drive the other person away. It doesn’t matter what label is on the door, they just want out. Sooner or later, they’ll get their wish, only to want back in – with someone else.

Of course, there IS an solution, but like gay marriage, it’s not recognized in Texas – yet.
The solution – contractual marriage. Like a cross between a pre-nuptial agreement and a divorce decree, the contract would state exactly who gets what when the time is up. I suggest a minimum of 1 year, maximum of 5 years, renewable only with mutual consent. It simultaneously eliminates both apathy and entrapment, and substitutes an incentive for both parties to work together to make everybody happy.

I’ve been talking about this for years, and a couple of years ago, Mexico began to experiment with it. I’m not sure how that will work out, but if it can work in ultra-Catholic Mexico, maybe Texas would try it next.