Turning marriage into fundamentally a private right wouldn’t be an easy task. Courts and government would still be called on to recognize and enforce contracts that a couple would enter into, and clearly some contracts — such as in a slave-master relationship — would be invalid. But instead of fighting over which marriages gain its approval, government would end the business of making distinctions for the purpose of social engineering based on whether someone was married. A flatter tax code would go a long way toward ending marriage penalties or bonuses. We would need a more sensible system of legal immigration so that fewer people would enter the country solely on the basis of spousal rights.

The current debate pits those demanding “marriage equality” against supporters of “traditional marriage.” But many Americans believe it would be better if we left matters to individuals and religious bodies. The cherished principle of separating church and state should be extended as much as possible into separating marriage and state. Ron Paul won many cheers during his 2012 presidential campaign when he declared, “I’d like to see all governments out of the marriage question. I don’t think it’s a state decision. I think it’s a religious function. I am supportive of all voluntary associations and people can call it whatever they want.”