Marriage federalism

So President Obama has finally done what every­one thought he was going to do: he endorsed gay mar­riage. (Bully for him for doing it before the elec­tion. Though Biden’s loose lips basi­cally forced him to.) But there’s still an argu­ment about his qual­i­fi­ca­tion: he thinks states should be allowed to choose whether to have gay mar­riage. He’s right. (And I hope he stops evolv­ing right there.)

There are good rea­sons for let­ting states con­trol mar­riage. Marriage and fam­ily law has tra­di­tion­ally been a state issue. They have the exper­tise in this area.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not. Federal laws deal­ing with gay mar­riage gen­er­ally pig­gy­back on state laws. (This is a rea­son to ques­tion the wis­dom of DOMA.) When the fed­eral gov­ern­ment mucks around in marriage—which affects lots of related inter­ests, like adop­tion, inher­i­tance, and benefits—unforeseen issues can become incred­i­bly thorny. And while fed­eral courts could be expected to decide the issues rea­son­ably, they’re already over­bur­dened, and adding a host of fam­ily law issues will only add to that burden.

Traditional prin­ci­ples in favor of fed­er­al­ism also coun­sel let­ting states own mar­riage. The national gov­ern­ment has lim­ited pow­ers, gen­er­ally related to national wel­fare, while states are left to run their own inter­nal affairs, so long as they fol­low the Constitution and don’t intrude on national affairs. This divi­sion of sov­er­eignty puts deci­sion mak­ing power at the low­est pos­si­ble level, ensur­ing that those most affected by gov­ern­ment action don’t have to talk to some­one far away—by dis­tance, inter­ests, or beliefs—to get heard.

Apart from legal prin­ci­ples, there’s real­ity. All it takes is look­ing Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court deci­sion that legal­ized abortion—and the effects it had on America. The deci­sion ripped the issue away from the states just as many were begin­ning to come to a con­sen­sus that abor­tion should be legal in some cir­cum­stances. The mod­ern, socially con­ser­v­a­tive Republican Party can thank Roe for its exis­tence. The for­mal legal­iza­tion of abor­tion also didn’t have much effect on abor­tion access. In many states, abor­tion is effec­tively unavail­able or nearly so, thanks to oner­ous regimes. (Even sup­port­ers of Roe, like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, acknowl­edge that it went to far and poi­soned politics.)

Even if you think that mar­riage is a fun­da­men­tal right (not some­thing I agree with, even as a gay-​​marriage sup­porter), you should ask whether you think imme­di­ate, national gay mar­riage is worth another quar­ter cen­tury of pol­i­tics divided along social lines. As a gay mar­riage sup­porter dis­mayed by the state con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions around the coun­try ban­ning gay mar­riage, I still rest com­fort­ably know­ing that in 10 or 20 years, all those pro­vi­sions will be gone. Young peo­ple sup­port gay mar­riage, and as they get more power and older oppo­nents of gay mar­riage die or con­vert, the tide will shift enough for gay mar­riage to become the law of the land in every state.

Letting that process run nat­u­rally will allow our pol­i­tics to become more sane, more respect­ful. And you’ll still get what you want.

Piggybanks

Do you think your retire­ment sav­ings are safe? Don’t be so sure. Megan McArdle thinks that Congress will likely go after your Roth IRA pig­gy­bank, among other hoards.

When I look at the bud­get prob­lems we face, I’m skep­ti­cal that Congress is going to live up to its promise to keep its hands off that money.  At the very least, I’d bet that high earn­ers are going to see some sort of sur­tax on their Roth withdrawals.

Of course, I think this is true of non-​​Roth retire­ment sav­ings as well.  Ultimately, Congress is going to be faced with penal­iz­ing peo­ple who didn’t save ade­quately for retire­ment by cut­ting their ben­e­fits, or penal­iz­ing peo­ple who did save, by rais­ing taxes on their sav­ings.  For a lot of rea­sons, I expect them to err on the side of penal­iz­ing savings.

She’s adjust­ing her sav­ings accordingly.

I’ve started think­ing about sav­ing in ways that Uncle Sam won’t be tempted to touch–like pay­ing off your house early, maybe buy­ing a vaca­tion home (for cash) if you know where you’re likely to want to spend a lot of time, and doing the kind of ren­o­va­tions that save you money in the long run–better insu­la­tion, higher-​​end energy-​​efficient appli­ances, etc.  Paying now to lower your monthly costs later may have a bet­ter after-​​tax return than that “tax free” account.

But, of course, Rep. Paul Ryan finally opened the seri­ous debate about our long-​​term bud­get, and President Obama is going to fol­low with a (hope­fully) seri­ous response later this. With this debate under­way, maybe future Congress won’t feel the need to touch our piggybanks.