When it comes to marriage, what’s an atheist libertarian to do? What kind of ceremony is appropriate, and who ought to officiate? For an atheist, the obvious choice might appear to be a judge or justice-of-the-peace. But for a libertarian atheist, state idolatry is as objectionable as spiritual idolatry. Sure, libertarians recognize the existence of the state (while atheists do not recognize the existence of a god), but why go inviting the state into what is ultimately a personal commitment? And while many people, including libertarians, might choose to invoke the state’s contract-enforcement apparatus, that act is conceptually distinct from the act of wedding another person (as I argued here).
I was once briefly married. Since my wife-to-be was also an atheist (or agnostic), we opted for the justice-of-the-peace default. But I doubt I’d do that again. As we discovered during our first and only year of joint tax-filing, there are few if any benefits of legal marriage for couples without children. Indeed, we ended up paying a marriage penalty amounting to about $300 of our paltry incomes (yes, I filled out the “dummy” tax forms to find out what we would have paid if we’d been single). If I ever went down that path again, I’d be inclined to postpone the legal marriage unless and until children made it worthwhile. But without ministers or judges, what’s left? Ship captains?
Fortunately, help is on the way. This Slate article discusses the growth of “secular life ceremonies.” Most of the rituals described definitely fall on the faux-mystical side of the ledger – e.g., Celtic handfasting and summoning the spirits of North, South, East, and West to bless your union. Since when do paganism and animism count as “secular”? But at least the alternatives are growing, and that’s a good thing.