Marriage has been a hot button topic that has been worked over from many different perspectives. It is an ancient idea, but it's modern iteration is not the same as it was when this sort of institution was established. Marriage has had many faces in the thousands of years that it has been practiced. In different cultures the expectations and limitations associated with marriage vary widely. Thus while I see a large number of claims that marriage is a sanctified oath in various religious institutions, within those institutions themselves, marriage has served purposes beyond that of simply forming an official family unit. The institution of marriage is a muddied political/religious idea that has become more and more confused with added technicalities and associated meanings attributed to it over the years.
Thus I think it is about time that this institution was brought to a certain amount of clarity. Marriage has become an idea caught up in a number of different fields. Yet these different versions of what marriage is, do not necessarily coincide. The purpose of marriage in each of the respective fields that it is involved in is not really the same. In religion it is a sacred bond, while in government it is a sort of defined co-habitation with the intention of streamlining resources in order to rear children. Yet in both areas this is not functionally what happens. Marriages tend to fail relatively close to half the time. Any sort of sacred oath taken that is so readily given up is quite an insult to the religion which is supporting that oath. Then in the secular sense marriage is really not a matter of raising children. There are instances where married couples choose not to have children, and other instances where children are left to adoption when the financial resources are not available. When a marriage fails that already has children involved it only serves to make the transition more difficult since the care that was supposed to come from two parents is now taken up by one. The emotional trauma that results from this sort of event can leave animosity between the ex-husband and ex-wife for the rest of their lives.
All of these problems can be solved fairly quickly. I propose that the lawful concept of marriage be replaced. The idea of contractual unions has come up in the news on a few occasions, and has been proposed in other western nations as well. I think that this kind of union has a great deal of potential behind it. Some of the financial strains of divorce could be avoided, since in these contracts it would be necessary to establish these conditions before the union was established. Since this contract would be financially based it does not necessitate the recognition of a religious organization. The marriage would be a separate oath taken when the pairing saw fit to ensure the perpetual continuation of their financial union. Thus religious institutions would benefit from these financial unions being separate from marriage. The pairing of individuals would be able to engage in a trial period for their marriage by starting with a union of this nature. Then when they are certain that the two of them will be able to maintain a relationship in the long term they could take whatever vows their faith mandates.
Since these financial unions have nothing to do with any religion at all they would be more available to the public as a whole. They would be geared more toward resource sharing and could be engaged by parties of any gender. As they would be meant to help streamline the finances of a pairing, (or perhaps even a small grouping of people) it would help the economy as a whole. With a set amount of time in which individuals would be contractually supporting one another they would be more likely to take risks in investing their resources, and would be able to share the risk of larger investments such as buying a house or starting a business. How these gains would be split would have to be decided in the initial contract, much like a prenuptial agreement. In this case though they would be required to ensure that in the event that the contract is not renewed the termination would be fairly clear for both parties.
There will be arguments from a religious viewpoint that this will encourage unwed couples to engage in sexual acts without having received a sacramental marriage. This is a valid point from the perspective of the religious, but it is still not going to be much of a factor here. A purely financial union like this does not necessitate sexual relations, and those in a religion opposed to this do not need to copulate until they have completed whatever ceremony is required of them. It is not a wedding outside the church, since it is in fact, not a wedding at all. Furthermore those who do engage in sexual encounters in this sort of union are likely not a part of a religion that requires such ceremonies. If they are, then that is a matter between them and their faith's obligations. Those pairings that do choose to be intimate within the contract are likely pairings that would have done so anyway, regardless of whether they had been formally wed or not.
Since the financial union would be taking the place of old marriages in terms of tax benefits it would also be sensible to implement another idea of mine along with this. While it is not entirely related it is still a very important issue. The human population is very large as of the moment, and it isn't likely to get smaller unless some particularly horrendous disaster occurs. It's no secret that our expanding numbers are putting a burden on the world around us. We are demanding an increasing number of resources from our environment, and as more people seek to improve their standards of living we are slowly stripping the world of both non-renewable and renewable resources.
The very real possibility exists that we as a species may over-consume those resources we need, and then when they are no longer available we will experience a rapid decline in our population. As has been shown in the past any government which cannot feed its people, ceases to be a government. We in America lack the cultural discipline that would be required to implement a one child policy, like that in China. Even so, I personally do not hold such a restriction to be entirely moral anyway. While this is an issue of urgency there are alternatives to such an invasive intrusion into one of the most intimate details of a family unit. America's government does not have that kind of power, and in no way should it be allowed to possess it. Yet, the American government already has a very effective means of giving families incentives to have fewer children. Tax credits. The first two tax credits could be double, or even triple those of the standard tax credit. That way the first few children would be financially easier to care for.
While it is unlikely that all families would stop at only two children not all members of the population choose to procreate anyway. This way a sort of balance could be established between those who choose to reproduce and those who do not. If there is any severe discrepancy one way or another then an additional increased credit could be added, or one could be taken away. This way the government would be able to offer an advantage to those family units interested in keeping the population under control.