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Court rulings on unions, marriage, contraception all constrain state power

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 12:01 am

This past couple of weeks has offered a rare series of court rulings that have implications for both households and businesses, the two building blocks of our economy. I write, of course, about the rejection of Indiana's marriage rules and the Supreme Court's ruling on the forced collection of union dues and the Hobby Lobby case on inclusion of contraceptives in a company's insurance plan.

To begin, I applaud vigorously all these rulings for a simple reason that each of them limits the power of the state and vested interests. The union case is easiest to explain. While in the midst of a five-decade free fall, the American union movement has resorted to such tactics as obliging politicians to force government contractors to pay union dues. Last week the Supreme Court ended that practice, which frees workers to make choices about union affiliation without the state of Illinois forcing them.

The marriage and contraceptive rulings split many Americans across religious lines, but I think that the long sweep of history will commend both of these cases as a step forward for traditional freedoms. The best way to think about these issues is to picture in your mind the specific acts and behaviors the courts are addressing and then asking yourself a simple question. Why are we letting government decide these sorts of things for us?

The federal ruling that ended Indiana's same sex marriage ban effectively allows any adult to apply a legal veneer to a lifestyle they are already free to choose. Gay couples can live and love together and marry in many churches. Like it or not, there is argument aplenty why religious groups might favor or object to these as models for their members. Freedom allows this. But, judging by the birth announcements in my local paper – only half of the babies were born to married couples – traditional marriage is in some trouble with or without this ruling. This case should leave us all asking ourselves: Why would we let any state government dictate the ways we organize our families?

Of all these rulings, the most painful to read was the dissent in the Hobby Lobby ruling, delving as it did into arguments about conception that clearly belong as matters of conscience, not public policy. It read more like a 12th century scholastic debate than a missive of modern public policy. The majority wisely ruled that our personal beliefs follow us into our commercial lives. My advice: If you need your employer to pay for your contraceptives, don't work at Hobby Lobby. If you don't like this, don't shop there.

The hypocrisy of traditionalists opposing marriage and progressives selectively applauding morality in corporations ultimately dooms the intellectual staying power of both camps. In the end, these three court rulings were all about less government involvement in the way we organize our households and our business affairs. This is important for a freely functioning economy. History will view the marriage, union and contraceptive rulings as fundamental movement towards greater freedom – the most traditional of all our values.

Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.