by Jesse Galef
Cash reward up front: in all of America’s efforts to encourage and promote marriage, it’s something our government hasn’t tried. You would think that in the land of both manic capitalism and manic religiosity we would have come up with the idea first, but we were beaten to it. By whom, you ask? Iraq! And they’re putting an interesting twist on it: extra money to couples from different sects.
“After 2006, we found that mixed marriages had stopped,” said Raad Majeed Mohammed, an aide to al-Hashemi, a Sunni and one of Iraq’s two vice presidents. “The idea behind this project is that promoting love and socializing between Iraq’s people is good for the country.”
About a dozen mixed couples will take part in a mass wedding Friday and will receive their $2,000 gifts, Mohammed said. An additional 375 same-sect couples will join the celebration, but they’ll receive $750, Mohammed said. The government wants to help those cash-strapped couples in getting their start, he said.
I hope men and women don’t get engaged just because of the $2,000 offer, but the money might move wedding dates earlier. The government will pay for gowns for the women, suits for the men, and even hotel rooms for the married couples’ wedding night. Very generous of them, but I would be uncomfortable with that last part. It would be a bit like your new mother-in-law saying “I’ll just leave you two alone for a while,” before closing the door with a knowing grin on her face.
I understand the secular motivation to pay people to marry – we do it here in America, just in the form of tax deductions and legal benefits. We see value in encouraging certain committed relationships in our society (though why we don’t encourage committed same-sex relationships, I still don’t know.) The Iraqi government sees value in encouraging inter-sect relationships in an effort to heal the great divide created when we invaded.
The Iraqi government could see dividends from this. As much as I love a good logical argument, interaction in society does a better job of easing religion tension. It’s far more difficult to demonize or stereotype a group when you have friends and family in that group.
That said, this tactic would never fly in America. On constitutional grounds, it would be unacceptable for the government to decide who was or wasn’t the “right” religion to get the special benefits. The best comparison I can think of would be the US government rewarding interracial marriages during the Civil Rights movement. Put in that context, it’s a gutsy move.