I'll be the first to admit it; hit men are shady. But they are shady because they are doing work that no one else wants to do, work that is, in fact, illegal. By labeling contract killing a "crime," we have obscured the fact that hit men provide a valuable service to society.

Many women find themselves trapped in unwanted marriages. Matrimony severely curtails a woman's freedom, and husbands can be unreasonably demanding. A woman in such a situation is vulnerable. She sees only one way out, and so she makes the difficult decision to kill her husband.

But the inconvenient truth is that a woman hiring a hit on her husband will likely have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, with no guarantee that the kill will actually take place. Legalizing the transaction would remove uncertainty. Hired guns could be vetted, trained, and held to professional standards of safety. No one wants a hit to go bad. Removing the threat of prosecution would drastically lower the cost of contract killings. Legalizing murder for hire would bring a sordid industry into the light.

While divorce may be an attractive alternative to murder for hire in most cases, some women do not have the emotional and financial resources to go through a divorce. A contested divorce can take more than a year to resolve. After attorneys drain the couple's finances, the woman will be left with little money to get on with her life. Additionally, a discrete and well-timed hit protects a husband from the pain of discovering that he is no longer wanted. A truly skilled assassin can take his target painlessly in an instant, without any suffering. The end of a marriage can potentially ruin a woman's life, but if her husband can be taken out quickly and cleanly, it can be a new beginning for her.

Murder for hire is an uncomfortable subject, and I personally could never order a hit. The better course is to avoid unwanted marriage in the first place. Yet this is not a decision that anyone else can make for a woman. It is her marriage; only she can decide when it must end.

I realize readers may be hesitant to endorse this proposal, but stop to consider the profound way that the legalization of abortion has taken away the stigma against a woman who wants to kill her child. Abortion was once considered murder and thus could only be obtained secretly and at great risk to women. Now, our country celebrates women who exercise their choice to kill their family members. Why shouldn't we extend this right, and give women the choice to kill their partners?

Betsy Childs is the web and publications editor of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama.

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