My Position on the Institution of Marriage
Marriage: An Institution Disguised as Bliss
I want to argue that marriage is a morally discriminating institution. It is masked as a joyful, happy, and harmonious celebration and congratulatory love. Marriage’s dark side lies within the societal ideals and expectations often exercised through legal and social inequalities, discrimination, patriarchy, etc. I am against the institution of marriage for numerous reasons, such as, denial of health insurance to unmarried couples, societal oppression and stigma toward unmarried couples, higher taxes for single or unmarried parents, special benefits for married couples but none for unmarried couples, etc.
There are also several cons for those heterosexuals who do marry. For example, they are often burdened with certain obligations whether it is governmental policy or not. Any burden is susceptible to stress, such as transitioning to sharing pretty much everything, and tension is more than likely to happen more than once, and—if taken to an extreme—can lead to divorce, and most judicial systems in the United States can enable the messiness of the procedure. That, in short, would become a waste, especially since our society risks it and as Dorian Solot, executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project and co-author of Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple, puts it, “We love marriage so much that 9 out of 10 of us marry in our lifetimes, and that movies that include wedding scenes sell more tickets at the box office. We place so much importance on the marriage ceremony itself that we delight in throwing the most lavish, elaborate weddings of any culture in history, spending on the average wedding nearly the amount the average American earns in a year.” (Solot 75). So why take the risk? Love does not equal marriage and if any couple truly loves each other, they should have no reason to object to establishing a written agreement of their own, for if ever they wish to separate, and especially if they have children. But what is most important is that any household, family unit, etc. can be perfectly happy and healthy without being in a traditional and conventional heterosexual marriage with or without children.
For any couple or group that decide to live together, money is often one of the first topics to be raised. Life insurance is either refused or very hard to come by for unmarried couples. Bostonian journalist, E.J. Graff tells of an instance that she and her partner, Madeline encountered when they bought a house, “…the bank required us to buy life insurance, naming each other as beneficiaries, because neither makes enough to pay the mortgage on her own. But insurers refused to issue a policy, since we have no legal relationship. Our determined insurance agent finally put us down as ‘business partners—co-owning a house—‘ and snagged us a policy.” (Graff 40). Graff also injects, “What’s common is that financial interests are always at stake—and that society uses marriage as shorthand to define who gets to share and who doesn’t.” (Graff 40). Everything from buying a house, owning a car, to obtaining health insurance—if the customers are a heterosexual married couple, they are automatically the “favored customers” given all sorts of “bonus discounts” just for obtaining a marriage certificate. Whereas unmarried couples are either “put on hold”, needlessly obligated to explain their relationship, shamed and stigmatized for not withholding a “legal” status, or are given permission in rare cases or only under restrictive regulations often with a higher tax. America is a disgusting mockery; America’s package is said to grant liberty, equality, and many other privileges to its citizens.
Groups that disapprove of non-traditional families and think a heterosexual couple with children (conceived after marriage, of course) is the absolute and only right way to live, find it justifiable. Those groups claim that it is ideal, for the best of the children, and a marriage—also equating it to success and exemplary of achieving the American Dream. Groups such as those—who hold “family” in high importance and often as a first priority—want children to be happy and to live the best possible life just as or even more so than their parents did. If that is the case, why are families who love each other dearly subjected to things such as these? “On a daily basis unmarried people are denied access to health insurance, bi-national couples are prevented from being together, partners are shut out of hospital rooms, couples are shut out of faith communities, and people lose their homes when their partner dies without a will. Groups that oppose expanding rights to unmarried people and their families base their arguments on the well-being of children and the strengthening of families. Yet their resistance functions to leave an ever-growing portion of American families out in the cold. The reality is stark: half of children today live in a family other than the one headed by their two married parents.” (Solot 80). The legal issues are almost never helpful and are very black and white when they intervene in the life of a couple or family. “Legal barriers compound the problems. Everywhere that families come into contact with the law—housing, employment, health care, insurance, taxes, immigration, adoption, pensions, social security, inheritance, and more—the legal system is oblivious to the needs and realities of unmarried families.” (Solot 77-78). Graff also states that because of those barriers, many couples choose not to marry and leaves me with the horrid question of whether America is transforming into a totalitarian government. “Some people stay away from marriage because they don’t want the state to make surgical decisions of their functioning as a couple. People who don’t want to live by the general social understanding needn’t enter the institution, or should feel free to try to change it. Certainly many of us would like to see healthcare benefits untangled from coupledom. But in any society, pluralist or otherwise, one hardly expects agreement with every social detail. Only totalitarian government is free of compromise, over time and across groups. “ (Graff 50-51).
There are ways to changing the prejudice toward those who cannot or choose not to marry. For one thing, we can simply look at our statistical data for some incentive. Solot speaks according to up-to-date statistical research, “…unmarried partners are one of the fastest-growing household types, increasing by 72% between 1990 and 2000.These unmarried partner households don’t necessarily fit the stereotype of a young, childless couple either: 41% of them include children.” (Solot 75). With that evidence, we can apply it and use it in organizations—of a wide variety of familial lifestyles—that advocate and emphasize family diversity and can expand awareness as high as state-wide and even higher as nationwide. Solot holds hope and determination that this goal be achievable, “Shifts in social support are likely to happen gradually on their own, as unmarried people and relationships become increasingly commonplace. But updating laws and policy is a more complex process. An organized grassroots lobby of unmarried people could bring change, like the War Widows of America who in the 1960s lobbied successfully to eliminate the “singles penalty” from the tax code. A high profile case of discrimination on the basis of marital status could turn legislators’ sympathies, such as the scores of surviving partners of people killed on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who are currently denied access to most survivors’ benefits. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights movement has already succeeded in expanding recognition of diverse families in a myriad of ways, and is another likely leader in the movement for fairness.” (Solot 80-81).
If Americans are doubtful of that goal to be achievable, they can certainly examine other cultures throughout the world and can be proved of that probability. Obviously traveling abroad can be very costly, but that does not, by any means, eliminate the purpose. “In the last decade marriage rates fell in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK, just to name a few. The percentage of births to unmarried parents rose in 14 of the 15 European Union countries, and is 39% or higher in a third of them. The number of unmarried parents in Japan grew 85% in the last 5 years, and in 2001 the Swiss marriage rate fell faster in a single year than it had in the previous eighty years.” (Solot 79). All sorts of cultural statistics—including those pertaining to “family”, “marriage”, etc. can be found, even through the click of a mouse.
Our treatment toward nontraditional couples or families needs reexamination. I have nothing but praise and admiration for diversity. I am an avid supporter and member of the Alternatives to Marriage Project and stand true to this quote by Ellen Key, a Swedish social feminist of the early twentieth century, “Love is moral without marriage, but marriage is immoral without love.”. Love, honesty, and happiness between anybody should be honored and celebrated. True celebration of love itself is priceless.
1) Coontz, Stephanie. 2005. Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage. New York: Viking, 2005.
2) Duff, Johnette and George G. Truitt. 1991. The Spousal Equivalent Handbook.Houston: Sunny Beach Publications, 1991.
3) Flynn, Tom. “Mixed Blessings”. Free Inquiry Magazine, November, 2003.
4) Goldman, Emma. “Marriage”. The Firebrand, July 18, 1897.
5) Graff, E.J. 1999. What is Marriage For? Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.
6) Mead, Rebecca. “Unmarital Bliss”. The New Yorker, December 2, 2002.
7) Ojeda, Auriana. 2003. The Family: Opposing Viewpoints. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Greenhaven Press, 2003.
8) Sack, Steven Mitchell. 1987. The Complete Legal Guide To Marriage, Divorce, Custody, And Living Together. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1987.
9) Stacey, Judith. 1996. In the Name of the Family: Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. Current Mood: calm