Friday, January 22, 2010

The Marriage Frame

Marriage as the ideal

Let me say this right now, I am not against marriage.

I am for people determining how best to live their lives either with someone or with themselves. Marriage has been framed as the ideal relationship situation for two adults who are not related to each other (hopefully!) and who love/care/are committed each other……..well, unless you are a part of a same sex relationship and then not so much. I cannot think of a single instance of another form of committed relationship that garners as much respect, legal protection, and federal/corporate-sponsored benefits as marriage.

If I am not mistaken, initially marriage equality was not necessarily the goal within the gay rights community. Rather it was for recognition of long-term committed relationships with regard to legal and federal/corporate benefits (ex. if Person A of a twenty year relationship was seriously ill, then Person B would be considered next of kin and therefore would be the primary contact for all medical decisions with respect to Person A if Person A was unable to make such decisions and not a member of Person A's family who has not spoken to Person A since the two became a couple). At some point the issue became marriage equality. Why? Because marriage is accepted as the ideal.

Matrimony impacts legal, social, federal, corporate, psychological, and physical facets of life and includes tax breaks, discounted health insurance premiums, disposition of property, inheritance, retirement, Medicare and social security.

Black folks need not apply?

Remember all the reports and news pieces about the demise of the black family?

Remember the reports about how young black kids thought marriage was for white people?

How can you help but notice how professional black women are being portrayed as lonely and desperate because they are not married.

Marriage…..what a concept!

Many people believe marriage practices, beliefs and traditions are unchanged since the first people married.

So not true! Over the centuries the how, why and who of marriage has changed. For example, in the 1500s the Council of Trent decided it would conduct and supervise marriage ceremonies because so many people were 'marrying' without a ceremony, witnesses, or anything. Basically, two people decided they were married; told their family, friends and neighbors and went about their married life.

Until roughly the Victorian era (in European tradition), love was not the primary motivator for marriage. Wealth, property, bloodlines, status, political alliances, etc. were the reasons families married their often-times very young daughters to middle-aged/old men. Of course, during those times women were property not people, despite all the revisionist-history movies romanticizing the period.

If we ignore the history of marriage up until let’s the 1900s then it is possible to assert (with many instances to the contrary) marriage has maintained certain traditions.

It is within this frame (hello, are you paying attention?) that current societal beliefs and practices about marriage are promulgated. Currently, matrimony is the only recognized union vested with the authority to validate relationships between a man and a woman (narrowing the scope to hetero relationships).

Let’s say a man and woman fall in love, move in together and have children. The children born to this couple are considered illegitimate, even though this couple will remain committed and faithful to each other until they are parted by death. A death, by the way, could result in child custody issues, problems with the disposition of property, as well as, inheritance issues (unless a will is in place). Clearly not being married will not impact the love and commitment of this couple. Not being married however, will greatly impact this couple since they will not be eligible for the aforementioned benefits of matrimony.

If matrimony does not protect the love relationship of the people involved, what does it protect?


If civil unions and/or domestic partnerships offered the same range of benefits as matrimony, without being called marriage, would it be sufficient to resolve the issues our hypothetical couple might face? Would such an approach follow along the lines of separate-but-equal? Would civil unions/domestic partnerships eventually be considered separate and not really equal?

I think it’s a good idea for people who are in a long term committed relationship to have the same rights, privileges, and benefits as people married. Why civil unions as opposed to marriage? Some people don’t want the church/religious ceremony. Others have problems with the traditional roles assigned to and assumptions made about the wife and the husband. Sometimes, the couple desires something more reflective of their relationship.

Since the government is already in the business (for good or ill) of sanctioning and ratifying relationships, why not put some additional options on the menu? If the goal is stable relationships wherein two committed adults provide for, protect, and nurture their children; is the one-size-fits-all template of matrimony all we can do?

That said I firmly believe being with yourself is just as valid and worthwhile as coupling of any description. Each option (being single, being committed or being married) can be affirmed without denigrating or devaluing the other options.

What about children? Let me say this right now, I am not against children!

In my own life, I made the decision not to have children without a partner/husband. Why? Because I know the presence of a loving, positive, committed partner/husband will make all the difference in the life of my child/children. Bringing a child into this world without the benefit of a stable committed relationship can encumber the child with issues of abandonment, identity, and low self-esteem, just to name a few. Yes a single mother can do a wonderful, fantastic, amazing job! My mom certainly did! However, my decision not to have children as a single woman is based on what I feel is best for my life. The opportunities available to me as far as education, career, travel, and financial security are greatly enhanced, as a single woman, without children.

To be married or not to be married, is that the question?