Marriage is a System of Privilege, Part 1: I’m a hypocrite!

Hello all! I know it’s been a long time but I am finally back with a new article that I hope tickles your fancy…

Now you may be asking yourself, “Yeah, that’s right, where the heck has she been..?” and the answer is, unfortunately, that work (you know- the kind that pays the bills) became exponentially explosive as the holidays commenced, and furthermore, immediately following those holidays, I ended up getting married and going on a little mini honeymoon.

You know what that means…. I am officially a self-acknowledged hypocrite.

You see, my stance on marriage for some years now, has been and will continue to be [albeit hypocritically], that marriage is a system of privilege and I am therefore politically [albeit hypocritically] against it. It is a system that serves to privilege one group of people (the “marrieds,” as it were) over others (the “non-marrieds”).

Think about it: What purpose does marriage serve?

*Ahem* tax break(s), health benefits, marital communication privilege, “family benefits” vis a vis children, visitation rights, residency privileges, and let’s not forget, social status, just to name a few of the many benefits, privileges, and protections afforded to married persons.

Many of you, I’m sure, will answer with a response that argues for the romantic aspect of marriage: “it’s about making that special, romantic commitment to the one you love in front of all your family and friends,” or, “it’s about taking that bond and commitment to an even more heightened level,” or perhaps, the purpose lies in one’s religious beliefs and moral doctrine.

Well, those rationales are all fine and good, but none speaks to an actual, concrete, pragmatic purpose with regard to the legal aspect of the binding social contract that is marriage. For example, if you want to get married because you want to solidify your relationship in front of all of your family and friends- you want to have that special ceremony in which you each declare your love for one another in front of all whom you care about- well you can still do that without actually going through with the whole marriage license and certificate bit. In fact, someone very close to me has recently done just that. And I’m sure I was the only person that walked away from that beautiful, emotional, and very fun wedding saying to my [then boyfriend, now husband] “That was a really, truly, wonderful wedding, but I can’t help but wonder… if those two are actually married, ya know? As in, realistically, that whole ceremony, while beautiful, means nothing legally, so it’s just kind of funny, ya know…? They could totally not be legally married for all anyone knows. I’m just saying….I wonder.”

Now I don’t mean to sound like a jerk or anything, but that’s just the way my brain thinks. Honestly, blame the UC Berkeley “question everything” analytic ethic that has been ingrained into my mind if you want, but really, that’s just me.

So, the point to that story is, as it turns out, they were not, and are still not, legally married. But as far as all of society is concerned, they are absolutely married. They are husband and wife, that’s how everyone knows them, they wear the rings, the whole deal. And if one is in the hospital you bet your ass no one is going to deny the other access to him or her because they are husband and wife. (You think anyone’s going to ask to see the marriage certificate? No. And I actually know for a fact that they have not run into this, each of them having been in the hospital for various reasons) Therefore, you can still have the ceremony, the vows, the entire romantic gala in front of all whom you hold dear without submitting to the legal system of privilege that is marriage. Even if it’s for a religious purpose, you can still make that commitment without making it “legal.” Anyone can make that commitment without making it “legal.” Hell, that’s how my partner and I had looked at it for years and why we were never really concerned with, or cared about, getting married. We were married in our heads and hearts. We were determined to get through any and all problems together and had mentally eliminated the idea of breaking up as an option. That’s how we came to buy a house together last summer.

Which is sort of how we came to get married at the tail end of 2012, too.

Yes, yes, of course we love each other and all that, but let’s face it: as stated above, from my perspective, love does not provide a valid rationale to enter into the institution of marriage. Where love is concerned, two emotionally committed people, such as my husband and I, do not need it. It serves no purpose for us. Our bond and commitment is strong either way. We’re good. That’s not to say that we’re above, or better, than anyone else, but as aforementioned, being politically in conflict with the institution myself, my choice was to say, “thanks, but no thanks,” and my partner was okay with that.

Furthermore, it’s purpose is clearly not to protect the sanctity or strength of two people’s “love”. If that was the case divorce probably wouldn’t be allowed, or there would at least be some kind of quick litmus test to make sure the two people entering into this powerful, yet ridiculously easily obtainable contract, were somehow fit to do so*- maybe a quick quiz to make sure they just know one another’s last names or something…? Oh, but that’s right, they have to recite each other’s full names during the vows, so I guess that covers it! Nevermind!

Returning back to my valid rationale for getting married: privilege.

We had bought a house together. And come tax season, the whole home ownership tax situation would be a whole hell of a lot easier if we were married….

Not to mention, no longer being a law student, with my student health insurance about to expire…

Privileges, Benefits, and Protections…

…benefitting one group of people over another.

I implore you to just think about this. Think about it in this way. It doesn’t mean demonizing marriage or those who are married. It just means critically analyzing a certain social institution. <— Go ahead and expand your mind with a little Lisa Duggan action. She calls for an abolishment of marriage… And in it’s place, a new system of legally recognized partnership(s) that is more inclusive and pragmatic. I know, I know, so very liberal, so very leftist, so very radical… But if you’re curious about such ostensibly radical ideas, I suggest you check her out. Who knows, it may not actually seem that radical at all.

*I am not really advocating some kind of standardized test as a pre-qualifier for two people that want to get married, nor am I implying that any two people that end up getting divorced were probably never fit to be together in the first place. Every couple is different, and most importantly, both of those ideas are dumb.

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6 comments

  1. Great post! Yes, and what privileges are not available to the person who is “single” but still has loved ones in their life (like their sister!) that they would like to legally take care of? Health benefits, tax benefits… these are only for conjugal couples. Gay marriage does not solve the issue that “family” means different things to different people, the singles included.

  2. Very interesting. In Australia, you don’t have to be married to have the privileges of a married person, but you do have to be in a heterosexual relationship. When I broke up with my partner (not husband) of 12 years, we were treated the same as a married couple but without the requirement (and cost) for an actual divorce. Once you have lived with someone for 24months you are considered to be legally partnered. Therefore I have never had a need to get married. But each to their own.

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