Lisa Duggan

Marriage is a System of Privilege, Part 2: Love

First and foremost, I would like to say… I looooove my husband. Immensely. He is my best friend, the love of my life, the yin to my yang, my emergency contact, and most importantly, my life partner. I am very happy to be married to him.

In reality, however, love is not a requirement for all marriages. While it obviously should be, and hopefully is the ultimate catalyst for all such unions, people can and do marry simply for those benefits, privileges, and protections previously mentioned. But shouldn’t it be all about the love? I think so.

What if marriage was, in fact, a love-centered social institution, instead of one based on heterosexual romance?

A story, as told by Lisa Duggan (her story*):


“A few weeks after September 11, 2001, I went with my ex-lover to register as domestic partners with the city of New York. We had never registered our relationship with any state agency during the 17 years that we had actually been partners. But we changed our minds nearly a year after we broke up, on September 11, as we searched for each other in the chaos of that day. I had spoken to her on the phone that morning, but then lost phone service and all contact with her. She was teaching at Brooklyn Law School then, and I at New York University; we lived near each other only minutes from the twin towers. I did not know where she was, or how she would get home. I started to panic that she might have walked across the bridge right when the second tower fell. I imagined her hurt and me unable to find her, or unable to convince a city worker or hospital employee that she was my next of kin still, though no longer my lover… When she finally came through my door late that evening, covered in grey dust and totally exhausted, we both grasped the significance of that term “next of kin” as we never had before. If anything happened to her, the importance of me being recognized as the one most responsible, the one most concerned, arose in my mind then as an absolute emotional and practical imperative.

As soon as the relevant city offices reopened, we made the trip to city hall to register—though given the requirements and assumptions of the domestic partner provisions, we had to lie and claim we lived together as a conjugal couple. We were not surprised that there was a long line of people waiting to register along with us. We were very surprised to find that nearly all were heterosexual couples. We asked the people around us why they were there, and their reasons were very much like ours. They did not want to be married, or they were not romantic couples, but their experiences since September 11 had convinced them that they wanted the basic legal recognitions that domestic partnership registration would provide.”


Lisa’s personal narrative underscores her political one: That the abolition of marriage could be “one other path to full equality of gay and non-gay people…in the meantime, it is obviously discriminatory to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. But given the demographic reality—the diversity of our actual relationships and households—might de-centering marriage and multiplying options be not just another, but a better path to meaningful equality?” The way I see it, she has a point. What if we took heteronormative romance out of the equation, leaving only the love, along with a corresponding “life partner” aspect? What if we redefined marriage (or as Duggan suggests, abolished it completely and replaced it with something new) as a legal union that addresses the “diversity of our actual relationships and households”?

For example, my godmother in Spain once half-jokingly proposed that my mom move to Spain and they get married so that my mom could finally retire, not worry about health care and, they could ultimately, ‘be there’ for each other (after all, the two have been best friends for 40+ years and they are both single senior citizens). Think about it: Why shouldn’t they be allowed to enter into a legal union together, affording them the benefits and privileges of a life partnership if they have the mutual love and respect that I believe any such union should require (and, in my opinion, should be the basic foundation for any such union). Why not? Why should they not be entitled to a legally recognized life partnership in which they share all property, health benefits, and anything else they wish, if they so desire?

Why should that kind of deeply committed partnership not be recognized or allowed? Just because it’s not romantic or doesn’t fit into our traditional notion of “marriage”? Well maybe that kind of notion is becoming outmoded; Or, at the very least, it is no longer the only kind of union or partnership that we are seeing these days. Hence, Duggan’s proposed abolishment of marriage in favor of a new, more inclusive, and pragmatic legal system that addresses the needs of the varying types of households and partnerships that we are increasingly seeing these days. Oftentimes our legal system needs to be re-imagined and reworked in order to more appropriately fit what the current state of affairs in our society is, and I believe that this is one of those areas in which the law needs to catch up with the status quo- not the other way around.

Oddly enough, I think Carrie Bradshaw said it best when she simply stated, “It’s just two grown-ups, making a decision about spending their lives together.” ** I love this statement both because of its simplicity, and because of its inclusion of potentially platonic, yet pragmatic partnerships. It speaks to an institution that “potentially separates state recognition of households or partnerships from the business of sexual regulation altogether,” to borrow from Lisa Duggan again. It speaks to an institution founded on love- one that caters to partnerships founded on mutual respect and love- whether that person is the love of your life or your emergency contact. It speaks to a legal system that is simply about “two grown-ups, making a decision about spending their lives together.”




*taken from Lisa Duggan’s “Beyond Marriage: Democracy, Equality, and Kinship for a New Century.” You can read the full article at:

**quote taken from Sex and the City, the movie.

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.