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: http://sfonline.barnard.edu/a-new-queer-agenda/beyond-marriage-democracy-equality-and-kinship-for-a-new-century/
**quote taken from Sex and the City, the movie.