I originally posted as a comment on benn.ws…on the day before my wedding anniversary. Partially because of the coincidence of the date, his post struck me rather intensely, and after a couple of tweets, realized I had a lot more to say. It turned out to be long enough that I thought I’d save it in my own space as well.
Itâ€™s probably important to note that Iâ€™ve been married for almost exactly 11 years, that we got married for practical reasons after living together for almost 3 years, and that Iâ€™m not religious. I also have some unconventional ideas about relationships that are tangential to the marriage question. Plus I just finished doing our taxes.
From society and the governmentâ€™s point of view, marriage is the act of creating a legal household, in which two people become responsible for one anotherâ€™s welfare. The commitment that one makes is more than an emotional or spiritual one, it has material repercussions. (And to be honest, it used to be almost entirely a material commitment. The companionate (â€œsoul mateâ€) marriage is a recent development in human affairs.)
When my father died, it was straightforward how to handle his Air Force pension, Social Security benefits, bank accounts, insurance, the ownership of the house and car, etc., etc. without my mother having to individually negotiate her rights to each of these items or pay extra taxes on them. (Since we were little then, that includes guardianship of us kids.) When my husband was in a bike/car crash last year, it was easy for me to get to him at the ER; if Iâ€™d needed to, I could have taken sick leave to care for him as well. I can easily add him to insurance at work, which was why we got married in the first place. (Search for â€œ1138 marriage rightsâ€ to see all sorts of things that are covered by federal law.) Not having a legal framework for a household partnership is a huge hassle.
Of course, given that I have unconventional ideas about relationships in general, I have (perhaps) unconventional ideas about how to ensure that households are given the tools for success that society/government can provide. And given the benefits of long-term stable relationships to individuals and society, I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any reason to make those relationships more difficult to negotiate. (FWIW, the divorce rate isnâ€™t 60%. At _worst_ itâ€™s 50%, and thatâ€™s a somewhat misleading stat. Seehttp://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/sizing-up-divorce-risk/ for more.)
Iâ€™d like to see civil unions for everyone! If the law makes no distinction between kinds of adults entering into household arrangements, then in theory companies wonâ€™t either: whether thatâ€™s a hospital figuring out who gets decision-making privileges (some incredibly sad stories there from gay couples, btw) or an employer saying who can be added to an insurance plan. On that note, Iâ€™m also in favor taking employers out of the health-insurance business and going to a single-payer system. Better societal support for non-working parents, married or not, might also help.
Iâ€™d even go so far as to create a â€œhousehold contractâ€ in which two (or more!) adults register to be treated as a combined social and economic unit, with all the legal benefits that currently accrue to marriage. It would have no relationship to religious marriage. (Iâ€™m reminded of my auntâ€™s elderly neighbors, when I was a little girl. They were a brother and sister who had lived together most of their adult lives. Marriage would be inappropriate, certainly, but some sort of legal compact might well have made their lives easier.) Like an LLC, it would come with rights and responsibilities, but without the emotional baggage of marriage. Of course, for most married people, it would look exactly like what they have today. It would extend the benefits of creating a household to more people and take religion out of the equation.
BTW, Wednesday was our 11th anniversary. It’s been…interesting…in a lot of ways, but all in all a damn good thing for both of us. I was delighted and amused to receive a wedding ring as a gift; I gave him a Lego seaplane and made our favorite soup for dinner. (Alas, he has a cold with a nasty cough, so it was a low key evening.)