Should we abolish marriage? [Rethinking Traditions]
Call me the devil’s advocate for the time-being because I’m going to start a discussion that could raise some eyebrows and maybe even change some minds about the current institution of marriage. As a fair warning, this is a lengthy article.
A VERY VERY Basic History of Marriage
Disclaimer: I seriously simplified the thousands of years of marriage history into a couple paragraphs.
Marriage started as a contract between two persons, or most likely two families, in which the husband could continue the bloodline and also have help on the homestead, while the wife would be provided for and raise the children. Basically, daughters were considered liabilities for families due to their lesser strength, and were just considered as “baby-makers”. Now, we all know that women are just as capable providers as men (and often more-so), but when marriage began thousands of years ago, brute strength and endurance were considered very valuable and thus men got the upper hand.
Another purpose of marriage is to have a consistent pattern of raising children and a single authority (parents). Men and women bring different qualities to the table and societies have recognized that both are needed to raise well-rounded children. Again, that’s a major generalization and we all know many married couples are incompetent parents. Just humor me for history’s sake.
Basically, societies across the world and across time didn’t just decide marriage was a fun thing. It had and has a specific purpose. That brings us to today.
Disclaimer: I’m going to focus on marriage in America because, well, that’s where I live. I’m also going to generalize A LOT. Just humor me. Also, this article isn’t about sexism or feminism. It’s about marriage, so let’s stay on-topic.
Today, muscular strength is becoming less important than intellectual skill. However, traditions stick hard and many of us still hold the idea that men should be the leaders of governments, corporations and families. It’s evident in the tradition of the wife taking the husband’s last name. It’s evident in the wage disparity between men and women. But times are a-changing.
Keeping in mind the traditional reasons for marriage, let’s look at why the government is involved. Since society has deemed marriage a good thing because it maintains consistency, which begets order, it’s in the government’s best interest to promote marriage. Having an orderly society makes governing much easier, right? But now America, and many other countries, are running into problems with marriage.
As we all know, there are two major challenges to traditional marriage:
- Same-sex unions: If two people of the same sex are attracted to each other and want to raise a family together, why should they be excluded from the ability to marry? Well go ask the religious leaders to explain why.
- Divorces: If half of all marriages now end in divorce, then is it even an effective institution?
Basically, same-sex couples want the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to civil marriages, but heterosexual couples can’t seem to stay married. While one camp says Problem #1 is devaluing marriage, who says Problem #2 isn’t contributing equally?
And then we get into the religious aspect. Oh goodness.
Religion and Marriage
Disclaimer: While I consider myself a conservative, I’ll also state that I always listen to well-stated arguments for all issues and will refine my position as needed. I’ll also say I’m a practicing Catholic, but that doesn’t mean I subscribe to ALL the beliefs of the Catholic church. Does that make me a non-Catholic? Does it make me a sinner? No, it means I recognize and accept gray areas. I recognize that I am not the judge, but that I can influence the decisions of others. I must be responsible for continually educating myself on issues because I am accountable for what I say and do. Oh, and I’m neither Democrat nor Republican; I’m unaffiliated.
Conservatives will say that same-sex unions go against God’s or nature’s design and are plain wrong, even sinful. Liberals say that everyone should be treated equally.
But is anyone actually questioning if marriage makes sense anymore? We’re attacking it from a morality stance, but forgetting that it’s an institution created by society, for society. Sure, it could be argued that marriage was created by God (in the Bible) only for man and woman, but that argument is only useful for Christians and Jews. So where does that leave the billions of others that don’t accept the Bible as truth?
Now that I’ve totally, and purposely, danced around the topic of religion and marriage, let’s actually look at the logical side of civil unions.
Marriage as a Contract
Regardless of the religious implications, marriage is first and foremost a contract. No one should try to deny that. From the first marriage in the cradle of civilization to the the Williams, Hernandez and Gothapotras who just got married 5 minutes ago, couples enter into marriage agreements because either they, or their families, consider them to be both compatible with and suitable for each other. They believe they will be stronger together than as individuals. This means each party feels they can get something out of the deal.
For some people, they want kids and a partner to help raise them. For others, they want to confirm their lifelong commitment to their sweetheart. And others, well, they want a tax break, a fast-track to citizenship or some other government benefit. Hey, it’s not always about love. Heck, some people just want the actual wedding and could care less about anything other than that single moment. Whatever your reason, you’re getting something out of the deal that you couldn’t get as a single man or woman.
Government and Marriage
So going back to why the government has a vested interest in promoting marriage (stability), let’s look deeper into the government’s involvement with this contractual agreement. The feds, states and employers promote marriage through tax deductions, credits and other benefits. They basically hand you money to get or stay married. As a man in a marriage that is recognized by the federal and state governments, that’s a big win for me.
Why would I want to question, and potentially lose, these benefits?
Four years ago, I had a somewhat heated argument with a friend about marriage. I was adamant that marriage is between a man and woman, and to allow gays to marry (or have the same tax and social benefits as traditional marriages) would destroy the meaning of marriage and thus the stability of our society.
But as I was speaking these things, I was actually thinking “I don’t want gays to marry because I don’t want to lose my tax and employer benefits”. No seriously, that’s what I was thinking. I bet many of you think it too, don’t you? But that one thought plagued me for years. Once it got into my head, I couldn’t think of a logical argument against same-sex marriage because 1) I don’t like to argue who is right based on religion and morality (gray areas) and 2) it’s selfish to want to keep these benefits just for myself. I was being ignorant to the fact that many gay couples are just as committed to their relationship as Stacie and I. Very ignorant.
So does that mean I think same-sex unions should be officially recognized by the government and receive the same benefits as my wife and I do? Well, let’s ask the following question:
Should the government provide ANY benefits to married couples, regardless of sexual orientation?
I’m questioning the whole foundation of government involvement in the institution of marriage. You see, since marriage just boils down to a contract, much like a business agreement, does government involvement in marriage go against our capitalistic foundation? In a capitalistic society, free enterprise and the market should determine the success or failure of ventures and contractual agreements. Marriages are certainly ventures between two parties, and marriages are contracts. Would you agree?
Imagining a New Marriage Concept
Picture this: You can still have your traditional church wedding. You can have a wedding on a beach. Nothing changes there because you still need witnesses to the agreement, and you might as well have a public ceremony if you want. You must still register your union with the state so it’s aware of the agreement. But the biggest difference is that both parties draw up and sign a written contract, just like a business transaction. And what bigger transaction is there than a potential lifelong union?
Picture this: You know you both want kids, but aren’t sure if you want to stay together after they leave home at age 18. What if couples could create a contract where they both agree to create a child, raise the child and then have the option to renew the contract after 18 years? The contract would outline minimum requirements for both parties, such as and financial obligations and disclosure requirements. It would also state penalties for certain actions such leaving the relationship (thus breaking the contract).
Both parties would have legal counsel prior to entering into the binding agreement. If the situation changes, then both parties would have the option to renegotiate the contract, but the other party is only required to meet the original contract. If the situation is dire enough, then the first party can break the contract but be subject to the penalty clauses. Courts would still be involved in marital disputes, but from a purely contract law approach. If one party was found to be under duress when signing, then they can be absolved of their commitment to the contract.
Societal norms and traditions would still be upheld in the contract. For example, if your traditional belief is that the wife should not work and should take care of the kids, then that goes into the contract. Your potential spouse would have to agree to it or else you’d have to find someone that does. If you don’t want kids, then that goes into the contract and you’re both bound to it. But then there would have to be clauses to cover what happens if you do get pregnant.
This idea seems to remove all sense of romance to a relationship, but think a little more about it. How many times have you thought that people should really think more before they get married? Well this is one way to provoke that thought process. More people would discuss finances, children, hopes and dreams before entering into this major commitment of marriage.
I ultimately envision, as we grow to understand and accept this new tradition, that we would have our pick of numerous, standardized marriage contracts so we don’t need to write our own from scratch with each marriage. However, I also expect some people would skip through reading it all and trust the lawyer just like they do with mortgages and auto loans. Ultimately, though, it’s your butt on the line if you break any of the stipulations of the contract, so you better read through and agree to all of it!
Since we would consider “marriage” just like a business agreement, and recognize that both parties are entering into an accountable agreement, then why shouldn’t any party, regardless of sexual orientation, be allowed to enter into marriage contracts, as long as it’s a valid contract by law? If there are children involved, as long as the contract protects the interests of the child too, how is it not better than families currently jumping into parenthood without proper planning?
I don’t know where that leaves the government benefits like tax deductions, etc. for marriage, but I personally think the government should let capitalism run its course and not interfere in marriages. As much as it might hurt me if I ever screw up on MY marriage contract, I recognize that I’m a grown adult and should be responsible enough to understand the consequences of my actions. And for the people who aren’t responsible, well, they have to deal with the penalties per their contractual agreement, or they shouldn’t be allowed to enter into the contract.
And that begs the question, why would people even bother with a contract? What stops them from just having a kid together without a formal agreement? Well, the same thing that stops them now: fear of being burdened with the responsibility of a child on their own. Whereas alimony and child support are government-enforced duties now, in the future, if you didn’t have a contract, you’re out of luck. The government wouldn’t swoop in and save the day…unless it’s a forced relationship (rape, incest, etc.). Then it’s a criminal matter.
In the end, people would put more thought into having kids (hopefully) because they would have to agree to rules, roles and penalties. And if they don’t have a contract, then anything goes and they would need to consider that too. You would still have people unfit to be parents having a child, but the child would have the protection of a binding contract (as much as the parents respect the contract).
There’s still many holes to fill with this whole concept, and numerous gray areas to consider, but I think it’s one worth looking into. It allows consenting adults of any orientation to enter into a marriage bound by known expectations, and to answer for their mistakes if they go against the contract. It continues on the tradition of marriage as a union between two parties for the benefit of both parties, and ultimately to society. In the past, this “benefit” was children that could carry on the family name and share in the burden of running the home, but as our society changes and children play a different role in the family, the contract notion would account for these changes.
Share Your Thoughts
I’d like to know your thoughts in the comments below. If you have your own site, feel free to link over and comment on it for your own readers to join in. Our society is changing and we need to consider the impacts of these changes to our traditional thinking, but it doesn’t mean we should throw all traditions out the window. Societies create norms and rituals over centuries and millenia for reasons, and to discard marriage entirely would be ludicrous. But let’s see if we can salvage the meaning of marriage while adapting it to our ever-changing culture.
Incidentally, if you some decent articles on how to get and stay married, consider reading dinksfinance. I know the author there. In particular, they have an excellent article on what to do if your wife yells at you.
As regards children: tax benefits for people with children should also be abolished. We would be much better off channeling those extra taxes to support medical coverage in a public setting rather than giving breaks to parents that have the bad judgement to have too many kids. Our government supports people having children, then refuses to help those same children after age 18 (unless they get married). There is already welfare, school programs, and state support for children under 18. Parents’ taxes should go to supporting their kids’ future burden on the medical system and not back into their own pockets.
I must be missing something, because I don’t get any special breaks under the tax code for being married.
And, actually, prior to 2003, 2 married people earning the same as 2 single people actually paid more taxes — i.e. the marriage tax penalty.
This was changed in 2003 so that married couples filing jointly pay the same as 2 unmarried people (this provision is set to expire in 2010).
With regards to children, you say that the government supports people having children, and that the child tax credit gives breaks to parents that have “bad judgement to have too many kids”. What is too many kids? If I have a job, I should be able to have as many kids as I feel I can support. Your argument about bad judgement seems to only apply to working parents that pay taxes (hence get the tax credit).
Well, what about the welfare state that you mention? Why do you not deride the people on welfare who continue to have children even though they cannot even support themselves.
Finally, why is it the government’s responsibility to care for people from cradle to grave. That isnt’ the attitude that made the US the greatest nation in the history of the world. What has happened to personal responsibility in this country? I have a family, and I expect that I will be the one who has to care for them. If I didn’t have a job, I wouldn’t have kids — it’s that simple.
But, we’re moving down a slippery slope of the government bailing out every bad decision a person makes. If you don’t learn from those mistakes, you’re going to keep making them.
Christian Miller says
Christian Miller says
The gay marriage debate is emotionally charged and multifaceted. It has, at times, degenerated to bitter disrespectful name-calling: bigots vs. sinners. This debate is not about to persuade bigots or sinners to change their ways by chastising one another. The real issue is to determine what the law should be. A first step is to question the
roles of the Federal, State and Local governments in marriage/civil unions.
My contention is that when one strips away the emotional and the irrelevant issues and holds to principles of the separation of church and state and fairness, then there is no benefit to society for government involvement in marriage at all.
Once government and its subsidies for marriage are withdrawn or made available to single people, then churches, organizations and individuals can deal with couples coming together, living together, raising families and doing what people have done forever. Couples are free to determine their relationships and characterize it with any words they choose.
In this way, there is no Prop 8, no marriage laws; no â€œHealthy Marriage Initiativeâ€; no government marriage licenses; no civil unions; no exclusive Federal subsidies or financial incentives to married people.
The conservatives should welcome the reduction of government and getting government out of our intimate personal lives; the Christian Right should welcome that the church now has authority over the marriage of its members and not the government; the 100 million single people should applaud at no longer having to pay for benefits exclusively going to married people; gays will have finally have achieved true equality; the liberals and progressives should welcome the justice of the situation; and libertarians will rejoice at a small move in the direction of â€œlive and let live.â€ Everyone should be satisfied except those who relish the fight itself.
As a nation we should simply separate church and state. Marriage is something you do for your church and faith. So marry whoever you want and as many as your faith allows; it should be of no concern to the government. And truthfully, who cares!
The state should have civil union contracts or family contracts and leave the details up to the parties involved. Family law is really a civil matter.
It is time we moved away from marriage and it’s subjugation of women.
Clever Dude says
@David, you had me till the last sentence. How is marriage a subjugation of women? Like I said in the article, marriage grew out of the need for both parties to gain something: a family for the man and security for the woman. Marriage by itself does not subjugate anyone; it’s the people in the marriage that do it, or the traditions of the culture.
Not arguing for the merger of church and state, but here’s where people use the “church and state” argument incorrectly. Marriage isn’t a religious thing; it’s in place to ensure the continuity of the society. It just happens that those who instituted the act of marriage governed using religious ideals.
Honestly, I don’t think you can separate church and state when it comes to marriage because by letting whoever marry whatever they want, but requiring the government to formally recognize it for use in legal disputes, etc., then you’re automatically bringing state into the church. The state would need to keep records on the marriage beliefs of hundreds or eventually thousands of different groups of people, and those groups would change their “laws” to suit them as they wish.
For example, do we recognize the Muslim (or some Muslims) practice of divorcing your wife just by saying it three times? How is that not subjugating women through marriage? Women don’t get that same right.
So like I said, you can’t separate church and state with marriage, and you can’t just let anyone decide what they want to do, especially when there are other factors at stake like property disputes, child custody, death benefits, etc. The laws are in place for stability, not control and subjugation.
Thank you for your honest and well thought out response to my post. Let me take them point by point.
How is marriage a subjugation of women?
The marriage vows alone should make this point for me as far as the United States is concerned but let me take it further. A woman is expected to be the main provider for children from breast feeding to nurturing and marriage expects women to produce those children. You may now say that men are required to provide also, but their responsibilities and expectations are not equal in the eyes of the society or the state.
What is expected of the man and the woman from the “I do” forward.” The woman is expected to give up her out-side life to raise children. Even without children, the family is her burden, her responsibility. The man is only expected to bring home and share some part of his paycheck; that is enough to be called a good husband. Marriage is living up to moral/religious ideals that are much harsher on women. Marriage is subjugation by choice and not an area for the state, it is faith based. As for much of the third world, -I shouldn’t have to tell you.
Your Muslim example makes my point as to why we need civil unions and not marriage. Conceder this portion of many marriage ceremonies, what god has brought together, let no man tear apart. That is the church telling the state to stay out of marriage, – and that’s just what it should do. For children we have DNA testing and this can provide the state a right to take action on support and maybe even custody.
Ask yourself this, “Why do you care who is married?” It’s really all about tax deductions, insurance, power of attorney, and legal access; shouldn’t this should be in a contract before the union rather than after in a forced divorce decree!?
David, at least in the United States, your view of marriage and women’s role in it is very old fashioned. These days, it’s just as likely for the man to stay home and watch the kids as it is for the woman. And if your point about the marriage vows is the obey part, I can tell you that I haven’t heard that in a wedding ceremony for years. Since I’ve worked in the wedding industry, I’ve been to more than my fair share of weddings, so I feel pretty confident saying that the woman obeying her husband is long gone.
I agree with you in so much. Weddings are wonderful, marriage is a beautiful statement of love and faith; Hey, I tear-up at weddings too!
The problem is who defines marriage? We all have our own ideas of what it should be. Everyone expects the government to define marriage. We hand the moral authority for the definition of marriage to the political party in power.
I just think the meaning of marriage should be based on the faith of the individuals and civil unions for the basis in law and dealings with the state.
Marriage has become socially politicized, along with schools, churches, clubs, the military and all faith organizations.
There is so much social engineering through politics where all morals are re-defined in the name of fairness. All that is fine, -but I would like to take back marriage and have it defined based on personal faith; whatever that may be. Bring it back into places of worship where it was created, where it’s not all about fairness and where yielding to a higher purpose is not ridiculed. Let civil unions take over when it comes politics and release marriage from the bondage of law and let her come home.
Louise White says
I agree that marriage should be abolished mainly for the reason that it automatically gives another person access to your person, possessions, fianances, and history. Women, especially, have a much harder time prosecuting her husband for battery, rape, and other violent crimes against her than she would a stranger. In this day and age, as we are all striving toward equality, any institution that takes the freedom and rights away from any individual should be deeply scrutinized. People who enter into the contract of marriage are not required to be made aware of any rights they are giving up or the obligations they will now encur. Legally, it’s a trap!
Stephanie PTY says
JB said: “It seems apparent in the fact that all people groups that I am aware of subscribe to the same structure for marriage.”
I’m afraid this shows a very narrow viewpoint of “people groups.” I have a strong background in gender studies, and have looked into marriage and sexual relationships within lesser-known cultures. The fact is that different cultures treat marriage and relationships very differently. Yes, most of the “developed” world has adopted a view of marriage similar to what we are used to in America, but there are many cultures which have not. For example, did you know that some Native American cultures had sex changes? Although they did not have the medical capacity to do it physically, if a woman wanted to become a man, she would hang bear testicles around her waist, and then the whole tribe would treat “him” as any other man. He would even be allowed to to take a wife, and would usually take a widow as a wife, so that he would have children to raise.
There are cultures (I believe in both South America and Africa) where the “father” of children plays a very small role in their lives. He procreates with the woman, but then leaves her alone from then on. The brother of the woman then acts as a “husband,” providing for her and her children and raising the children with her. The biological father has his own nieces and nephews to take care of, usually – so as you can see, a very different view of marriage than what we usually see.
The point here is that if any of the people I discussed moved to America (or in the case of the Native Americans, “lived in modern America,”) they would not be free to practice marriage in the way that their cultures dictate. They would not have the legal protections (over 1200 on the state and federal levels) that I would have if I married a man who is not my relative.
Joel said: “The problem with what you have talked about is that you have turned the difference of the sexes into nothing more than external genitilia. Like much of society, you are arguing that men and women aren’t inherently different from one another and complementary.”
My research into sex and gender studies tells me that this is, in fact, true. There is more statistical difference between people within a sex than between the two sexes.
If anyone is interested in book recommendations for the subjects I have brought up here, I can provide them.
My final word in this matter is going to have to be “derka derka derka”. Don’t question it. I am all-knowing after all. By the way, sorry about that whole Jesus thing, it was just a prank to see ho many people I could screw with. He actually doesn’t talk for me.