Marriage: A deliberately controversial post

Mawwage is what bwings us togevver… today.

With the media surrounding the protection of marriage act or whatever it’s called [Update:  moving this post up from July 10th because DOMA, the "defense of marriage act", is NO MORE.  YAYYYYYYY!!!!!], several feminist bloggers have been making the argument that marriage as an institution should be thrown out.

They argue it has a bad history in the patriarchy of oppression.  It treats women as chattel, etc. etc. etc.

They say we should get rid of it (but while we still have it, everybody should have the opportunity to use it).

Some, but not all, of them argue that monogamy itself is flawed and marriage prevents polygamous and polyandrous and other types of multiple love arrangements.  Some, but not all, argue that marriage is a way that some women feel superior to others.

We at grumpy rumblings are pro-marriage for those who want it.

Marriage as defined today is a mostly standardized contract that is defined by law, case law, and culture.  For the most part, if you enter this contract in the US, you know what you’re getting into, at least in the state where you’re getting married.

If the patriarchy is overthrown, marriage can still exist. We can get rid of marriage and the patriarchy will still be there.  It might be a step, but then again, it might be a better step to transform marriage from within.  Maybe.

People who want to experiment with different types of [ex. non-monogamous] relationships can (in the US anyway). They just have to enter into different contracts, contracts that aren’t called marriage. That argument doesn’t work as an argument against homosexual marriage– allowing gays and lesbians to get married does not at all change a heterosexual marriage contract (meaning there is no reason for a “civil union” if they can just get married), whereas allowing polygamous marriage under the same license does.

Without marriage, we would need more contracts. And there’s nothing stopping us from having all those more complicated contracts now, but most people are happy with the standard cheap one.

I strongly believe in the monogamous marriage contract and I want mine protected. I don’t really care what other people do with their lives in the privacy of their bedrooms (or lawyers’ offices), but I like the protection of my contract.

As for, “marriage is a way that some women feel superior to others” as an argument, all we can say is Thank God (and women’s rights activists) that (while there is still sexism) women can have education and jobs now and can feel pity for any woman whose only claim to superiority is having a husband.  Because that’s really seriously sad.  Seriously sad.

New research shows that debating, and especially banning, gay marriage makes LGBTQ people less healthy.

We’re also fine with, “Civil unions for everyone, marriage can then be only a religious thing, all couples get civil unions for legal purposes and may then choose to have a wedding ceremony for religious reasons if they wish, all regardless of gender.”  But that’s some ways off.  Separating the legal and the religious is always a good thing.  You could still have a ceremony to socially mark the legal joining, but that would be a civil union.  Civil unions for all!  But again, that’s not today.  For today, marriage for all!

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40 Responses to “Marriage: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. plantingourpennies Says:

    I will be thinking of this all day because of you. Thank you =)

  2. Scooze Says:

    Interesting post. I found your blog through personal finance sites and am not an academic, so I am curious what other contracts people would choose other than the familiar marriage contract we use today. And if if involves a commitment between two people, why not simply use the term marriage? As one one of the prop 8 litigants said, she and her partner had a multitude of contracts and registered partnerships (which they needed in order to approximate the marriage contract) and she couldn’t remember the date that they executed a single one. But she’ll remember forever the date that they gotvmarried. I even remember it, and I don’t even know them. It was June 29th. Marriage is a special thing. So I don’t really see the point in separating civil unions from marriages. Or how that would be more feminist.

    • Perpetua Says:

      The point of separating marriage and civil unions is that it denies religious organizations the power to have a say in who can forms unions and who can’t – it takes the morality argument out of the contract argument. Many people, including myself, believe that churches and other religious groups should not have the right to interfere in how people organize their lives and relationships. But now their (churches’) opinion holds tremendous sway because they have essentially a monopoly over marriage (ie, because in the US, we conflate marriage – a sacred covenant – with the civil union and its legal rights). Of course, many countries that have such a separation still have legal restrictions on civil unions barring gay couples. So it’s not a perfect solution. But in any event, there’s the basic distinction that people draw between civil union (legal contract) and marriage (religious event/ spiritual covenant).

      • GMP Says:

        I come from one such country, where the legally binding marriage is a civil marriage (i.e. in a courthouse). You cannot even have the church ceremony until you have first gotten married legally. I know of several countries where this is the norm (civil marriage first, religious ceremony afterwards, if you want it, and only for the legally married).
        [I am strongly in support of marriage equality. And I also have a deep distaste for all organized religion.]

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Some states allow anybody to perform a marriage so long as they fill out the appropriate paperwork (without even having to become a minister in an online/mail order religion whose sole purpose is to allow people to perform marriages).

        If anyone, not just a judge, can perform a marriage, is it ok for priests to be allowed to perform marriages for those who want religious ceremonies?

    • Scooze Says:

      Thanks all…. my main question is around this statement “People who want to experiment with different types of relationships can (in the US anyway). They just have to enter into different contracts, contracts that aren’t called marriage.” I took it to mean that there could be other types of commitments that are not like marriage. To me, anything we have now – civil unions, contracts, domestic partnerships, etc. are all other terms for arrangements that are like marriage but not as good. I happen to think that the anti-ssm folks can sod off. There is absolutely no justification for insisting that marriage is a club and only people like you are invited to join.

  3. bogart Says:

    I think I’m with Hulk on this. My son will be pleased, as he has identified the Hulk (admittedly, traditional, not feminist) as “the best superhero.”

    Yeah, I’d pretty much be inclined to go the route of having marriages (religious) and civil unions (legal), and having only the latter count as legal contracts (though of course faith communities could still establish whatever principles and norms they wanted regarding marriages, providing that doing so didn’t violate the law. And short of stuff like not allowing child marriages, I’d be inclined to provide broad latitude there.). And requiring that every US state honor every other US state’s marriage contracts (not to say they couldn’t have their own rules about particulars, but if I’m legally married in state X, I still count as legally married when I cross into state Y), or else perhaps have a separate federal marriage be an option (though I have not thought this through and that may be a dumb idea, wouldn’t be my first).

    I have attended 3 family weddings that were not (legal) marriages, one in a country where religious ceremonies were not recognized as legal (the couple later had a civil ceremony); one because the bride forgot to get the marriage license before the ceremony (ditto); one because both parties are the same sex and the state does not recognize such marriages, they have not followed up with a legally recognized ceremony anywhere else, yet, but let me just say we were all — duh — thrilled by the DOMA decision. I’ve been referring to the last couple as “wed” but not using the word “married,” but I’d love (I’ll love?) to be able to change that.

    I’m married, because I do actually believe in some sort of such institution, not to say our current (I mean the law’s, not mine and DH’s) practice is the perfect embodiment of such) and want the the conveniences of the (legal) contract.

  4. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    I have always endorsed the position in the last paragraph– civil unions are government things and marriage is a religious ceremony.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    As a straight married childless female who is completely non-religious, I have no problem using the ancient word “marriage” to describe the *legal* contract between two adults that is commonly understood to involve mutual responsibility for financial obligations and for the rearing of children.

    I am a secularist and think that religious definitions of ANY stripe should be left out of our legal structures – as the founders intended. I think that society has an interest in two-parent, stable families; marriage does, it seems, promote stable families population-wide; and population data indicate that the genders of the “parent” figures are immaterial. Therefore society has no interest in defining who the two adults should be; rather it has an interest in facilitating the formation of two-parent families without regard to the gender of the parents.

    That said, society also has no interest in defining a marriage as necessarily procreative. That is, the “family” need never include more than the two adults. There is no basis for an argument that childless families are in any way a hazard to social stability, and considerable basis for arguments to the contrary.

    All the rights and responsibilities of marriage according to the common understanding are NOT routinely available under any other kind of single contract, and it is clearly discriminatory to require any two adults to have to execute multiple contracts in order to obtain the rights that another two adults can obtain through marriage alone. Especially if their state can then turn around and pass a constitutional amendment that effectively invalidates all their other contracts (see North Carolina).

    In California, you are not married unless you get the civil marriage license. Who you choose to perform the ceremony is completely up to you, as long as they are properly licensed by the county. No religious component is required (nor should it be). In our case, it was a close friend who jumped through the county’s hoops for a one-day license to perform the non-religious ceremony.

    In the U.S.A. the term “civil union” has been employed specifically to restrict and deny rights, and for that reason I would like to see it disappear.

    As to the feminist argument against marriage: given that a married woman is more likely to enjoy lifetime financial stability than an unmarried woman, IMO it is more pro-woman to encourage single women AND MEN to form stable marriages than it is to encourage them to try to do it all on their own. I don’t know many people, myself included, who are willing to do things the hard way their whole life just to make a political point about the patriarchy. There are much better ways to address the patriarchy, some of which were achieved by early feminists who got women the right to vote and to own property in their own names. Feminists who want to torpedo the patriarchy would do better to adopt an educational campaign against religious conversion, along the lines of “don’t change your beliefs just because he says he loves you.”

    I am not at all up on what constitutes feminism these days – I suspect there are many definitions for that – but I can tell you that I do not perceive any great enthusiasm for “feminism” among women 18-30 and that means that the message is not being well communicated.

    Sorry, very long, sorry!

  6. Pamela Says:

    Have you read “Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage” by Stephanie Coontz? It’s fascinating.

  7. becca Says:

    In what respect would legalizing polyarmorous marriage change the contract between yourself and your spouse?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If they use the same contract it would. A formerly monogamous contract could then add additional people.

      Whereas adding gay couples to the same contract cannot change a straight contract–a straight couple would have to break their current contract to take advantage of the new contract.

      • becca Says:

        Uhm, no one is planning on forcing you to add people to your marriage, anymore than striking down DOMA actually means you are required to divorce your husband and get lesbian-married. YOUR marriage could still represent monogamy, whereas other people’s would represent their own commitments based on their own needs/wants/families. It’d be easy enough to write the law “grandfathering in” monogamy to all those who include it in their vows or otherwise opt in (actually, I know plenty of marriages that don’t particularly involve monogamy, by design not deceit, but that is another rant). I guess if you’re worried your husband only monogamously married you because polyamorous marriage of others wasn’t an option, you’d have a reason to be worried, but otherwise… it really doesn’t impact you.

        Given that your personal contract needn’t be changed if we were to legalize polygamy, you seem to essentially be arguing that monogamy is part of the essence of what makes marriage (affairs and all evidence to the contrary be damned) in the same way others argue that heterosexuality is part of the *definition* of marriage.
        I’m far from convinced society is ready for legalizing polygamy, and I’ve yet to hear a good way to resolve the creepy Mormon problem, but some of the same arguments for gay marriage do honestly apply to polygamy. Not that I shout it from the rooftops when arguing with the bulk of the population- I’m not *trying* to torpedo the chances of legalizing gay marriage everywhere.It’s just that ultimately I hope to see marriage type contracts have more flexibility, and people have a much better idea of what they are signing up for and figure out how to get what they want. And while I see same sex marriage as a necessary civil rights fight, I also see other changes to the institution of marriage as very desirable battles in their own right.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You are missing some important understanding of contracts. Yes, grandfathering it in would work for the people who have already made their contract. Note that when you grandfather in, you have just created two types of contracts!

        In the US, the majority want the standard contract to be monogamous. No husbands changing their minds about getting a second wife once the first wife is old and cannot break the contract without seriously harming her quality of life. That’s one thing a monogamous marriage contract protects against. (And alimony would be higher in a monogamous contract than in a polygamous contract upon breaking the contract, because in a polygamous contract the husband would just be doing something allowed in the contract that the woman freely entered into to begin with.)

        There are plenty of countries where polygamous contracts are the norm. To ensure monogamy, you would need to have additional contracts. There are a few cultures that have more broad contracts as the norm (these societies don’t tend to have lawyers to make explicit contracts and instead rely on culture).

        But you can’t have a polygamous contract be the same as a monogamous contract. They are contracting over two different things. One legally allows multiple wives, one legally does not. Sure, we could have both types of contracts available, but the participants would have to choose which to enter into when they made their marriage. It is not the same argument as gay marriage at all.

        As we said earlier: in order for gay marriage to affect you who are already married, you have to break the contract. That is not the case when you allow polygamy or polyandry or other types of multiple marriages. It’s easy to say that “oh, you can just choose not to have an additional member” but if that were the case, the only reason to get married would be for potential tax advantages and wills and so on. There are two people in a contract and if we could do everything by trust, we wouldn’t need contracts to begin with (indeed, many long-term couples happily never marry). One of the reasons that some people don’t like marriage as an institution is that it can cause one member (usually the woman) to have lower earnings during her marriage in order to maximize family utility overall. But she decided to do that based on the terms of the contract she freely entered into. Once you change the contract she entered into ex post, she is in a worse situation to withstand a second wife than she was when she entered into the contract. We have contracts so that people make the same decisions ex post as they would ex ante. Many people would not enter into a polygamous contract at all rather than trusting their future spouses never to take advantage of that ability– many of them would insist on a second monogamous contract clause. And that means two separate contracts. You cannot enforce a monogamous marriage with a polygamous contract. That’s just how contracts work.

        You can, however, enforce a straight marriage contract even if gay marriages are available. You might be less likely to enter into a straight marriage contract if you are gay or bisexual and now have a new option, but you’re not going to change the meaning of any current contracts.

        Note that none of this says anything about the morality of polyamorous relationships. It is simply about contracts.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Note that if we had polygamous contracts instead of monogamous, then going from not allowing homosexual unions on the same contract to allowing homosexual unions would actually change existing contracts. A woman could enter the contract assuming she would have sister wives and end up with a brother husband that she did not anticipate. She might not have chosen to enter in that contract had she known in advance.

      • Tinkering Theorist Says:

        I realize the discussion is probably over by now, but I still don’t really understand why it’s impossible to have the same contract. I’m thinking that the marriage could start with some number of people, and then the number would never change without breaking the contract and starting over. So if there were 2 people there would always be 2, and if there were 3 it would stay at 3. Maybe it’s just that this is not how polygamy actually works in real life, we should assume that the polygamous people wouldn’t want such a contract because they want to be able to add new people at any time?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That would technically be a different contract for each n.

  8. investfourmore Says:

    I am glad to finally see the general population shift towards allowing marriage or civil unions for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you want to call, but it matter what the government calls it since they are enforcing the laws and rules. I have even heard religious leaders start to speak out and admit they were wrong in the past for being against gay marriage.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    One thing about marriage is that it’s not really one contract, even a complex one. First, it can change without your signing anything new. For example, when you move to another state, quite a few rules can change for you–you can’t even pick the state with the rules you like best to get married in.

    Second, all kinds of entities can have rules on both what counts as a family and on how a family should be, and your only choice is yes or no (if you even have a choice). For example, employers make rules about things like insurance based on, well, whatever they want to base it on (marriage, domestic partners, etc.)–they can have all their own definitions. Hospital visitation rights are affected. The IRS has rules. Medicaid has rules. It’s a pretty big package deal, and most people don’t even know the whole package when they get married.

    One of the things I like about modern times is that either spouse is allowed to get a legitimate job–no one person has sole responsibility for all the income, which could be a lot of pressure. However, one spouse can still bring down the other one such as if they accumulate a bunch of debts. Maybe that’s part of what makes a family, but I’m a little scared because my favorite guy claims to want to start his own business one day, and he has loads of ideas for businesses. Also, I watched the IRS take money out of my mom’s account to pay my dad’s taxes (even though they file separately) and I watched my dad’s business’s bankruptcy lead to bad credit for everyone (let’s say my mom was not in a position to co-sign for my first car loan).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The money stuff is a good reason both to get married and to not get married depending on the circumstances! There are dangerous aspects (as you detail) as well as protective ones (community property rules, for example).

      Contracts do change when you move states, but in ways that are knowable in advance. I do wonder what happens when one member moves but the other does not– does the former state take precedence in legal proceedings?

      Your guy should incorporate to limit liability. DH’s LLC papers are in the mail! Insurance can also help if you’re really worried.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Actually, community property seems protective, but I own the house and he owns … all the good media stuff. Fortunately, my guy is very reasonable in break-ups, so I don’t need any protection there.

        Thanks for the hints. I always assumed that protective business types were expensive and time-consuming, but I’ll look into the LLC. What kind of insurance?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, if he wanted to be a doctor he’d need malpractice. There are other kinds of liability insurance. Obviously that won’t help in a regular bankruptcy (that’s why you need it to be an LLC or other kind of corporation, so only the company will go bankrupt, not the individuals), but it will help if you get sued for liability.

        I should post sometime about the LLC. Your state is really easy to incorporate in.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Cool. (I didn’t even know that different states had different rules about incorporation.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Different taxes too! That’s probably the main thing.

  10. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    The thing I love most about marriage and want to be available to every adult is the legal fiction Next Of Kin. As long as your civilly unionized or married partner is your Next of Kin, you can tell your dysfunctional family of origin to piss right off; they have no further rights to make decisions for you in any circumstances.

    Of course, then it becomes important to marry a sane and functional person who will make good decisions if you are incapacitated.

    • undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

      I agree with Dame Eleanor and with you all. Marriage may not be the perfect institution, but think about what patriarchy without the social contract of marriage would be like. As nicoleandmaggie say above, “We can get rid of marriage and the patriarchy will still be there.” I’m hopeful that marriage equality will help to chip away at its patriarchal aspects. My take: if you don’t think marriage is for you, don’t get married.

      • undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

        And about marriage making some women feel superior: well, some women feel superior to others because they get their nails done or wear $1500 shoes. That doesn’t make it true. In other words, it seems to be human nature to choose something and feel superior to others because they don’t have it–a sorry side of human nature, but a universal one.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We at grumpy rumblings feel superior (to many other blogs) because we have such excellent readers and commenters.

  11. Leah Says:

    We did our legal stuff (license) separate from the marriage ceremony. Separating the legal and church wasn’t the only reason, but it’s one of my favorite reasons. I figure that, even if the state hasn’t separated them yet, I could separate them.

    Plus, it is now fun to have a summer “legalversary” and a winter anniversary. Twice the celebration! We just have to remember the summer date for all our legal stuff.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That seems like fun. I can definitely see doing the legal stuff at the point where it makes the most sense (financially, legally, etc) and then having the wedding ceremony at the point when you can plan a fun party.

    • Scooze Says:

      So you, like the ladies in the Prop 8 case, remember the date of your wedding but not the date of your contract.This is a great reminder of why it is important that all people should be able to use the term “marriage”. It has a different connotation than “union” or “partnership”.

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Scalzi wants you to know the world didn’t end:

    • Scooze Says:

      Haha, I was in SF when the ruling came down. They allowed all same sex couples to get licenses and marry on the same day for that weekend (6/29-30) only. Normally couples have to abide by a waiting period between the license and the wedding. Anyway, I know two couples that got married last weekend. My gf and I didn’t, but it was happy times!

  13. Happy Independence Day | Funny about Money Says:

    […] And speaking of marriage, over at Grumpy Rumblings Nicoleandmaggie share their own viewpoint on the subject. […]

  14. First Gen American Says:

    I like being married. It felt like I was in limbo until then.


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