2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Why are we getting married? Accepting privilege while wanting it eliminated

Having reached the midway-point of this June journey of wedding-prep, I will take a break to reflect on why I’m even doing this—having a wedding—in the first place. And to address the question of why we are having a wedding, I really need to address the question of why we are getting married.

Deciding to get married: Over two years ago, my partner and I expressed our mutual desire to embark upon a lifelong partnership together. A lot of our decision to get married came from our desire to demonstrate our investment in this partnership and celebrate our joy with friends and family. That said, why the marriage license?

In college, I became ardently against the institution of marriage as it now functions in the United States. See http://beyondmarriage.org/ for some activism that has informed my beilefs. The basis of this stance is that the benefits and protections afforded to married couples should be restructured so that all people can access them. This position grew out of a radical response to the same-sex marriage movement.

I believe that the same-sex marriage movement and the beyond-marriage movement are both extremely important. I believe we must restructure the legal institution of marriage to incorporate same-sex couples, as well as couples in which one person is genderqueer or intersex. In addition, I believe that our country must engage in the long-term work of restructuring our many systems of social and economic privilege so that all people can access these cares and protections.

Legal protection: Beginning to intertwine my life with someone else’s is really exciting, and it is also really risky. Both in Jewish and American law, getting married means taking on certain responsibilities and gaining a degree of legal protection. As we share living quarters, a bank account, and possibly offspring, our marriage license gives us access to a plethora of legal back-up options should something happen to one of us individually or to our relationship.

Tax breaks: Married couples get tax breaks. As a Massachusetts resident at least I know that my married same-sex partners do have access to at least some of the privileges of legal marriage. However, since the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, legally married Massachusetts residents do not receive the federal tax break if they are in a same-sex marriage.

Health care: While on a personal level I am excited and relieved by the prospect of being able to put my partner on my health care plan or vice-versa, I also think that health care should be available to everyone. Married, single, healthy, unhealthy, employed, unemployed, old, young, everything. Everyone should get health care. Health care is a right, not a privilege.

On the one hand, I have listed and explained some of my reasons for getting married. On the other hand, many of these same reasons inform my belief that the legal institution of marriage should be eliminated.

I look at it this way: I recognize that for myself and my partner, access to health care, tax breaks, and legal protection will improve our lives. We have the privilege of signing a marriage license and thus enjoying these benefits. However, it also seems obvious to me that if everyone’s lives would be improved by such access, and making a lifelong commitment to someone of the opposite sex does not make me better or more deserving than other people, I should not have access to these resources while others do not. The institution of marriage in our country needs some radical restructuring.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

Mimi Arbeit

sexuality educator, developmental scientist, feminist.

3 thoughts on “Why are we getting married? Accepting privilege while wanting it eliminated”

  1. havacow737 says:

    Very well put Mimi! You describe it so simply: 'making a lifelong commitment to someone of the opposite sex does not make me better or more deserving than other people.' It's so true, and yet, somehow, many people would disagree. How they rationalize their disagreement is beyond me.

  2. ZR says:

    In some cases, marriage can mean a tax penalty. I don't know enough about it to really speak intelligently, but the NYTimes did a special on the lifetime costs of being gay and did note that gay couples who can't get married do pay less in income taxes (a lifetime difference of $15,000 to $112,000 – http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/your-money/03money.html, see the last link "income taxes"). So, marriage isn't really useful as a tax break and, in fact, looks like it will cost one a lot of money under the current tax code. There are lots of other benefits, but this probably isn't one.

    However, I think one can argue that the government should want people to get into lifelong couplings. First, sharing resources is more efficient than not. In the past, this was essential. Even today, the economic downturn has shown us that even in a time of plenty, sharing resources can be helpful. Second, while one can share resources with non-partners, it can be more difficult and it is harder for the government. Marriage works like a contract and it's a generally standard contract. I'm sure you've lived with non-partners and not had any formal contract between yourselves. If one roommate does something bad, it's difficult for the government to do anything. Marriage is an agreement for the state to enforce certain things in worst-case scenarios. Divorce is one such scenario and a marriage means that the state can come in and unwind the agreement. Without it, it would be easy for someone less scrupulous to, say, put a house in one name and when the relationship ends, the other party has no claim to the house. Marriage acts as a way that people don't always have to rely on auditing every agreement between each other in the couple. If everything (buying a house, buying a car, retirement accounts, etc.) is a separate thing with nothing governing it from outside, it can become a nightmare of paperwork and legal fees, not to mention the greater likelihood that someone would be overlooked and hurt one party.

    Marriage is also an agreement for two people to be addressed as a unit in some cases – a corporation of two, so to speak. This includes bank accounts and things. The government also wants to do certain practical things that recognize that unit. For example, one can pass wealth to a spouse without the taxes being levied and such a transfer also avoids the estate tax. However, if one can get that benefit without marriage – if one could just designate any person to receive assets tax free – it would eliminate any possibility of having an estate or gift tax. Now, you can marry multiple times, but the state is involved in that contract and doesn't make it simple to unwind and that provides a buttress against abuse. Marriage also restricts the contract to people you aren't closely related to (in most jurisdictions) and so a father couldn't marry his son to avoid taxes.

    Marriage also works as an easy way for the state to know who you trust. For example, you could designate power of attorney, hospital visitation rights, etc. in contractual form and have it on file with your attorney who can come in to advise the hospital if, G-d forbid, something happens, but that's complicated and confusing. It makes sense to have a baseline agreement that one might amend with pre-nuptial agreements, but still conveys meaning without the need for a lawyer to explain to people you interact with – be that a bank, a doctor, whatnot.

    There are definitely things that come along with marriage that don't need to be tied to marriage and it is unjust that marriage is limited to heterosexual couples in most places. However, I think that there are compelling reasons the state would like people to be in registered relationships. It makes things so much simpler when you're registered with the state that you should be considered as a two-person corporation for many things like housing, cars, finances, hospital visitation, power of attorney, inheritance, etc.

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