4 Myths that Prove It’s Time to Reevaluate Marriage

The reasons people normally cite for getting hitched no longer make sense. We should be asking: why get married at all?

Marriage, as most know it in western countries, is regarded as the end goal of a relationship between (usually) a man and woman, and it normally has some sort of religious component. Marriage is regarded as “sacred”. Weddings are planned that few really want to attend; pointless dresses are worn never to be seen again; awkward family photos are taken.

Being married supposedly conveys respectability. We regard it as “settling down”, indicative of stability. For some reason we even congratulate people who are already in a relationship for, basically, signing papers (or just changing Facebook statuses) and calling it an engagement. We spend unnecessarily large amounts on engagement and wedding rings.

Yet, with low marriage rates (the US marriage rate is the lowest it’s been in a century) and high divorce rates, more single (by choice) parents (not to mention gay marriage), increasing numbers of peopleabandoning religious traditions as a whole, and people living happier lives because they only even consider marriage later, we should thoroughly reassess the importance of marriage.

Indeed, well-known people have already done so: Oprah Winfrey unashamedly remains unmarried to her life partner of 20 years; powerful Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina have children, adopted and biological, but remain unmarried. Many of those who live in public eye are unafraid of dismissing marriage as the end goal. They don’t need a marriage certificate or label to be happy.

Thus, why get married at all?

Marriage myth 1: It’s tradition

One response usually involves tradition, religion, family and/or culture. None of these is sufficient, however, for marriage — or any activity.

To act solely according to what families want would be not only archaic but immoral: just because someone wants something doesn’t mean he should get it nor that his demand is right. Parents who, for example, force their child into marriage are increasingly being regarded ascommitting a crime in westernised countries. Their mere desire doesn’t make forced marriage right. A parental desire doesn’t have automatic moral soundness (let alone legality).

Love shouldn’t be completely unconditional, but it also shouldn’t be a gun to the throat. It is our lives, and compromises can usually — but not always — be reached.

Getting married for the sake of your religion also seems problematic: aside from those who are not religious, actions aren’t right just because a religion demands them.

Marriage myth 2: It’s a public declaration of love

The second argument you often hear is that marriage is a declaration of love. It’s about “showing” we’re settled, our partners are “off the market”, and we’re in a position to build a family. Most of this, however, is a display for others. Plenty of monogamous couples maintain stable, healthy relationships without rings or certificates to “prove” loyalty.

Indeed, who are we trying to prove our love to? Our proof should be our treatment of each other: anything else is addition, not basis. There is more to be worried about if we need to “secure” someone, like a raging animal, with a ring or certificate or other public stamp.

Furthermore, as high divorce rates show, being tied to one person doesn’t work out for many, especially for the rest of our lives. Compromises can be made. Couples now swing, maintain open marriages, and so on. But this should only make us question why we’re still devoted to the “one true love” ideal in the first place.

Marriage myth 3: Married couples make better parents

Of course, there’s evidence to support the idea that married couples make better parents and families than, say, single parents. Some of this is because there hasn’t been much research into alternative family structures, although that will likely change since trends are changing.

All that said, it’s not marriage alone that gives couples magical parent powers: it’s the stability of a home, a good relationship, a great support basis. Certificates and rings don’t do that: mature, honest, good people do — for themselves and each other. And, further, the assumption that every adult or couple wants children is false.

Marriage myth 4: You get better legal and financial benefits

There’s no denying this as perhaps the best of the terrible reasons for marriage. Married couples get certain legal and economic benefits we otherwise can’t get. The 1,138 benefits in the US alone are noteworthy, as many are all over the world. Social security, property, visitation rights, travel benefits and tax breaks. It’s an express option on tax filing, health and travel (not exactly romantic. The Book of Common Prayer should read: “Till taxes do us part”.)

Any marriage solely for tax benefits needs help. It doesn’t tell us anything about the relationship itself, save that the couple want benefits from the state. It’s not that much different from the infamous “green card” scenarios, where citizenship is obtained or a visa extended due to marrying a local. But this, too, undermines what many think marriage is — or should be.

Further, we should question why only one kind of relationship is recognised: namely the monogamous kind. Monogamy should be an option, not mandatory, on any level — let alone the legal and financial.

You could argue that the state needs some way to recognise stability. If marriage is the only way, then perhaps the state and I can nod and wink as we pass each other our papers for our mutual benefit. Similarly, this assumes the state should be involved in marriage at all, which itself requires serious consideration. If as adults we can decide how to spend the rest our lives, we can, on a case-by-case basis, say, draw up legal documents. Then, as Edward Morrisey points out:

Those who choose to cohabit in non-traditional relationships have ample options for formalizing their arrangements through [this] private contract process, which government enforces but does not sanction. That leaves adults free to choose whatever sexual arrangements they desire outside of the actual prohibitions that are objectively applied to everyone. That is actual freedom and equality.

Thus, if possible, even for these important economic and legal reasons marriage appears unnecessary. In the UK, for example, people can draw up similar documents to those of married couples. There’s no reason unmarried but cohabiting couples should be denied those rights earmarked solely for the married.

Why should anyone have to pass a government’s arbitrary, and usually archaic, notion of what constitutes a stable relationship to obtain benefits? If much can be done from a legal and contractual side without marriage, then marriage loses all credibility.

The “sanctity” of marriage — whatever that really means — has long been undermined for conservatives by: high divorce rates, polyandry and polygamy, gay marriage, recognition that there’s no “one” way marriage has always been, and so on. But, aside from these, we should wonder at marriage’s necessity.

We want a society in which we’re all treated equally like adults. Marriage as the assumed end goal of social life creates a stigma on unmarried people who are viewed as, for example, less stable, meaning they’re less likely to be able to adopt children — despite such people being as stable as married people.

My point isn’t eradication of marriage, but rethinking marriage’s importance and assumptions. This could help open all people up to different kinds of sexual and romantic interactions they might otherwise never experience — or, at the very least, increase tolerance, since society isn’t rewarding only one kind of relationship. It could help lessen stigma and actually treat all citizens — single, in relationships or otherwise — with respect. Marriage’s benefits, of stability, legal ease and economic pay offs can still be met, without institutionalisation.

All this shouldn’t deter fights for things like gay marriage — indeed, that cause also is about undermining marriage assumptions and norms.

For myself, I can see no reason that sufficiently makes marriage, in general, a viable option worth wanting or supporting. I would much rather live in a society that had little interest in my relationship life, but protected me and everyone nevertheless. It’s not a black-and-white situation of total societal interest or disinterest. Keep marriage, if you so want, but it shouldn’t hamper or restrict others from benefits or equal treatment, especially when there appears so little reason for having it.

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Source: Alternet