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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Springing into the Blogosphere

Hello, blog world. Thank you, Dan, for inviting me to blog this month and for your kind welcoming remarks here. And props to the phantom Brendan Maher, who invited me to the Bloggers' reception during AALS.

I have a lot of ideas brewing around in my head, and I'm sure many of them have been discussed here over time. There is really no such thing as an original idea (or is there? Watch for another post), just the expression of the idea. That being said, I hereby submit thought:

Last night a friend told me about another couple we know who is getting divorced. "They just don't want to be married anymore," was the stated reason. And yet in this country, so many of our legal rights are conferred by marriage. Marriage provides heirs at law, advantages in healthcare, advantages in taxes.  Single people do not benefit economically from the status of being in a relationship in so many respects.  Single people pay higher taxes, get fewer tax deductions. 


(1) If our society expressly or impliedly values marriage over individuality, do we (blindly) participate in marriage for economic reasons until we "just don't want to be married anymore"?

(2) If single people had the same economic advantages as married people, would we need to "legalize" marriage for individuals who cannot marry in certain jurisdictions?

Let's hear what you have to say.




Posted by DBorman on April 5, 2011 at 03:34 PM | Permalink


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Interesting questions.

To question 1, I'd agree at least somewhat with the first half of the question. I think many people do participate in marriage partly for economic reasons, but not blindly, because I think they're aware of the benefits conferred upon married people. I also agree with the first "anon" comment that the benefits are not only economic. Marriage is normalized in countless ways by the stories we hear from the time we're children, and by television, by movies, by songs, etc. we enounter throughout the culture after that. As far as the second part, regarding the marriages that break up, it's interesting that they break up DESPITE the benefits and despite cultural reinforcement, which I think shows that this ideal is not nearly as natural for all people as we're told it is. Something so deeply ingrained and so undeniably necessary for all people wouldn't need so much policing and prodding, and wouldn't so often fail anyway.

Interestingly, the profession of marriage counseling didn't really take off until the 1930s, and developed largely out of a need to square the institution of marriage with changing ideas about gender roles. This interesting new book covers this:

As for the second question, I'd also that the selling of marriage is a big part of how our culture privileges heterosexuality. Hetero relationships are already privilged in many ways in terms of acceptance and status, but when marriage is posited as the goal of hetero relationships and showered with all kinds of benefits, the institutional discrimination against bisexuals and homosexuals is increased.

The salient points are that a) not all of these benefits are economic, because many carry great emotional and social status weight, as well, and b) many people want the ceremony for their own personal, possibly complicated reasons. Even if that choice is sometimes compromised by economics, or cultural beliefs, or desire for status, etc., there's still the problem that some people get to make that choice, and others don't, based only on whether their partner is the same gender or not.

So, even if we eliminated economic advantages of married people over single people, we'd still have cultural advantages attached to marriage. And we'd still have the issue that some people of all sexual orientations would want to marry, but that only heterosexuals would always be able to do so.

Posted by: Phil Mole | Apr 7, 2011 1:04:47 AM

Or rather, the answer to your second question is that equalizing the economic benefits for single and married people would not address all concerns about marriage equality.

Posted by: anon | Apr 5, 2011 4:14:52 PM

Based on my observations, I think many people in the U.S. who are able to marry do indeed "(blindly) participate in marriage." But they do so as much for cultural as for economic reasons. For further cultural reasons, most would probably deny that they participate blindly. The answer to your second question would, then, be no, because the perceived and actual cultural benefits of marriage aren't just economic.

Posted by: anon | Apr 5, 2011 4:06:38 PM

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