Commentary

Make marriage work like disappearing ink

Would a marital contract mean being tethered to state benefits? I imagine that would differ from country to country. In the U.S, there are those famous 1000 plus benefits that accrue to marriage but in a shattered economy where most people are unable to get jobs, I think it’s fair to say that marriage is not on their minds, benefits be damned.

As for the argument that marriage gets you health care: I think it’s fair to say that most would scoff at the possibility of finding health care these days. Furthermore, the idea of marital status as a guarantor of health care is an abhorrent one – except, of course, among teh gayz who think nothing of perpetuating the idea that married people are simply better people and therefore deserve more rights. I’ve lost track of how many straight people have told me, unhappily, that they got married for health care, and of the strain that puts on them and their relationships.

Reality intrudes, as it must, into the gay marriage utopia where more and more people will get married. Marriage rates, in the US and elsewhere, have been slipping and with good reason: there is no sustainable logic to the institution. In fact, it may well turn out that the only group that shows an increasing support for marriage will be… the mainstream gay community. After all, all things being equal, why should two people agree to hitch themselves to each other and the state for eternity? Gay marriage advocates are fond of insisting that marriage is the guarantor of 1000 plus benefits, but they miss the point entirely: that the state should be in charge of benefits that are tied to marriage is the problem, not the solution.

But if we are to have marriage, and if people do feel the need to exercise some kind of contractual obligation upon themselves or to each other, the Mexican proposal sounds like an excellent idea. It erases that tired idea of the sanctity of marriage – something that both gays and conservative Catholics have held to – and asks us, instead, to think of a relationship as something crafted out of contemplation and intention. Do we want to be in this for the long haul? Is it possible that we might move on in two years to something else entirely, or even to other people? Is it possible that we might expand this into something that, perhaps, includes other people? Is it possible that one or both of us might actually be happier without a partner? Is it possible that we ought to part ways but remain friends?

I see this heading in the right direction. This is yet another way to uncouple marriage from capitalism and the state. Marriage today is thrust down people’s throats as something that needs to last forever and a day, and both religious forces and the state have historic investments in that fantasy. Marriage has been a way to tie women and children in particular into relationships over which they have no choice, and which deprives them of financial or social agency.

Privileged feminists like Gloria Steinem have claimed that “we” have made marriage better, but the reality of working women’s lives is that they still make less than men, and that they still have little to no access to basic and affordable or, imagine that, free childcare. In the absence of a structural betterment of women’s economic conditions, it makes no sense to argue that marriage is better when the costs of divorce – the loss of spousal health care, for instance, or a loss of income from a partner’s job – fall more heavily upon women.

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