UNPOPULAR OPINION: Marriage Should Be Banned

Can we just accept that two people who live together in a close relationship should be allowed to get health benefits together?
Publish date:
February 25, 2015
unpopular opinion, marriage, same-sex marriage

I'd like to introduce you to Associate Justice Glenn Murdock of the Alabama Supreme Court. This fine gentleman belongs to the Covenant Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, and you might know him best as a member of an increasingly baroque and bizarre state court that apparently thinks its opinions supersede those of the, er, Supreme Court. Like, the federal one. Or you might know him as the guy who just said that the state of Alabama should ban marriage.

And I'm actually with him. We should ban marriage. Because it's an outdated, harmful, and ridiculous institution. If you want to have a private ceremony conducted however you want to, fine. But leave me, my government, and my tax dollars the hell out of it, because how you choose to celebrate your relationship has nothing to do with me.

Justice Murdock is just the latest to wade into an utterly confusing and tangled fray in Alabama, where everyone appears to be having kittens over . . . three guesses . . . okay, I'll just tell you: same-sex marriage. In a comment he casually attached to a larger opinion, he quoted A. Bertolla & Sons v State — don't worry, I had to look it up too — a 1945 case "to recover the sum of $1654.58 alleged to be due from defendants as shipping point inspection service fees for the inspection of Irish potatoes."

The section of particular interest to him was this:

[The act] . . . ought not to be held wholly void unless the invalid portion is so important to the general plan and operation of the law in its entirety as reasonably to lead to the conclusion that it would not have been adopted if the legislature had perceived the invalidity of the part so held to be unconstitutional.

He drew upon another case, Love v Foster (1998) to strongly suggest that had Alabama's legislature known that its vote to restrict marriages to one man/one woman could be ruled unconstitutional, it wouldn't have passed the legislation (which would have relieved us all of a massive headache). Moreover, he suggested, perhaps the legislature wouldn't allow state-recognized marriage at all if the alternative is permitting The Gays to get married.

But I'm not actually here today to talk about antigay justices and why they are wrong, the case for marriage equality, and all that jazz. The arguments against same-sex unions are unilaterally wrong and also completely illogical. The problem here isn't same-sex marriage.

It's marriage. We live in the 21st century, and it's time to get over our marriage fetish. People have been getting married for a very long time, mostly for really terrible reasons, and we need to stop insisting that marriage is the only way to legally recognize a relationship. And maybe, just maybe, we need to stop with the marriage-as-legal-institution thing altogether.

Like I say, if you want to have a cozy ceremony where you jump over a broom on a windswept hearth with your neighborhood witch (or warlock, I'm not sexist) in attendance, or hit up the cathedral for some old school smells and bells, or whatever, that's great. Really. I'm happy for you. I know that many people like to publicly acknowledge and celebrate their relationships and I don't want to stand in their way.

I even attend a wedding now and then, sometimes not under duress, although I usually cringe and look away during the part in many heterosexual weddings when a grown adult woman capable of making her own decisions is led down the aisle by her father like a side of beef. (I haven't noticed this phenomenon at lesbian weddings? Maybe I run in the wrong circles.)

But I am pretty vehemently opposed to marriage as a government-sponsored institution and what it stands for, as it's effectively about a history of getting — and controlling — property. Oh, and also for begetting children. Which you know are yours. Because you own your wife.

Historically, marriage has been used as a tool. It's not an expression of love or union. This notion of marriage is actually relatively recent (talk about "redefining marriage"). And I see it more as a way to dress up a toxic institution than it is a genuine redefinition, a sort of "Well, lots of people are married, so that's a thing," situation.

In no particular order, marriage has been used to: secure trade deals; broker peace; gain access to or control large tracts of property; infiltrate royal bloodlines; beget prodigy (not the band); get rid of unwanted women; get access to wanted women; resolve problematic pregnancy; preserve royal bloodlines; and create political relationships. Through much of history, love wasn't really part of the equation here. Honestly, neither were women.

Women were the pawns to be moved around and traded off. Many didn't have any say in when, if, and whom they married. Their male relatives would shunt them around to wherever was convenient — and, notably, unmarried women often weren't allowed to own property or make their own choices. Their fathers effectively owned them, and then their brothers if their fathers passed away, and then their husbands. Unmarried women had very, very few life paths open to them.

As a structural institution, marriage was really highly oppressive to women. One could, in fact, argue that it was a symbol of oppression — because what marriage stood for was controlling power through the ownership of a woman.

Yes, in the 20th century views of marriage began to change, but behind it all there's this archaic and deeply messed up institution. That's the bitter slime that lingers when I think about marriage.

Like, really? This is something people want to fight for? This is something people want to repeatedly bandy all over the courts? This is a social priority? Fucking marriage? An outdated and deeply troubled social institution that's basically the epitome of the patriarchy? Why are we so earnest about this?

If we ban marriage, we can focus on issues like acknowledging the equality and value of love, and allowing people to go on celebrating their partnerships in a way that works best for them, which, I daresay, probably isn't a gloomy county clerk's office with ratty carpet.

We still live in a world where women are repeatedly asked if they're taking their husband's name, criticized for it if they don't, and subjected to endless Christmas cards addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Jones anyway. Gallingly, some people really go all out and call women by their husband's full names, which is how you get "Mrs. John Jones," because, really, what says liberation and 21st century living like acting as though women are subsumed into their husbands when they put on wedding rings?

What says liberation like the huge pressure built up around marriage, with young women being told that they need to get married and have children to be fulfilled in this supposedly enlightened era? And, dare I say it, what about the men? How do men feel about the extreme push to propose to their partners to prove they love them? What the heck kind of messed up feces is that?

Marriage as an institution has become so embedded in our society that aside from the warm gooey pleasure of public social recognition, people also (understandably) want legal recognition of their unions for things like the ability to visit their partners in the hospital or pick up their children at school and a number of other critically important things. One could argue that we should split marriage into private life while allowing the state to conduct civil unions for people who need legally-recognized relationships, but I say balls to that, too.

We should be living in an equal society where partnerships don't require any kind of legal recognition for members of those partnerships to be taking on roles as decision-makers or cohabitants. Can we just accept that two people who live together in a close relationship should be allowed to get health benefits together? That people should be able to file joint tax returns? That with power of attorney, people should be able to make medical decisions and pick up kids? That an abrupt and arbitrary legal landmark doesn't really say anything about the degree of love in a relationships? Why do we have to create and perpetuate this structure in which people are still encouraged to buy into this outdated and ridiculous institution?

Marriage should have died off long ago, and the reason it hasn't is directly linked with sexism and misogyny. Are we against sexism and misogyny? Good. Then why are we getting married?