Nope, Not Married
Summary: There are many ways to define commitment. A marriage certificate is just one of them.
No matter how many times I explain to someone that my partner and I aren’t married, most married people still revert to calling her my wife and refer to us as being married. It’s really bizarre.
Seriously, if I told you I was an accountant you wouldn’t keep saying I was biologist just because that happened to be your profession would you? How about if I told you I was Jewish? Would you keep calling me a Catholic just because you like to go to mass? I hope not.
I used to spend more time pointing out to people who thought we were married that we weren’t. But after nineteen years I’m just kind of tired of the whole thing. Especially the follow-up question of why not? It’s not that I don’t mind explaining why we’re not married it’s just that I’m tired of the people who asked in the first place getting all defensive about it. Usually they follow-up with “oh well, it’s just like you’re married anyways” Well no, actually it’s not. And if you believe it’s true that my nineteen year relationship is just like being married, then your marriage must be just like my relationship. So in a way it’s practically like you’re not even married yourself!
Here’s the theorem: If A equals B, then B must equal A.
Of course that person would quickly point out that being married is different. I would agree; although these differences are largely legal or symbolic. The actual work that you need to put into a committed relationship to make it successful is the same. If just getting a wedding ring could make somebody love and honor you, then the world would be a very different place indeed.
A marriage certificate, like any other contract, is only as good as the people who sign it. A typical contract is filled with all sorts of protective clauses that spell out everyone’s responsibilities, but who has the time and money to run into court to repeatedly enforce these provisions against the errant party? The truth is if somebody wants to jerk you around or ignore the contract’s provisions there’s usually nothing much you can do about it.
That’s why marriage doesn’t really provide much security. It feels very real until it falls apart. Kind of like a big corporate job. It feels very real as you plan out the raises you’ll get, the promotions you’ll seek and the retirement package you’ll get. Then suddenly the branch closes down and everyone’s laid off.
And you know what? My relationship with my partner is no different. Just because we’re not married doesn’t mean a breakup would be any less devastating than a married couples divorce.
So back to the big question; why aren’t we married? Our decision is more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Myself? Much in the same way I was never for or against having children I was never really for or against marriage. I just figured I would go along with whatever my partner wanted. My partner on the other hand definitely wanted to have a child and just assumed she would get married before actually having a kid just to make it simpler from a legal point of view (Married couples receive benefits such as inheritance automatically in the absence of a will and status as next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions where one partner is too ill to be competent. Non married couples must create wills and living wills/Health Care Directives on their own to receive the same rights. I made mine here www.legacywriter.com)
Overtime however, my ambivalence and her assumptions evolved into a more definitive point of view. We’re now both definitely against marriage. Not for other people, just for ourselves. Most of our friends are married and we’ve happily gone to their weddings. Good for them, we say.
The issues we have with marriage are both cultural and legal. Culturally all the hoopla about marriage seems rather silly and misguided. Legally we don’t care for the idea of having to ask permission from the government to either sanctify or define our relationship. We can handle that just fine. To top all this off is the issue of gay marriage. The idea that only a relationship between one man and one woman is seen as valid and legally protected is just completely offensive to us. For us, to get married under current law would be no different from joining a “whites only” country club. It’s simply not acceptable.
However, the only reason we’re having a gay marriage debate in this country is because of the confusion about what marriage means. For most people marriage is a religious and cultural institution. They get married in the church and take their vows before God. They’re making a statement both to their creator and their community as to the status of their relationship. However from the government’s perspective, marriage is a legal concept that bestows very specific rights, privileges, and responsibilities.
And this is where the conflict starts: which is to be expected whenever you mix church and state. The people who are against gay marriage are arguing from a religious and cultural point of view. They talk about the sanctity of marriage, quote the Bible and cite cultural precedent and norms. On the other hand, people who support gay marriage argue from a legal point of view. They talk about the specific rights and privileges of marriage and cite legal precedent and the constitution to defend their point of view.
This of course is a big problem because each side is referring to a completely different concept. Plus, they’re both right.
Religions should be allowed to decide how their members behave. That’s the whole point of religion. By setting up very specific rules and expectations you create a tightly knitted group of like-minded individuals. In exchange for following these rules and expectations you’re granted access to the group and can proudly declare your allegiance to that group. It’s a way to feel special. It’s also a screening process, and all strong institutions have it.
However, when it comes to marriage as a legal concept we have much different standards to follow. There’s legal precedent and the constitution. We have concepts of equal protection under the law. We have laws that define our property rights, laws that protect our children from abuse and abandonment, and laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and education. From a strictly legal point of view, gay marriage is a no brainer. Of course two men or two women should be allowed to participate in the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage!
And there’s the rub. By mixing church and state and adopting the same word to describe both the religious and legal concepts of marriage we’ve created a huge problem.
No doubt the legal barriers for gay marriage will someday disappear much in the same way we tossed the legal barriers to interracial marriage in the last century. And much in the same way teenagers look in disbelief when shown photos of the segregated south with “whites only” signs above drinking fountains and bathrooms, their children will look at the whole “anti-gay marriage” movement with equal disbelief.
So this will just take time.
But the government could quickly speed things up by simply doing a “find and replace” in all our legal documents and replace the word “marriage” with the word “civil union.” Presto problem solved!
You want to get married, then go to a church. Or get married at the beach. Write your own vows. Dress up like Star Wars characters. It’s your wedding so do what you want. Then after the ceremony if you would also like to add some legal privileges and responsibilities then go to City Hall and pick up your civil union documents. Conversely, if you would just like to enjoy the legal privileges and responsibilities of a civil union but have no allegiance to any religious or cultural concepts around marriage you can skip the wedding and just go straight to City Hall. Ah yes, wouldn’t that be nice and simple.
Now if our elected leaders would actually show some spine instead of pandering to lowest common denominator prejudices, perhaps we could jump-start the process. Otherwise, just like with a women’s right to vote and the end of segregation, we’ll just have to drag them kicking and screaming into the future whether they like it or not.
Just found this: Here’s an Interesting organization advocating for equality and fairness for unmarried people, including people who are single, who choose not to marry, cannot marry, or live together before marriage.
That’s it for now.
Reader’s Comments (before this was a blog with comments):
Thank you for writing this. While we haven’t been together nearly as long this is exactly the point of view my partner and I have about our relationship. When I try to explain it to people I’m looked at like I’ve grown a second head so I’ve stopped even trying. Thank you for articulating everything so clearly.
File Under: Commitment Without Marriage -Raising Children in an Atheist Home – Non-Religious Parenting – Non-Christian Parenting Advice – Religion Free Parenting – Atheist Parenting – Happily Not Married But Raising Children – Unmarried Parenting – Parenting Without Marriage – Civil Unions as an Alternative to Marriage – Thoughts on Gay Marriage Debate