We attribute structural inequality to a lot of things. But somehow, marriage always gets the slip. There are still places in the world where women are less safe within the institution of marriage—places where rape is illegal but marital rape is permissible, places where if women cannot prove virginity to a new husband, she can be killed.
Additionally, the leading cause of deaths for men between the ages of 20-49 in the U.K. is suicide—it is suspected that this is due to the fact that fact that state policies undervalue labor, a traditional male sphere. Men are experiencing a crisis of identity in which they feel both required to and unable to live the traditional man-as-breadwinner narrative.
And the United States isn't much better: Policy solutions to traditional gender issues like domestic violence, division of labor within a household, parental rights, and child care draw from the worldview that the best way to order society, despite its abysmal track record, is through man-woman couples. For example, people who have been domestically abusive can still keep parental rights—that's not great.
But it's 2018. Isn't marriage changing?
We can declare that marriage is something different today. We both walked down the aisle together. He’s taking my last name. But I’m still hard-pressed to find a woman who has proposed. You can add tinsel to the tree, but it’s still a tree. Even the most egalitarian of marriages are about making people property of one another which, in my mind, is decidedly un-feminist.
Marriage began as a means to ensure women were viewed as property, to control bodies and desire. It transcends cultures and context, and though it may take different forms or identities, most everyone is either participatory or affected. The thing that they don’t say about marriage is that the only reason the state has any hand in your romantic coupling is to keep people’s ownership safe—ownership over land, money, decisions, and people as a mechanism for social order. By buying into marriage, we are reproducing the idea that we should organize our relationships this way at the expense of marginalizing all others, and that we use our bodies in a way that makes people comfortable and condemn all others.
Certainly, love can exist without marriage. It seems to me that if marriage is a necessary component of your love, marriage isn’t about love; it’s about trapping love. We live in a world that makes love a noble cause. We awe at grand gestures of sacrifice. But really, what we are doing is tempering the fear of losing love by making it legally permanent.
If love doesn't last forever, that doesn't make it a failure.
We pity each other when marriages don’t work out and deify each other when they do. People come into our lives and stay for a short time or for a long time. It doesn’t make a relationship any less valuable because it didn’t last forever or you didn’t do something to make it last longer. Longevity isn’t what is good—but we are conditioned to believe it is superior to value.
This isn't always the case, but sometimes we also retreat into marriage at the expense of friendships or building many other relationships. And this seems OK to us—expected, in fact. But support systems can look so many different ways and add value in so many different ways. We are doing ourselves a disservice with our one-size-fits-all familial model.
The lens I view marriage through as a gay woman.
Same-sex marriage is gaining wider acceptance all over the world, and I'm meant to be grateful that I’ve been given a membership card. But honestly, the permission has more to do with the heterosexual perception of the alternative—nonmarried, nonmonogamous—as perverse. We’ve quashed queer identity and any queer idea of family in the name of making the abnormal fit the normal. Instead of reimagining, we will make the deviant ordinary. The idea of this version of a support structure is so sticky that we seem incapable of re-imagining it.
So, here's why I reject the idea of marriage: It's because I reject the attachment to a relic of how people should relate to one another. I’m OK with the unknown. I don’t have any interest in the idea of a counterpart. I have no need to think of myself in terms of a complementary other, lest spend my whole life in search of one.
I want to be called to autonomously embody the qualities that I value. I want to be the best version of myself, and I want to do whatever it takes to make that happen. I don’t want to make concessions or compromises or arrangements in order to be on that journey, nor would I let anyone else abandon their path in order to honor some promise they had made to me—especially if I loved them.
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