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A Critique of Marriage, from a Bride-to-Be

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I’m getting married in 6 weeks.

So, it’s with great interest that I’ve been reading a lot of anti-marriage polemic that’s been floating around the internet lately. One thing I’ve consciously tried to do (and, I think, succeeded) is refrain from ever getting defensive about my choice to get married. I wrote a pretty polemical post about name changing, and a lot of of people really called me out on it. Their criticism basically amounted to: if you are so repulsed by heterosexist straight married privilege, as you claim, why the fuck are you getting married?

To which I only have to say: good point.

I admit it. I want to benefit from that privilege. I want it. I want my relationship to be regarded as extremely important by others, the way I regard it. I want assets I have to automatically pass to my spouse if I die suddenly and I haven’t thought of everything. I want to be able to take advantage of a whole pile of benefits, social, legal, and otherwise.

I want the family privilege. I want my family to regard my partner as part of their family, and I want my partner’s family to accept me as the same. And, I admit, the big party and lots of people fussing over me, and the opportunity to fuss over my partner and have a ceremony where we talk about how we love each other, is a pretty awesome side benefit. And, since I’m going to have an open marriage, I want that legal status even more, to provide emotional and legal security for the person I have chosen as my primary partner.

None of this is a sufficient justification. Just because I want it doesn’t make it progressive. I don’t believe, and have never believed, in “choice feminism,” and I recognize that lots of choices we make support and reinforce the patriarchy. Including this one.

Which is why I was particularly moved by this post by Addy Fox at Jezebel about why she isn’t getting married:

[T]his isn’t really about statement making for me. It’s more about what’s in my heart, and how I would feel joining a club that has rules I don’t agree with. And in the bargain, taking the argument against gay marriage (it will hurt “normal” marriage) and flipping it on it’s head by showing that denying gays marriage can turn plenty of straight people off it.

There’s something very compelling about that idea: there is something morally reprehensible about participating in an institution that you know to be broken or unjust. But I don’t even agree with Fox that the problem with marriage is that gay people aren’t allowed to do it.

It’s much worse than that. This Newsweek piece gets a little closer, but it still misses the mark. The problem with marriage will not be fixed on the day that gay people are allowed to do it and DOMA is repealed, although that will help a lot. Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison make the case that marriage is no longer necessary, and thus they are swearing off it. That first part isn’t accurate. I think that marriage still provides social approval, legal protection, and financial security that a lot of people still desperately need. However, I do think that a world in which fewer people feel the need to get married is a better one.

A world where people can provide the full panoply of benefits to their partners without getting married is a better one. A world where we accept that relationships are fluid instead of pretending they are forever, is better. A world where we don’t have state-supported monogamy enforcement is better. A world where people don’t feel the need to enter into a legal contract to legitimize their relationships is better.

I want to bring that world into being. And since I’m benefiting from the privileges that I abhor by getting married, I’m going to work even harder at it. I don’t believe that “fighting from the inside” is better than “fighting from the outside,” but I do think I’ll have an opportunity to illuminate the way married privilege works to benefit the heterosexist patriarchy, by seeing it firsthand. I plan to take that opportunity.

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44 Comments

  1. Beth Turner wrote:

    I got married for a variety of reasons but I’d have to say the biggest one is that I’m not part of a homosexual couple and I wanted to move to the UK to live with my partner. When it comes to moving countries and if you’re straight Marriage is pretty much your only choice unless you’re lucky enough to get hired by a company in a foreign country but even then it doesn’t give you the security of staying the same country as getting married does.

    Saying that my Sister-in-law and her (male) partner have been together for got nearly 15 years or something now and have no intention to get married any time soon or possibly ever. They’ve taken care of everything so if one of them dies it gives benefits to the others and they don’t feel the need to get married.

    But then they didn’t have a choice of giving up their relationship or getting married and moving country (and yes my husband could’ve moved to the US instead but I wanted to move to England because WOOT! Heatlthcare amongst other things)

    So sometimes marriage really is the only option…at the moment.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  2. Silvana wrote:

    Beth, I understand that. But I think it’s important that we not fall into the trap of pretending that the legal benefits are the reason people get married. I think it’s become fashionable for straight people to claim that they are getting married for the legal benefits, especially because the marriage equality movement has fought for equality based on the provision of those benefits.

    Those legal benefits matter, but I think for most people, including me, the social and personal benefit is the primary thing that animates our desire to get married. I always liked this post from Amanda Marcotte on the same topic.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  3. Sarah TX wrote:

    Yeah, ugh. As someone approaching their two year wedding anniversary (I got married when gay marriage WAS legal, in California), I can tell you that this conflicted feeling doesn’t really go away (and I don’t even have the added complexity of negotiating polyamorous relationships in addition).

    I hate that it’s considered unusual for two adults to be committed to each other for “more than a year” without getting married – so unusual that we have to define this as a special case. I hate the fact that couples feel it’s “all well and good” to be unmarried until they have kids, and then suddenly marriage is necessary. I actively and vocally support equal marriage rights for all couples, and yet I hate that it is further legitimizing the idea that the only allowable end-goal of a relationship is marriage.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  4. Silvana wrote:

    I hate that it is further legitimizing the idea that the only allowable end-goal of a relationship is marriage.

    Hold on. No. I am not saying this and I hope my post is not being read as saying this. I think it’s a huge stretch to say the fight for marriage equality is doing anything to reinforce the proposition that marriage is the only allowable end goal of a relationship.

    The legitimization of same-sex relationships only further dismantles the patriarchal culture. It doesn’t reinforce it, even if a form that legimitization takes is marriage equality.

    I am very, very surpicious of claims that fighting for marriage equality is barking up the wrong tree. Marriage is here, and it will be for a good long while now. All people need to have access to it, while it remains in existence.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  5. scrumby wrote:

    I’m all for marriage/civil union/social contract stuff. Cuts through a lot of legal messiness. But I think we should be allowed to incorporate limits. What if you had to get your marriage license renewed every few years? “You’re marriage is contracted for 3 years at the end of which you can choose to renew or dissolve the union. If you choose to end the marriage at that time then the preset terms of separation apply. If you want to dissolve the union before the 3 year renewal period penalties will apply. If you allow your marriage license to lapse penalties will apply…”

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  6. Ailbhe Leamy wrote:

    I got married basically against my will and we will probably get a divorce when, um, certain family members die. Because *at the time of my marriage* there was no automatic legal right of guardianship for a surviving parent unless they were the mother or married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.

    When did that law change? *While I was pregnant, that is, before the damn child was born.* How pissed off was I? Very, though civil partnerships helped a bit.

    But there was no way I was risking my children’s next of kin being *my* parents rather than *the child’s* other parent. One of my parents is not safe around children.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  7. Tabby Watauga wrote:

    I actually rejected marriage when it was proposed to me solely for the legal benefits. I had moved to Guam to be with a long-term boyfriend, stationed there with the military. I had no access to base without him – I couldn’t pick him up from work in our shared car, I couldn’t attend the religious services he ran on base, etc. But it just felt wrong to get married solely for those benefits (we would not have told our families or friends or had a religious service). So I get that the legal benefits aren’t all – I very much want the cultural approval, especially now:

    I’ve moved back to the mainland. He intends to join me when he can, in probably a year. And I’ve been stunned by how dismissed our relationship is. Friends and family basically assume we’ve broken up, and can’t remember that I’ve told them differently. They look a bit askance at me flying to see him when he’s on the continent. When, hey, some support for a difficult part of my life would be nice, jerkwads. Sigh.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  8. Meg wrote:

    “Who is ?” the UPS guy asks. I’ve spoken already, and he’s seen my driver’s license, so I’ve been read as female.

    My partner had called about picking up a package and got told that he’d need a signed letter from me to pick it up, but apparently they had still put his name into the system in some way. When I went out of my way to pick up the package, since he’d got told it’d be a hassle to have him do it, I got asked this question.

    “Oh, he’s my partner,” I reply. Normally I use that word in situations where I want to be read as queer, because I and my partner both are. He identifies as a non-conforming man, wearing skirts and long hair. I identify as “undecided”, have mostly dated people who identify as women and spent years before questioning my identity as a dyke in the lesbian community. In queer circles I might take some flack for appropriation of a word used by queer folks excluded from the hegemonic institution of marriage. In casual situations I might get to see whether someone lights up at the word, cringes or looks confused. It’s like a divining rod. The package guy, on the other hand, assumes we’re not gay, plus we live in Massachusetts where being gay doesn’t remove the expectation of conformity, and asks, “What does that mean?”

    “We’ve been together eight years and have no intention of marrying, but ‘boyfriend’ implies something more casual, or makes it sound like we plan on getting married some day. So I use ‘partner’.” His brow furrows. Here, instead of getting dinged for appropriation, I’m likely to take flack for not expressing appropriate lack of commitment to my non-sanctioned relationship by calling him my “boyfriend”. Oh, wait, worse, he’s taking my rejection, of an oppressive institution promising perpetual control over my body to someone else in exchange for a ridiculously huge bribe of benefits, personally:
    “Why don’t you want to get married?”

    To be fair, the answer isn’t simple. This is the question my partner asks me over and over. I have lots of reasons, some theoretical, some deeply personal, none of them falling in the “pros” column. The one he likes least is when I say it is because I don’t want to label all the other relationships in my life as illegitimate. I have had many romantic encounters, some lasting for a single night, some lasting for years. Each of them, I believe, deserves to be celebrated. My relationship to him is just as central to my life and for longer, but it’s not more central. It sticks in my craw that society wants to give me a gold star for this relationship and not for any of those others. In this instant, I summarize.

    “I could never be someone’s wife,” I reply, simply. Because that is the other personal reason, the other thing that sticks in my craw. No one has ever “accidentally” described him as my husband, but plenty of (heterosexual, cis-gendered, steeped-in-other-privilege) people have “accidentally” or forgetfully described me as his wife. Normally in joking, belittling circumstances. He doesn’t correct them, either, I think because he wishes I were. If he could own me, he might finally be confident I’d never leave. I’m glad to know that if he’s unhappy he could leave. I want to be with someone only because my life is better for it; why is that so hard to understand? Of course, no one is asking him to abandon his autonomy to get the relationship-gold-star he wants.

    “Oh, well, if you don’t have kids it doesn’t really matter anyway,” this guy replies. I’m tempted to lie and claim offspring, just to make a point. Many of my good friends grew up with single moms. Others went through messy divorces. My parents are still together, even though they should have split up when I was six, and have been miserable and stagnate ever since. Two-parent straight households do not a family make (all the oblivious people I can’t stand have, so far, come from such household). The healthiest children I know grew up in polyamours households, where they learned about communication, self-awareness and intentional living. They know that love is not a scare resource, and that commitment is driven by loyalty and love, not contracts or God. In my experience, children thrive in a place with a diverse surfeit of love.

    In the end, my refusal to belittle or submit my relationship for societal approval is dismissed as acceptable, or at least unimportant because I don’t have children. Why should society care? But only after he has determined that I’m not going to apologize, that I’m not in waiting, that I place myself at right angles to his assumptions of the world. That dismissal is the only option I leave him, other than to question everything he thinks he knows.

    I am a little bitter when people who present themselves as radical feminists never the less choose to pass as a wife. Not because gay monogamous couples can’t, but because I think the dyadic, perpetual ownership-over-another-person’s-body that marriage implies is inherently patriarchal and destructive to society. I try to follow Feminist Hulk’s lead: “HULK QUESTION CULTURAL PRIMACY OF SEXUAL DIFFERENCE, BUT RESPECT FREEDOM TO SELF-IDENTIFY IN CONVENTIONAL WAYS.”, but it is one of my personal struggles.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  9. Sady wrote:

    @Sarah: Yeah, it’s a really complicated issue. Ultimately, I feel that marriage, like anything relating to how your intimate relationships are arranged, is a private decision — the problem is that some people’s marriages ARE considered illegitimate or illegal by the state, not that some AREN’T, and also I am just super-sentimental and like going to people’s weddings, so if you want to have one, I’m not about to stop you. Have an open bar! Don’t put the goddamn “Electric Slide” on your mix tape! Such are my feminist wedding requirements and/or suggestions! I mean, it’s not like I’m unaware that marriage confers social privilege. It does, and it’s unfair. But lots of things confer social privilege: Being a snappy dresser, having good taste in music, social skills and manners. Don’t exploit it, don’t be smug about it, support the rights of others to get married, and you’re good. It’s the legal privileges that matter to me. And it’s those that we have to make more widely available.

    I do think that the “marriage if you have kids” thing, though, is not so much always a social-expectations thing as it is a common-sense thing; as a person who had a dad that skipped out, and was financially irresponsible, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about marriage except to note that, if this entirely-hypothetical-oh-my-God-I-can’t-even-imagine-myself-being-in-this-position-any-time-soon person and I decide we want to have kids, there WILL be a marriage in place so that this person knows that he WILL be required to continue financially and emotionally caring for the kids even if he and I wind up not getting along with each other eventually. Which happens a lot. Basically, the reason I’d want to be married is that I’d want to be able to negotiate the terms of the breakup better if there were children involved. Like I said, I’m a sentimental girl.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  10. solara wrote:

    Scrumby, I love that idea; it was acutally proposed by a lesbian couple in a city a decent time ago (1980s, I believe) but was never dealt with. I think that doing so would also help to remove some of the stigma from divorce – instead of ENDING your marriage, you simply failed to renew the contract. Happens all the time, etc. More people would certainly get “divorced” this way, but in the end, if you didn’t want to be in the marriage enough to renew a contract, then why should you stay in it?

    Aside from that, great post, Silvana. I recently heard a talk given by an undergraduate defending the rights of married couples over committed cohabiting couples, and I am now convinced that there is absolutely no real reason that marriage should be privileged – but I still want to get married. I’m with you – the benefit of finally being taken seriously as a couple by others, much less the financial and civil benefits (and all those Disney movies . . .), have made me, personally, choose to accept the idea of marriage in my life, if for no other reason than to have my mom stop giving me a look when I talk about the future with my current SO.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  11. Sady wrote:

    – AND NOW, A VERY SPECIAL REQUEST —

    Feel free to post things that are critical! That happens! Marriage is a hot-button issue!

    However, please feel free to EXCLUDE the part of your comment that explicitly complains about other married feminist bloggers. One blogger’s name, in particular, JUST KEEPS A-COMIN’ UP, and it’s fucking stupid, because, here’s who is married (THAT I KNOW OF) in the feminist blogosphere:

    * Melissa McEwan, Shakesville
    * Cara Kulwicki, The Curvature/Feministe
    * Lauren, Feministe
    * Lots of other bloggers.

    The fact that this ONE blogger’s name keeps on happening, in the comment section, is pretty indicative to me not of her being THE ONLY MARRIED FEMINIST BLOGGER EVER, but of there having been a long and tiresome media campaign of covering her engagement/wedding/marriage/etc. as if she were.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  12. Sarah TX wrote:

    I don’t think you were making that argument, Silvana. It’s a derail and I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I have unqualified support for marriage equality – I just have distaste for some of the conservative rhetoric employed by some other supporters.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  13. Beth Turner wrote:

    True Silvana legal reasons aren’t the only reason but I really wasn’t interested in the party (we had a “surprise” wedding and kept it on the cheap)

    The main reason that my husband and I got married when we did (I was 20 so quite young) was legal reasons.

    But my sister in law and her guy have just as secure a relationship as my husband and I have and they aren’t married (my husband does call her boyfriend his brother-in-law because he is)

    I’m probably not putting it very well but I’m basically saying “I agree with you and until the legal rules change and we no longer HAVE to get married for legal reasons sometimes will it be an institution”

    I certainly think that people need to have something other then “Meet, date, move in together, get married, divorce” as a model.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  14. Victoria wrote:

    I got married because my husband really, really wanted to and I was okay with it.

    But what makes me feel dirty, well beyond legal privilege, is participating in something that is represented in our culture the way marriage is represented. We–especially men–are *supposed* to hate it, *supposed* to resent our partners, our old balls and chains. By taking part in it, we have somehow led people around us to assume that we’ve joined the Complain Constantly About Your Spouse club. We both hate everything about the way marriage is depicted in this country’s TV and advertising outlets, and the way those simplified, unexamined depictions have seeped into the consciousnesses of people we know and interact with on a daily basis.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  15. thanks for writing this. i’m a bi-woman, engaged to a woman, planning a ceremony in texas for september. for us, it’s ENTIRELY about the social aspects of marriage. several people have asked us “why bother?” since our state doesn’t recognize our relationship even a little bit. but the idea of a wedding and everything that entails is something i grew up thinking was more about the non-legal aspects. we’re not having a religious ceremony, but the methodist church i grew up in has certainly informed my thinking on this. in every sacrament (wedding, baptism, etc), there was a portion of the ceremony that involved asking the congregation to pledge their support to the persons involved. we are inviting all the people who are important to us (and absolutely no one who doesn’t fully support us) because it’s important to us that they witness our commitment and pledge THEIR commitment to us as well.

    my dream would be for the legal concept of marriage to become completely divorced (pun, yes) from the religious/social aspects. everyone should be able to choose which aspects of both work for them and their relationship/s. for me, it’s INCREDIBLY important to have our family and friends acknowledge and pledge support to us as a couple and future parents. would i like the legal benefits? hell yes. but i’m not waiting for that before i stand up and tell the world about the plans we’ve made and the amazing love we’ve found. i’m getting MARRIED NOW, and will fight to get legally bound after that.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  16. Victoria wrote:

    @Sady, #9: I think we should all be very careful in assuming that marriage helps enforce financial responsibility for leave-taking dads. I, too, had a dad who skipped out. He and my mother were married for 8 years, but it made no difference because no one in the court system was inclined to enforce his obligations.

    Though it’s legally more difficult to get in the same situation now, I have a family member who has spent as much on lawyers and court costs as she was entitled to from her ex.

    Certainly marriage confers more legal responsibility than unmarried co-parenting, but that responsibility, for many single moms, is a lot more theoretical than actual. If you can’t afford a good lawyer, you’re often stuck being owed child support you’ll never see, for example. I wish this were different, but I also wish we would all examine that assumption more thoroughly, as well.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  17. Beth Turner wrote:

    Also! I actually think it would be better (and have said this) if we only had civil partnerships as the legal bit and if you wanted to get “Married” that was a religious thing that had no legal bearing.

    I actually do think that would be better.

    Also! People can be jerks Tabby, when my husband and I were in seperate countries but in a relationship I actually had people (adults!) tell me that “He’s cheating on you you know.” I was 18.

    We got married when I was 20 and we’re still together and I’m 26 now.

    People refuse to respect the LDR.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  18. Patty wrote:

    Have you read this blog or seen this post? Very related to women changing their names. Great bog too! I tried to leave this comment on your blog, but I was having difficulty. Thanks! http://www.feministfinance.com/2008/05/cost-of-name-change.html

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  19. heather wrote:

    @Meg

    YES. Hell yes to everything you wrote.

    I am getting married. I identify as a radical feminist. I also identify as someone who would like to go to the dentist and get new glasses. (my current pair is cobbled together with duct tape and the prescription is 5 years old) I understand the inherent privilege in cisgendered, hetero appearing marriage, and it is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. I am queer and am in the process of planning a wedding to the only man I’ve been attracted to in quite some time. I get flak from my queer friends and the exclusion I feel from the queer community is hurtful. But I love my partner and I want a party. And presents. And insurance. And… why not? Marriage doesn’t mean “forever” and if does not work out, then I’ll deal with that. I want to try everything and if that includes unintentionally reinforcing the sexist institution of marriage, well, then I’ll have to fight that much harder to break the chains.
    But that doesn’t make my love/relationship any less legit because of it. And that is the impression I get from people. You cannot be a feminist, or queer, or BOTH and get married. Shit, I just want the opportunity to see a doctor once in a while and eat cake.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  20. raven_feathers wrote:

    @Victoria I agree. As the child of a once-married single mother and the never-married mother of two children with an absentee father, I can say that there isn’t a whole helluva lot of difference between my father and my childrens’ father as far as observation of financial responsibility. Actually, I’m probably better off than my mother in that regard since my ex gets his wages garnished and hers didn’t, which means that as long as my ex works, my kids get a pittance whereas my mother didn’t see a penny of child support until I was nearly an adult. QED, children aren’t a great reason for anyone to get married.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  21. leisurelyviking wrote:

    I am getting married next year, mainly for the social recognition aspects. Until we are legally married, staying with my parents or most of my other relatives will require sleeping in separate rooms and toning down our affection. The legal aspects don’t matter much right now, since neither of us receives work-related health insurance and we already have a joint bank account. I am doing it for the social privilege, and because I really do want the challenge of loving this person for a lifetime (without excluding the possibility of loving others as well).

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink
  22. McK wrote:

    -I noticed very quickly when I moved from Australia to Czech Republic to America, that this place is kinda… marriage crazy. Conversations about my relationship, like
    Them:Is it serious?
    Me:I changed continents to be with him, didn’t I?
    Them:Do you love him?
    Me:Yes, very much
    Them:Are you going to get married?
    Me:Probably not
    Them:Oh, so it’s not serious.
    Me:Gah?!

    -and with all this legal talk in the comments, I’m thinking maybe there is not a legal concept of ‘de facto’ in the US? If you are living with someone for one year or more, the law treats you as a married couple (or rather, a civil partnership). You don’t need to register.
    Actually it can be annoying if you live with just one flatmate, and, because if you are trying to claim unemployment benefits and your flatmate is wealthy, you have to convince the government that you are *not* a couple, or they will not pay you. This is much easier to do if they are of the same gender, even though the de facto law applies to same-sex couples as well.
    You can get an ‘unmarried partner visa’ to immigrate to Aus. and when separating, the assets/children of unmarried couples are treated under the same conditions as married couples.
    To me, the non-elevation of married couples is a really important thing for a sane society. (Not that Australia is a sane society – but that feature is one I’d have in the Utopia I’m building)

    -I used to helpfully define my relationships for people (outside people, I mean), but I’ve found that, despite clear communication, they’ve read eg, a one-night stand as a committed partnership, and a three-year monogamous relationship as frivolous. So I gave up on correcting people’s misconceptions. Now if I need to refer to the person I’m with in a conversation where their gender/my sexuality is not relevant – and it usually isn’t – I say partner. But generally I just use the person’s name, which has sometimes been traditionally male, sometimes traditionally female, and sometimes neither, and people will pick up from the conversation that we are living together/sleeping together/arguing about books together, and I leave them to infer what kind of relationship we have. I’ve never been questioned on this. The people who are going to judge me harshly for that would have done so anyway.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  23. McK wrote:

    Hmm. I’m not meaning to say other people shouldn’t care whether their relationships are taken seriously – especially by family members. I totally get why you would. I’ve just given up on it.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  24. McK wrote:

    Also, a person can be in a de-facto relationship even if legally married to another person or in a de-facto relationship with someone else. So it supports polyamory.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  25. queen emily wrote:

    @MCK

    Yes, Australia seems quite different that way. I think that de-facto relationship recognition would be a far more equitable system for the US (I believe they call it common law, and that in Louisiana at least it used to exist in some form and has now disappeared)…

    I also notice that the social norms are different and more marriage-based in the US. When I say “partner” in Australia, there’s no real assumption about sexuality, in the US people are more likely to jump to “she’s a lezzer” (which is true, but not really their business), cos why didn’t say I say boyfriend or hubby?

    Oddness.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  26. Amy wrote:

    I’ve been married 5 years. We basically got married because it made our parents really happy, after 6 years of “dating” (and living together, with a joint checking account, but that’s beside the point). The party was a lot of fun too. I never really thought of the social and legal ramifications, preferring to see it as a celebration of the relationship we already had.

    About those social recognition aspects. Some things are easier. I don’t get asked out as much when I wear my ring, but I don’t wear it everyday. Most people assume I changed my name. I was automatically listed as the secondary borrower for our home. This happened even though I filled out all the paperwork with my name listed first. My health insurance card has my husband’s name on it. Even though it is independent of any employer, and I applied with my name listed first, and I am the primary contact. Funny story, when we applied for health insurance we listed both our emails. Remember, my name was listed first. My husband received an email asking why we didn’t share a last name. I sent back a copy of our marriage license and the front page of our joint taxes, because I assumed they needed to verify that we weren’t trying to cheat the system. This wasn’t enough. They wouldn’t approve our health insurance application until one of us explained why I didn’t change my name. The customer service agent agreed that it was ridiculous, but I had to say, “I am still Amy LastName, because I didn’t change my name at marriage for professional reasons.” Other things: I can cash a check made out to me with my husband’s last name. We are still fighting the bank to let me sign checks for our joint company, because we messed up in the way the bank employee created the account (namely with me listed as “spouse” instead of co-owner.) Our business American Express credit card wouldn’t let me change my address through my online account, because I am somehow not the primary cardholder. I had to change my address through my husband’s online profile. They also listed me as “spouse” instead of co-owner. This only happens for the business, mind you. And it may have to do with where we live (Utah), but I sometimes wish I had considered these repercussions before tying the knot.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  27. ladysquires wrote:

    I married my partner and changed my name for pretty much one reason, if I’m being honest with myself: it would have killed my parents if I had done otherwise. And as traditional and ultra-conservative as my parents are, I still want to be welcome home on holidays and not have to deal with constant judgment.

    Not exactly proud of it, but there it is.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  28. queen emily wrote:

    Lest anyone think that Australia is totally a queer paradise, it’s worth noting that there is a ban on gay marriage which means amongst other things that married trans people have to get divorced and be sterile in order to change docs. Marriage and children is for teh hetz, you know.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  29. (a different) Beth wrote:

    Man, the commenters here are awesome (especially in comparison to another-site-not-to-be-named).

    I don’t like that society likes my relationship more than other relationships; I think that am crap. I hate that it offers financial rewards. It is like getting paid a dividend for being White; it makes me super-uncomfortable. As for people asking “how many people get married for the financial benefits?”, I will point out that Britain saw a drop in the divorce rate when it abolished tax incentives for married couples, so clearly the answer is “more than none”. I’d also suggest abolishing all preference for married couples from tax codes, banking law, inheritance, finance, child custody, and then people would truly be free to choose whether to marry. Until then, I understand why people do, but I can’t believe that the huge carrots and still-existent sticks don’t play some part in the decision.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  30. Stacy wrote:

    @MCK we do have a concept of ‘de facto’ marriage, or common law marriage as its usually referred to in the US. There are only a few states where this is legal, and I happen to live in Texas were they do allow common law marriage. The common perception here is that you can just live together and automatically become married however, I discovered this is wrong. You have to be introducing yourself as husband and wife, people who know you have to assume you’re married, and you have to go to the court to actually get a document that says that you are common law married. When I read it over it seemed like it was actually more difficult than getting married – technically for that you just need to see a justice of the peace.

    My boyfriend and I are discussing this very problem. Not only have we’ve been together longer than any couple we know, but we’ve also been living together for longer than any couple we know has been living together or married. But somehow our relationship is less serious/less adult than other relationships. It seems like marriage or having children is a rite of passage for adulthood. Also, my mother has some weird assumption that if we don’t get married, he’ll run off on me and leave me with… my job that’s supporting us? Having to find a cheaper apartment? Getting a roommate? I mean, if he did decided to up and leave me (sort of unlikely after 7 years) it would actually be worse if we were married, not better. And plenty of people walk out on their marriages, so its not like its some kind of magic word.

    I mean, we are probably going to get married eventually. And like you said in your post it will be mostly for the legal/social benefits. We’d like our relationship to be viewed as legitimate by others, and we’d like to automatically be on each others insurance etc. Though, honestly, we’re pretty happy the way we are. Right now we don’t have to deal with the cultural baggage associated with husband/wife language.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  31. of making many books wrote:

    I eloped a little over a year ago and it still kind of freaks me out sometimes, despite my amazingly equitable, Sleater=Kinney-and-Joan-Armatrading-loving, not-very-masculine partner who was my penpal for four years. I still trip at saying “my husband,” and sometimes I just avoid mentioning being married altogether to skirt strangers’ reactions of surprise Since I’m So Young (23). The other day I referred to him as “my partner” in a conversation with a very old-wealth-Virginia-looking couple I was helping at work, and the woman replied by asking something about “him or her.” I was pleased to avoid the cultural and gendered assumptions and baggage that come from words like “husband” and “wife” (yet I know I benefit from those conventions whenever I do feel like it), and it made me wish that in the US it was more common to use “partner” for those reasons. I used to think that I had insecurities about being married, but since we are happy and everything’s going great, I realize it’s probably more to do with the institution itself. There are so many contradictions, privileges, comforts, expectations, pressures, struggles, and immense joys woven together at once. Congrats Silvana!

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  32. mulierosity wrote:

    Marriage is an economic construct foremost, then political. I find the idea tying marriage and love together outdated and conservative.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink
  33. hagdirt wrote:

    I got married to my boyfriend of nearly 11 years for the legal benefits. I didn’t even consider the social ones: our friends took our relationship seriously already, and I was led to believe that even marriage would not salvage our respectability in my family’s eyes. (Especially since I, um, didn’t invite them to the wedding.) So the social benefits were a bonus; call me naive, but I never thought about them until after I got married.

    Holy cow, if there was anything that made me serious about marriage being available to *everyone* or *no one*, it’s those social benefits. And yes, I can think of umpty-million ways the marriage thing could be better, and *should* be better. But I can’t argue with anyone who wants to get some of that in the meantime.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  34. Lexica wrote:

    May I suggest a moratorium on “Marriage is [x]” statements? Because while for some people it may be true that “marriage is an economic construct foremost”, for others marriage is a matter of standing (or sitting or lying, as one is able) with one’s partner in front of/surrounded by one’s loved ones and community so one and one’s partner can make one’s promises to each other publicly and request the ongoing support of one’s loved ones and community in the future when things get difficult. (And I think anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship will acknowledge that things get difficult.)

    Marriage is complex and has many layers and facets. Does marriage contradict itself? Very well then, it contradicts itself. Marriage is large; it contains multitudes.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  35. Really interesting stuff. May I chuck in a little contribution on the ‘legal reasons’ point?

    Here in the UK (or, more precisely, in England & Wales – the other bits work differently) the law on what happens to property when an unmarried couple splits up is a real mess, and usually ends up working to the disadvantage of the woman (if it’s a heterosexual partnership). So for that reason I’m firmly convinced that, as long as the law stays as it is, if partners intend to stay together indefinitely then they positively *should* get married (or, for a gay couple, form a civil partnership), for their own protection.

    But of course many couples don’t get married, even if they’d like to have the legal protection, because marriage has all these other social and cultural implications (and costs a lot of money if they want to, or are pressured by their families to, having a big old traditional wedding). Which is why it would be good to separate those social aspects from the legal protections, along the lines that Scumby and Beth Turner mention.

    There have been proposals over here to create a set of protections that arise automatically like the ‘de facto’ marriage MCK mentions (though the proposals are mostly for weaker protections than those offered by marriage, because politicians don’t want to be accused of ‘undermining’ traditional marriage), but personally I’m a little iffy on putting people into a legal relationship without their making a choice about it. That may be my privilege showing, though, because of course situations where the law seems to offer an opposite-sex couple a formal choice are sometimes those where in reality the man tends to have more choice than the woman.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink
  36. Kate wrote:

    This is coming at a really interesting time for me. I’ve just started a relationship with someone that I never want to break up with. I never want to marry him, either.

    For so many reasons: for all the reasons discussed here, because I feel icky about the whole institution and what it means. Because a lot of the symbols (my father giving me away, etc) are obselete in general and specifically for me. Because I live in Australia where, as has been mentioned, we can get a lot of the legal benefits by qualifying (eventually) as defacto. Because, as Meg beautifully put it, I want both of us to feel that we can walk away, if we need to. Because my dad committed suicide and I think it was because that was an easier option than divorce, and I don’t want that for either of us. Because I want to be in a relationship by choice, by both of our choices, every day. Because he has kids who already have a mother and I don’t want to be set up in opposition to that. And because I want my crazy family to stay the fuck out of my relationship. If I got married I would have to find some way to keep my mother our of it, and then it would be YET ANOTHER THING that was about her when it shouldn’t be.

    I want my relationship to be whatever it is that day – which admitedly you can do in marriage – I am not in the least saying that marriage is not a good idea, just that it’s not for me. But I want my relationship not be any of anyone elses business. I SPECIFICALLY want to opt out of the social privileges that marriage conveys, because like any privilege, they require you to toe a certain line and tick certain boxes.

    I don’t want to be anyone’s wife. And I don’t want him to be my husband. I want us to be changing and different. Now if only I could decide what to call him apart from ‘manpanion’…

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
  37. Kate wrote:

    Also, I’m halfway through Stephanie Coontz’s book ‘Marriage, a history: how love conquered marriage’. It is very very interesting. Has anyone else read it? As a student of history I found it interesting an illuminating to think about what different shapes and functions marriage has had. I don’t feel that acknowledging that marriage used to be purely an economic transaction that was arranged to suit your inlaws changes the fact that it isn’t (and shouldn’t) be that now. But it’s perhaps a reminder that marriage isn’t x, not in a time period or a country or even a small town. It’s many different things, always, like any human relationship.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  38. firefly wrote:

    Lexica: I agree.
    Marriage should be here, because there are always people who want the feeling of being married- but also, people who don’t want to be married. People will want a symbol the ties between them, because they are always looking for “validation”. There is a certain symbolism and reassurance about the idea of being married, even though it might not actually be true

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  39. This talk of marriage has come at an interesting time for me as well. While unmarried and planning to remain unmarried, I identified really strongly with Silvana’s post.
    I just wish there was a way to split the difference – the history of marriage as an institution of property exchange skeeves me right out, but I also desire the social recognition that comes with devoting a significant portion of your life to partnership (which isn’t to imply that I believe monogamous partnerships are the only ones worthy of recognition). What I’d really like, what we’d both really like, is to enter into a civil union. The informality and lack of horrifying history is appealing, while maintaining a shade of that social benefit I mentioned. However, in the U.S. state of California where my partner and I live, civil unions are only for same-sex couples.
    I don’t have a place to take this, really, but wanted to express my dissatisfaction with a system that lacks options. HARUMPH, ETCETERA.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  40. assassin wrote:

    this is an amazing post! please, please write more about this as time goes by, silvana, both as a feminist navigating marriage and as someone navigating an open marriage. i’m not married but i’m in a serious but open relationship and i will say that i do think that while marrying clearly confers privilege, that being married and bucking the bullshit fairytale sold to us in whatever ways possible does help a little to dismantle the power marriage holds in our culture.

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 1:51 am | Permalink
  41. Lizzie wrote:

    @InfamousQBert, I’d never even thought about the fact of the congregation/group pledging support, that’s really really interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  42. another maggie wrote:

    I’m getting married, too, next year. I’ve also already been married (still am technically, for a bit longer). I never was interested in marriage at all, I never even thought about fluffy “girl” wedding stuff when I was young. I didn’t even care when I got married the first time, but it was a Legal Thing.

    Gay marriage has been legal in Canada for some time now, so that’s good.

    I’m not sure why I’m so excited about doing it this time. I’m not sure what changed. Especially since I’m a better-read feminist this time. I suppose it’s a desire to go and say “I care deeply about this person, so much so that I’m making it more difficult to get away from him if I wanted to”. Also, party and presents. Man I want a nice rice cooker and some real dishes.

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  43. Xenu01 wrote:

    Marriage, and all of its complications, is a very important topic for me because I’m getting married next Saturday.

    I’ve spent the last year explaining to people why we bought rings for each other for $30 apiece and how that is more special to us than a diamond ring that we can’t afford, and the fact that our wedding is inexpensive and casual and we are paying for most of it ourselves is already causing my relatives to make my mother miserable by making comments about how she and Dad are cheap (because naturally it must be their bankroll and not mine and not my fiance’s because I am a 26-year old lady person who must live at home and be a blushing virgin, etc). I feel bad, but not bad enough to go into serious debt to pretend we’re all rich people for the day.

    It does annoy me that no matter HOW the wedding goes, I’ll get the credit, even though we’ve been splitting it right down the middle, labor-wise. It also annoys me that there are going to be people who insist on calling me Mrs. HisLastName, and that his credit is my credit and my money is his and it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince certain bankers, etc that I really AM a person. I wish we didn’t live in a patriarchy.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  44. Elle wrote:

    I got married because I wanted to, I didn’t do it for legal or social reasons. I guess I’m just sentimental because I did it for love. What’s wrong with that? I met someone who I thought it would be awesome to live and work and grow with and be faithful to for the next fifty years or so. Surely there are people who still feel this way? People for whom the idea of finding someone who will pledge to love you all your days is not nightmarish? Getting married didn’t seem like such a big deal to me. It seemed like the natural thing to do.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

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