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From Proposal to Privilege: The Unearned Rights of Married People February 14, 2015

Posted by Onely in As If!, Everyday Happenings, Food for Thought, STFU.
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4 comments

Copious Readers: Four of us singles’ advocacy writers banded together to write about the scourge of. . . Marriage Privilege! Bella and Rachel recently published this article on the subject in TruthOut, and you can find Onely’s take below. We hope you’ll check both them out,  as well as a co-authored list version cross-posted by Rachel and Bella on their blogs. Below, skip to the More tab to read specific examples of marital privilege.

Declaration of IndependenceMillions of unmarried people in the U.S. and around the world are targets of discrimination, yet hardly anyone has noticed. It’s time for that to change.

Successful social movements upend fundamental worldviews so that what originally seemed unthinkable to a privileged majority comes to feel ordinary to almost everyone. Although many marginalized groups have still not achieved true equality – as the recent events in Ferguson highlighted for the world – many have still made considerable progress in recent history: African-Americans became property owners, businesspeople, and U.S. President. American women got the vote, and the earnings gap, which shamefully still exists, isn’t as great as it used to be. Gays and lesbians garnered more positive portrayals in popular culture and gained the right to marry in some U.S. states and other countries.

But during the transition from odd to obvious, there’s always push-back. People cling to their worldviews, beliefs that make them feel secure and rooted and right. A challenge to those views, even a gently-worded one, is scary.

Odd and scary is the idea that marriage provides invisible and unearned legal, political, and economic privileges to its participants, at the expense of unmarried people. Obviously this discrimination is not as nefarious as, for example, racism has been. But it does exist. It’s even codified: over 1,000 U.S. federal laws favor married people. This factoid becomes even stranger when you consider that today about half the adult population of the U.S. is unmarried (whether due to desire, divorce, death, discriminatory laws, or other life circumstances).

If you find yourself rolling your eyes at the above, saying to yourself that it’s not that big a deal, consider this: For a very long time, men went about their lives confident in the assumption that their ordinary experiences were just that – ordinary. Men were overwhelmingly represented on TV and in newspapers. Men were widely favored in the workplace. Men did not need to realize that women had equally valid perspectives and strengths, which were largely under-represented in dominant discourse. They were overwhelmingly represented on TV and in newspapers. They were widely favored in the workplace. They did not need to realize that women, African-Americans, and other groups had equally valid, but underrepresented, perspectives and strengths. In 1988, Peggy McIntosh, a Wellesley women’s studies scholar, took the lessons she had been teaching about male privilege and turned them on herself, as a white person. Her race, she realized, made her privileged, too.

Decades later we’ve progressed to discussions about male privilege and white privilege, and these conversations have raised our consciousness about all sorts of other unearned privileges, such as those conditional on age, social class, and sexual orientation. Yet marital privilege – a pervasive, powerful package of unearned benefits – remains largely unchallenged and rarely recognized. It is almost completely invisible to the populace at large, even across other categories that are now very visible, such as race and social class.

Yes, people know that if they marry, they get stuff, such as blenders and the option not to testify against their spouse (the narrower meaning of marital privilege). But these are seen as rights, not as privileges that disenfranchise other social groups (such as single people).

Many people are familiar with the socio-cultural aspects of what we call “marital privilege.” Perhaps the best-known example is the widespread assumption that single people will “die alone,” with no one at their death beds, croaking the words “if only I had married” to the spiderwebs on the ceiling. As single people ourselves, we have heard this warning from otherwise intelligent individuals, people who seem to forget that the world is awash with chaos like car accidents, cancers, and barracudas that could obliterate their spouse and leave the remaining partner to “die alone” (and be eaten by their pets).

If you’re part of the married half of society, you may never have questioned the social and economic benefits you automatically receive just because you tied the knot. That’s okay, because marital privilege is a stealth privilege: couples and singles alike are simply not taught to recognize it. McIntosh explained that whites are not taught to recognize their white privilege. We believe couples are especially unlikely to notice marital privilege, because the thing about privilege is that the people who have it can afford not to see it.

That’s why we’ve provided some ways to recognize if you are experiencing, or have experienced, marital (or couple) privilege in the U.S.:

MORE:

(more…)

Can We Stop Talking about Marriage as though It’s about Love? April 5, 2013

Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Food for Thought, Singled Out.
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7 comments

Marriage is not about love. But most of the public conversation about marriage – most recently, the conversation about gay marriage – tends to treat marriage as the equivalent of love. Marriage, public discourse suggests, makes love official. And who could argue against that? Just as you generally can’t have a satisfying debate with a religious person about the existence of God, you’ll be booed off the stage if you say there’s something wrong with being in love. In popular rhetoric, the word “marriage” is used to signify (stand in for) the concept of romantic love.

Let’s be real; let’s stop saying marriage is about love.

In the best of cases, marriage stems out of love. But marriage itself is not the same as love. In truth, marriage is decidedly un-romantic. It is a legal, and sometimes religious, contract between two people. The contract ties the partners together – in no uncertain terms – in terms of finances, law, and kinship. These are not romantic concepts. In fact, in certain contexts, these concepts can be downright terrifying.

But public rhetoric wants us to ignore the ugly reality and focus on the feel-good. As a result, it’s challenging – almost impossible – to take a critical stance toward the institution.

The recent conversation about gay marriage, currently at the center of two cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a prime example of the consequences of our popular discourse. Our discourse suggests that the right to marry is an issue of civil rights (in the States, as some have pointed out, the Human Rights Campaign has problematically dominated this kind of discourse). While we at Onely agree that the achievement of marriage equality is an admirable goal, it does not in fact achieve the larger goals of civil rights, which would ensure that all people – regardless of their marital status – are treated equally in the eyes of the law.

As we have argued time and again on this blog and elsewhere – marriage creates and maintains a social hierarchy that grants specific financial, legal, and kinship benefits to individuals based only on their marital status. And guess who loses, precisely because they are not married? More than 50% of the population, single people.

As Scot Nakagawa puts it: (more…)

Is There a Place for Practical Marriage? February 6, 2013

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Your Responses Requested!.
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10 comments

Christina and I are on record saying that neither of us is interested in getting married. However, our Copious Readers know that we are not against marriage per se; rather, this blog is devoted to the deconstruction of marital privilege wherever it exists – in our society, our institutions, and our laws.

Copious Readers – especially those of you, like me, who have never planned to get married – I am curious about your opinions on this question: In what situation would your resistance to marriage crumble?

To speak personally, I have never looked forward to getting married – even as a child, this was not a life event I imagined for myself. I did look forward to falling in love and experiencing intimate relationships – and I have had these experiences, among many others that were equally significant.

But the question I have now stems from my current life outside the U.S., where marital privilege is equally ubiquitous. In my location, marriage is not only connected to cultural expectations, as well as the relatively mundane financial and social benefits, but it is also deeply connected to the ability to live with those you love – to be a part of a relationship that is recognizable according to the eyes of (international) law.

When I lived in the U.S., in a practical sense I thought I would never need to marry in order to enjoy and maintain a relationship. That’s not to say that marital privilege wouldn’t affect my life in profound ways: If I were in a relationship in the U.S., my partner and I would need to take extra steps to ensure that our partnership, and the rights we wanted to give one another (in terms of health care decisions, property, and other benefits), was legally recognized. And although the extra steps would cost us time and money, the important thing is, it would be possible to take those extra steps

But what if you find yourself in a serious relationship that crosses national borders? At what point should the practical benefits of marriage override one’s resistance to the institution? Let me give you two hypothetical examples, based on real situations that we’ve been told about by our friends, to illustrate how important the question is: (more…)

How Singles Lost WWII (Guest Post by Scott) October 28, 2012

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Bloggers, Singled Out.
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6 comments

Onely likes to post guest pieces by other writers who think about singles’ issues. The views expressed in our guest posts may or may not reflect Onely’s views, but we are always interested to hear from other singles advocates.

Our Copious Reader Scott wrote the following after estimating correctly, in response to this post, that singles spend more than $1 million more than their married counterparts over the course of their lifetimes, thanks to U.S. government policies that privilege people who are married.

How Singles Lost WWII

It’s 1942. The boys are off killing Nazis, and the U.S. industrial war machine is revving up. The resulting labor shortage pushes up wages, making it expensive for the government to procure war materials. Inflation soars over 10%. In response, Congress passes and President Roosevelt signs the Stabilization Act of 1942, implementing price controls to limit wartime wage increases and curtail the inflation. With one swift stoke of the pen, a new era in Marital Privilege is born.

Wait…what? I thought we were fighting Nazis, not singles.

Alas Onelers, it is true. The discrimination against singles begat 70 years ago in this legislation has already cost me something like $100,000 by age 33.

You see, this legislation included a pernicious exception to the limits on increasing employee compensation. It explicitly allowed employers to offer health care packages to employees and their immediate families in lieu of wage increases. As the only practical means left of attracting workers, these plans quickly caught on.

In 1954, the IRS further ensconced this practice by deciding that employer (and only employer) contributions to health insurance purchases are not taxable income. Employers also do not have to shell out payroll taxes on it. All told, they can offer these benefits for about half what they would otherwise cost workers—an enormous incentive to sponsor health benefit plans for employees, their spouses, and their children.

So, here I sit. (more…)

Onely’s Adventures in Accounting: The Math of Marital Status Discrimination September 22, 2012

Posted by Onely in As If!, Heteronormativity, Your Responses Requested!.
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28 comments

Phew, pant pant pant. We at Onely almost missed National Unmarried and Single Americans Week!  (Lisa says it’s because she was too busy having fun as a single person.) And indeed, lately there have been a ton of articles (“All the Single Ladies,” “A Confederacy of Bachelors”) in big media about how single people are happy being single (gasp!). Which is good.

But it’s not enough to celebrate social aspects of being single. These articles about the Rise of Satisfied Singles, while important, don’t address the underlying problem of how our society views singles:

Discrimination against unmarried people is institutionalized in government laws (and by corporate policies, which follow the government’s lead).

Take, for example, the unmarried Canadian soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. If he had been married, his spouse would have gotten Death Benefits of $250,000. But because he had no spouse, that $250,000 remained in government coffers to be given to a married person. His and other parents challenged this practice, protesting that in the absence of a spouse, the money could just as easily be allocated to them.

Do you think these parents are

A) Justified;

B) Hmmm, what an interesting idea;

or

C) OMG HOW SELFISH?

If you answered A, then you understand why we at Onely believe marriage as a legal institution is overvalued and oversanctified. If you answered C, then you’d better stop reading now. We are going to prod at your stale paradigms – with the sword of mathematics. En guard!

We’ve never done the math of Marital Privilege. No one has. Until now. (more…)

Single People: Your Loved Ones Matter Less October 30, 2011

Posted by Onely in As If!.
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7 comments

The disaster scenarios described below are provided merely to make a point about the over-privileging of marriage. They do not in any way represent a thumbing-of-the-nose at fate and were written while knocking fervently on wood–well, on laminate at least.

Copious Readers, who should have long term care (LTC) insurance? Who qualifies?

Last Saturday night I considered these question. As I curled on the couch with a cup of tea and some LTC brochures, I imagined any number of extreme mishaps that might render me unable to “perform, without Substantial Assistance, at least two Activites of Daily Living. . . Bathing, Continence, Dressing, Eating, Toileting, and Transferring”. (You’ll be shocked to hear that in high school I was not voted Most Likely to Party Like a Rock Star.)

My company is offering a special deal on LTC coverage through Prudential–no medical history required. I’m only twenty-six (seeing as the thirties are the new twenties), but I’m old enough to know that sh&t happens. For example, last winter  I braked for a sudden backup on I-66(6), and although I had allowed enough stopping distance for just such instances, the cretin in the S.U.V. behind me had not. As I watched his headlights bear down on my rearview I thought, “It seems some sh&t is about to happen right now.” Fortunately he swerved onto the shoulder and stopped right beside me, instead of on top of me. Crisis averted, but I still need long-term care coverage because all his small-appendaged, speed-compensating friends remain out there, waiting for me.

Or maybe, I thought as I sipped my De-Stress tea, they are up in Michigan, waiting for my parents. Fortunately, the LTC literature said I could get my mom and dad the same LTC policy too. Reading further, I thought I’d better sign my sister up for the same policy as well, in case she goes jogging and encounters a particularly peckish cougar. Now on a roll, I decided I should also get the policy for my intrepid international-travelling co-blogger Lisa. At any moment she might fall off one of those Roman pillars on which she is so fond of perching.

Except, oh, just one moment here, let me squint closer at the fine print–turns out I can’t get Lisa a plan, because she’s not my parent, or grandparent, or sibling, or child.

As I said in a previous post about bereavement leave, these (arbitrary) requirements privilege the nuclear family and devalue other types of families and relationships. Prudential and other providers (for Prudential is not the only offender) should allow an employee to select a certain number of people to be covered. That way, I could choose to allow Lisa to piggyback off my plan instead of my grandparents, who are already in the longest-term care facility of them all.

It gets worse. Although my married colleagues are also pigeonholed in the nuclear-family paradigm, they have twice as many options as I and my single colleagues do, because marrieds can choose to enroll the following people: (more…)

Marital Privilege and the Law: Onely Guest-Posts at Living Single June 29, 2010

Posted by Onely in Guest Posts, Singled Out.
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6 comments

Interested in how, exactly, marital privilege is embedded the in U.S. federal law? We were too: Check out our guest posts over at Bella DePaulo’s blog on Psychology Today, Living Single — here are the links: Part I and Part II.

Extra special thanks to Bella for hosting us! We’re truly flattered :)

— Lisa and Christina

More on Marriage… July 27, 2009

Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Food for Thought, single and happy.
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13 comments

So, Copious Readers. Ya’ll (that’s how we say it in Kentucky) have got me thinking.

Last week, we solicited your thoughts on whether it’s tacky or tasteful to throw a party for oneself and register for gifts. We got a wide variety of responses, and our conversation prompted one of our regular readers, Autonomous, to link us to an article on Alternet called “I Don’t Believe in Marriage — Here’s Why I (Grudgingly) Got Married Anyway.” And that article reminded me of fellow singles-advocate-blogger Therese’s recent post about why she’s decided to get married after being in a long-term relationship with the same person.  And then this weekend, I had a long, impassioned conversation with a (married) friend of mine who wanted me to explain why I didn’t plan to ever get married.

Here’s what I told her (in so many words): (more…)

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