Can We Stop Talking about Marriage as though It’s about Love? April 5, 2013Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Food for Thought, Singled Out.
Tags: benefits of being married, civil rights, critical of marriage, gay marriage, human rights, marital privilege, marriage debate, U.S. Supreme Court
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.
… we are arguing to be able to use marriage as a shield against wrongs that no one, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status, should suffer. No loved one should be excluded from survivors benefits and pensions, end of life decision-making, hospital visitation, and the many other family rights reserved for married couples. And when we argue that being able to wield this shield is a right we deserve because we conform with the values of good people, that shield can become a weapon against those who are still excluded.
The problem with public rhetoric surrounding this issue is that when we ask “What’s at Stake in the Marriage Debate?” (as does this article in the Charlotte Observer), the answer – “1,100 Benefits” – is meant to make us support marriage instead of question it. Readers are supposed to agree that “everyone” should have access to these benefits, when in fact we should be asking, why should my marital status determine whether or not I have access to benefits that others don’t?
Until we stop talking about marriage as though it has to do with love, popular discourse will not change. Shifting our focus to the “unromantic” realities of marriage – recognizing the various privileges that are granted through marriage – is the only way in which we can begin to deconstruct the institution and the benefits tied to it. It is the only way in which human equality, between marrieds and unmarrieds, can be achieved.
Perhaps someday, marriage will be about love. But it’s not there yet.
image by donobru