I didn’t expect a can-usually-be-counted-on-for-fluff article about marriage in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times to be so damn depressing. But I suppose that’s a conclusion to be expected when one starts wondering, what’s the point of it all?
The Times spoke with numerous individuals and couples who identify as queer, gay, lesbian, or trans, as well as some polyamorous folks, to get their thoughts on the institution of marriage these days. Some people would think that now that gay marriage is legal in 14 states, folks who have been marginalized by the government might be eager to claim the legal protections owed to them. Even if religious institutions, communities or families will not respect their committed unions, at least the IRS will.
Nope, try again. Interview upon interview upon interview either shrugged at marriage or resisted it entirely.
It’s not difficult to understand why folks have this reaction: after being denied this right so long because they’re being treated as second-class citizens, they question why they are “supposed” to want it anyway. That’s a different message than the ones heterosexual individuals hear, especially women, whose sexuality is harshly regulated prior to marriage. As a white, mostly-straight woman, mainstream American culture has been grooming me to be a bride since I was born. From romantic comedies to magazine articles to reality shows to my own family, it has been made clear to me that marriage was something it was expected I would do eventually. I’m well aware I am “supposed” to want marriage, according to society, so I suppose you could call my decision to get married earlier this month either a choice or a patriarchal bargain. However, I always wanted to get married, but on my own terms, at my own pace, to someone I couldn’t imagine living my life without. That felt doable to me.
The LGBTQ folks who aren’t interested in marriage have very legitimate reasons for why they reject this institution they’ve been excluded from — primarily the way the government regulates families in terms of finances, health care and children. The folk singer Erin McKeown, who is queer, said she preferred to build her own “alternative family” — in her case, a committed relationship with another woman who lives in a separate home. One transgender professor interviewed by the Times pointed out that it’s unethical that marriage is “a prerequisite for obtaining health care”; it also labels some children “legitimate” while others are stigmatized.
Then there are the myriad ways that marriage effects your taxes and finances, for better or for worse. The piece didn’t even touch upon the concerns of polyamorous families, where folks are in committed relationships with multiple partners but can only legally marry one of them. Immigration issues were also not touched upon in the piece. (In my own case, we married a lot more quickly than we intended to because my hubby’s visa keeping him in the United States was going to expire.)
Other folks who spoke to the Times had reasons for not marrying which, frankly, I found depressing. Some suggested that the institution of marriage hurts women and they don’t want to participate in it; others said they felt their non-married coupledom was more egalitarian. That’s confusing to me — why is being together for 20 years committed but unmarried egalitarian, but suddenly getting married would make the relationship unjust? Perhaps I’m naive here, but I think that marriages are what you make them. If you and your partner are feminist/untraditional before marriage, that will likely follow into your marriage as well, no? I have always assumed it was children who tripped up egalitarian partnerships, not marriage itself. Others groused that marriages so often end in divorce, so why waste the time and money? Yikes. There’s an attitude that suggests some concerns about commitment.
Get married, don’t get married — personally, I don’t care what individual people choose so much as I wish everyone has the ability to make the same choices. Even if some LGBTQ couples (and plenty of straight ones, to be fair) are rejecting the institution of marriage, I want that option to be available to EVERYONE who wants it. Some people won’t and that’s okay, too, whatever their reasons are. One of my closest girl friends is in a committed relationship with a man and has no intention of marrying, on principle. She happily attended my wedding celebration and we respect for each other’s choices — although I suppose, deep down, she thinks I made a patriarchal bargain by getting hitched. I’m happy to have legal protections of my commitment, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
[Image of lesbian brides via Shutterstock]