Silvana on marriage, from a bride to be

The marriage conversation is a long one. But I liked what Silvana at Tiger Beatdown had to add to the subject:

The problem with marriage will not be fixed on the day that gay people are allowed to do it and DOMA is repealed, although that will help a lot.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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22 Comments

  1. RandomWhatnot
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    How many people (out of the total married each year) get married solely for financial benefits?
    I’m betting not many.
    I’m also betting for the majority of people, monogamy is what they want. What they strive for. For the majority of people, relationships are not fluid. And saying “pretending they are forever” is not only incorrect, but insulting to the people that strive for their relationship to be forever. It’s basically telling them that they don’t exist, or they’re foolish.
    And, at the core, a great many people get married for love. Not because the state is “sanctioning and enforcing monogamy”. But because there’s symbolic value to the act of getting married, to joining your life to someone else’s in more ways than “I like you, let’s sleep together for a while”.
    I’ve never really quite understood the obtuse viewpoint of “I view act A this way, therefore, this is exactly what act A is, nobody else has a legitimate view on it.”
    If someone thinks marriage is unnecessary, then they can avoid getting married. That doesn’t mean they have a right to attempt to create a world where no one is allowed to do it.
    My fiancee wouldn’t at all be happy if the most committed our relationship was allowed to become was “Well, we live in the same house.”
    Same goes for a lot of people.

  2. Brianna G
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    The problem for me with these arguments is that there is one time when a sustained, good permanent relationship makes a lot of sense– when you have minor children. Children do seem to do best in relationships with parents who present as loving and monogamous, whether gay or straight. This is because of two things– first, a second parent makes spending time with the kids while supporting the family a lot easier, since neither has to take on the whole workload; and second, because kids crave stability in their lives, and from their parents most of all. When parents are dating constantly or several parent figures are introduced after each other, only to leave after a couple years, kids feel very unstable. So encouraging people to have children within permanent relationships is a good idea for them.
    OF course, a polyamorous relationship that was long-term and stable would most likely also work; the importance is the stability. I do want the government to continue to encourage people to enter long-term contracts with each other before deciding to have children together. I just think those contracts should be open to more people.

  3. NapoleonInRags
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Respectfully, I disagree profoundly with this post.
    First, and perhaps least importantly since it is anecdotal, I personally find the suggestion that all (or even most) relationships are fluid and that monogamy is a fundamentally constrictive situation to ring false based on my own relationship, the experiences of my friends, colleagues and family.
    Far more significantly, it is condescending to suggest that most gay folks want marriage rights in order to “fix” the problem with marriage rights. Gay marriage is not a bargaining chip in some larger battle for doing away with marriage – for most gay and lesbian individuals who desire to be married, that desire is linked to a profound, deeply felt love for their partner and a desire to have that love openly and honestly acknowledged.
    Finally, I think it is politically dangerous to link the push for gay marriage to a desire for a world without marriage. This strategy has no benefit to the gay community as it simply reiterates what bigots are already claiming everyday from the opposite end of the political spectrum: that gay marriage is a threat to “traditional” marriage.
    We all need to think very carefully before we co-opt the struggle of others to achieve our own ends.

  4. Kate_MS
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I agree with all of the above posters. I also wanted to add that I really find it strange that the author is herself getting married even though she doesn’t believe it is necessary. It made me think that she obviously does see the value in marriage and she is being openly hypocritical while justifying it to herself and her readers as bringing it down “from the inside”. I think the bottom line is that marriage is symbolic of love and union to many, many people. There is absolutely nothing wrong with symbolism, ceremony or commitments. I think the best way to change the negative and sexist traditions associated with marriage is by defining it for ourselves individually, not getting rid of it all together.

  5. Melinda
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow. The comments so far are kind of discouraging.
    I think it’s tempting and common and all that to look at the marriage situation and think that there’s an unfairness there that needs to be corrected. However, I think it’s important to be at least a little analytical about it and try to understand the conditions in which this kind of unfairness is possible (indeed, in which it thrives). There’s a complicated nexus between property ownership and rights, and between that and romance (in the case of marriage). I’m not a huge fan of reinforcing fundamentally corrupt, broken structures. (And I don’t really understand NapoleonInRag’s comment – how is choosing not to get married “gay marriage?”).
    I just unsubscribed from the Geek Feminism blog’s RSS feed because they’re talking about how to dress, *again*. If this is what’s called “progressive” these days, I’m going back to “liberal.”

  6. kristen
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    i agree with silvana that marriage often provides “social approval, legal protection, and financial security”. in fact, i think the majority of people who marry do it for one or more of those reasons. however, i think the better world is one in which MORE people have the right to marry someone they love and FEWER people feel pressured to marry for the reasons listed above.

  7. Diana Landen
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    “A world where people can provide the full panoply of benefits to their partners without getting married is a better one.”
    Our society provides a lot of financial benefits to married couples. Married couples, in turn, pledge to take care of each other in sickness and poverty. If they have children, they share the work and costs of raising them. Society benefits from the support it gives because of the care families give each other. If a couple isn’t planning to make the commitment to stay together, why should they get the same financial benefits?
    For me a huge argument for gay marriage is so that gay and lesbian couples who want to make the commitment can have the same benefits as straight couples.

  8. Diana Landen
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    “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.”
    Staying together is hard. Unless one of you is a bodhisattva, you’re going to have troubles getting along with each other. Having a commitment that you are going to try to work things out helps people stay together. Many couples find that if they make that effort and go through the hard times, later on they’re glad they didn’t split up. Marriage is not about pretending that things are forever. It’s about recognizing that love isn’t always easy and fun, so you need to make a commitment to try to make it last.
    The state does not enforce monogamy. So long as you and your partner agree, you can have sex with other people. Most couples don’t want that, though, and are probably glad they can divorce someone who cheats.

  9. Melinda
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Okay, now I’m *totally* having a hard time following what people are talking about. I’m unclear on how having the rights/privileges currently imparted through marriage available to people who don’t get married but are otherwise committed is about eliminating marriage, unless there’s no other component to marriage (say, um, let me see — what could it be?) that might lead people to want to marry anyway. I have a pretty good idea where a 50-something year old feminist stands on the state imposing property rights through a religious institution, but I’m kind of baffled on where you guys stand. Do you really think that’s okay?
    And I still don’t see how not getting married is gay marriage. But mostly I think a lot of you are arguing straw critters (elimination of marriage). I haven’t seen anyone put that forward.

  10. Tracey T
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Wow, did all the commentors even read the post or did they just get indignant and start replying?
    The OP doesn’t say marriage is bad or that they want to end marriage, just that they want people to be able to access and share the benefits we currently give married people outside of marriage. The people who are so upset about this, and their supporters, do know that you can share insurance with a spouse but not a sibling or parent in a lot cases right? Why should spouses be able to receive their partner’s insurance when family members can’t? Why should someone’s husband be able to live with them in public housing but not their sick father?
    In addition, the OP doesn’t say that everyone gets married for financial reasons only, but quite a lot of people still do. There are many people, especially women, who recognize that they will absolutely need a second income to have a comfortable life, as well as access to certain benefits given to married couples.
    And for many of us, monogamy isn’t what we want, and out relationships aren’t expected to be forever. What is so wrong with recognizing that and recognizing that people with multiple romantic partners deserve the same benefits and protections as those who are monogamous?
    Priveledge, a lot of you have it and when it comes to marriage and relationship orientation aren’t willing to recognize it and reliquinish it. No one is attacking monogamy, but they are saying that the current marriage system priveledges some relationships over others. Are you not seeing that? Or is it just not important? Expanding the priveledges given to married couples to include family members, supporters, and multiple partners is an important thing to address. But reactions like some of these just show how reactionary people are to addressing the priveledge and exlusiveness of their special little clubs.
    I think anyone who believes that the benefits given to married people shouldn’t be available to all people to share with family members, caregivers, loved ones, etc. as they wish should reexamine their commitment to justice. And anyone who thinks that in a world where marriage carries no special rights and benefits, the state should continue to recognize certain relationships over others, should think about where the equality is in that. If it is really about love and love only, then yippee, but state recognition of such a union, and that union only, should be unnecessary.

  11. Kate_MS
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    @Tracy and Melinda
    “However, I do think that a world in which fewer people feel the need to get married is a better one.”
    “A world where we accept that relationships are fluid instead of pretending they are forever, is better.”
    Those two statements sound like the OP is arguing towards getting rid of marriage. I’m not arguing over her points that the benefits of marriage should be made available to others who define their relationships differently, I just take exception the the idea that monogamy is in some way unnatural for all people or that marriage itself is something that the world would be better without. I think most of us are simply saying that marriage is something that just needs to change to be more flexible and inclusive in our society. I don’t think that means that I don’t understand that I have privilege. In fact, I know that I have marriage privilege which is why I would like to extend it to those who don’t and see it transform into a more flexible institution.

  12. Tracey T
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I agree the second statement should have included the word “some” in front of relationships , and “all” before forever.
    However, what is wrong with a world where fewer people feel the NEED to get married? People who don’t want to get married shouldn’t feel compelled to do so for the benefits associated with marriage. And if we open those benefits to all relationships what is the purpose of the government priveledging some relationships over others through the issuance of a license or certificate? The first statement is saying people should get married b/c they want to, not because they have to in order to gain certain benefits from the government. NEED is the key word in the first statement.
    Some people would still want to get married for social/cultural/religious reasons of course, but the government shouldn’t be restricting the benefits of marriage to certain relationships or giving certain relationships priveledge over others. Marriage isn’t something that can be forced to go away, but government special treatment and recognition can. If the government stops priveledging marriage and recognizing it over other relationships, that doesn’t mean people can’t get married, but that they don’t have to. People would still have the social/cultural/religious recognition of marriage, as well as the benefits currently offered married couples, but the government would recognize the marital relationship as any more special than others, and the benefits would be available to all relationship models.

  13. Melinda
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m still not seeing it. I think the argument is for making marriage unnecessary, or less common. I don’t think that’s the same thing as eliminating it, and we’re still failing to distinguish between civil marriage and marriage within the context of a religious institution. I think that’s a really critical distinction. I also haven’t seen a lot of arguments in the pro-gay marriage camp saying that marriage needs to be transformed (changed), just arguments that it needs to be more inclusive in its current state.
    A year or two back I saw a post over at Shakesville in which Melissa was outraged – outraged! – over something to do with gay marriage. I wondered why she (straight) was more bothered by it than I (lesbian) was, and it occurred to me that straight support for GLBT issues seemed to come together around the marriage question but was largely missing during the wars over sodomy laws, etc. I think what’s going on here is that a lot of straight people thought “Butt sex – ew! But marriage, I can get behind [heh, she said 'behind'] that!!.” There seems to me to be something heteronormative and not particularly analytical about this discussion – that people think the current partnering model is the right one, and that it’s easier to just open up marriage a little than to try to address root questions of how this kind of unfairness is instantiated in the first place.

  14. Honeybee
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s hard to articulate exactly but I disagree with you and quite strongly.
    First off, the relationship between married spouses is far different and far deeper then relationships we have with other people. It’s not the same as relationships with friends, other relatives, etc.
    Second of all, if you don’t use marriage, how to judge who should qualify for all these benefits? Do we just give them to anyone and everyone who asks? Can I just bring a friend with me and then pretend we’re a couple and then get all the benefits? Who’s going to pay for all this? That question gets forgotten on here often I find. There has to be a line somewhere, and that line should be pretty far down the road or it’s not affordable and too easy to abuse.
    If anything, you should argue for REMOVING the privilages married people have instead of extending to others. However marriages do provide a clear and tangible benefit to society. There is no doubt. So it makes sense to promote it and reward people for it.
    Don’t get me wrong there are many *specific* instances where I strongly disagree with the status quo on this subject. But if we are talking in general terms then I can’t support your line of thought. I can only support the fight to ensure EVERYONE has the right to get married, even same sex couples. That’s the fight in my eyes.

  15. Lydia
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I completely agree. It’s not that aren’t criticisms to be made of the way we view marriage in our society. I think the tendency to think of people who get divorced as failures, or of any relationship that doesn’t last a lifetime as worthless is awful and prevents a lot of people from getting out of relationships that are making them miserable. I don’t think there’s anything innately virtuous about “sticking it out” in a situation that doesn’t bring either partner happiness. I very much wish my maternal grandparents had gotten divorced. It would have made everyone, most of all themselves, much happier. So, yeah, for some people relationships can or should be fluid and just because they’re not “forever” doesn’t mean they can’t be meaningful. Our society would do well to grasp this truth.
    But what about my paternal grandparents who were in a marriage that was not perfect (because no marriage is) but was still loving and wonderful until death did them apart after 57 years? They’re not “pretend.” Lucky maybe, in a way that not everyone can or even needs to be, but not pretend.
    I get a little annoyed by a lot of the feminist criticisms of marriage, which often seem to view any woman that wants to get married as kowtowing to the patriarchy. My feminist mom has been happily married to my dad for 27 years and 2 feminist daughters have emerged from their relationship. Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to get married eventually too, and never once did it ever cross my mind that that desire ran counter to my feminist ideals. And I have yet to read anything that convinces me that it does. Take out the “obey” part, ditch the daddy giving me away to my husband stuff, and what’s the problem with two people deriving emotional satisfaction from formalizing their union? If and when I get married, it will be because that’s what I want, and I don’t need to justify that goal to anybody by talking about how it will be such a wonderful opportunity for sociological observation of the patriarchy in action or whatever.

  16. Tracey T
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow. You’re arguing that family members and care takers shouldn’t be allowed to be on school and work insurance plans b/c their relationships aren’t like those found in many marriages? I’m not arguing that the number of people allowed to be on the plan can’t be restricted, but the types of relationships shouldn’t. That goes the same for who can stay in public housing, who can be the beneficiaries of pensions and social security, who can have hospital visitation rights,etc.
    I think people should be able to select who can receive their pensions,etc. when they pass regardless of that persons relationship. I think people who act as a caregiver to someone, or that person’s children should be able to let them stay with them in public housing. I think that domestic partnership benefits should not be contingent on a sexual relationship (the first draft of a domestic partnership policy at a U.S. university actual included that the people had to be having a sexual relationship).
    Spreading marital benefits wouldn’t change the amount of money a person distrinuted in terms of SocSec, pensions, etc., just who they could give them too. And as far as tax breaks/joint filing go, those measures are supposedly in place to reflect how married couples supposedly care for each other right? Then why not allow those same breaks to other relationship models were people collectively provide for each other and/or each other’s children?
    The benefits given to married couples aren’t suppose to be because the luvvv each other, but because of the way in which they take care of each other and children. So why not other models where people take care of each other/children? And I defiantly believe that there should be registries in all states that allow people to say who can visit them in a hospital if they are unconscious.

  17. Tracey T
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Also, just to add, married couples do not have to prove they are in codependent relationship. All people applying for certain benefits should have to meet the same criteria in terms of tax breaks. However, when it comes to pensions and SocSec it doesn’t matter, they should be able to give those things, which are entitlements or tied to work done while alive/conscious, to whomever they wish.

  18. Honeybee
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I don’t live in the US so some of what you mention either doesn’t apply here (ie: it isn’t restricted to married couples) or I don’t know what you refer to.
    As I said there are specific cases where I agree with you. But not to the point that I agree in all cases. It all comes down to specifics.
    As to yours – if we restrict the number of people, then what do people who have lots of kids do? Have to pick which kids get onto their plan?
    Insurance Plans: if we restrict the number of people, then what do people who have lots of kids do? Have to pick which kids get onto their plan? Insurance is big money, I can understand restrictions. To be honest most don’t even want to cover their spouse but it’s hard to argue against that, especially in the US which is so pro-family.
    Public Housing: I don’t know anything about this so can’t comment. But what you say sounds expensive.
    Beneficiaries of pensions and social insurance – I don’t know what is meant by ‘social insurance’ but pensions? seriously? You know how much money that is? It’s almost completely unheard of to have a pension that can transfer to someone else when you die, and those like that that remain are being phased out quickly as it’s too expensive. They purposely pick spouse because a) that person is likely a similar age so the payments won’t have to go on very long, and b) not everyone will have one when they die again reducing what they are on the hook for.
    As for hospital visits I’m totally with you there. Even though I understand where the hospital is coming from, you should be able to designate whoever you like. That’s just common sense.
    I dunno, you haven’t really pursuaded me of anything. Just reinforced what I already thought that it’s a case by case basis OR that we should eliminate alot of the spousal benefits. Because most of your list is tied to $$$$. Money is what we are lacking right now. The trend is to reduce benefits not extend them, and it’s hard to argue against that since no one can pay for it otherwise.

  19. Lydia
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    whoops, this should have been in reply to Random Whatnot’s post.

  20. mamram
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Eliminating civil marriage would not prevent you and your S.O. from committing to each other however you wish; however, having the rest of us regard you as anything other than “living in the same house” is not some sort of natural right. And why should what the rest of us think matter anyway? Unless marriage isn’t just about love and commitment, but also about some special social status, which is precisely the problem.

  21. mamram
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the strawbeing argument: I don’t claim to speak for anybody else, but I think eliminating civil marriage is a fantastic idea. Expanding marriage to include gay marriage is all well and good, but it still gives special status to a certain kind of people—people in monogamous, long term, sexual pairings—and denies it to others.

  22. mamram
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Tracey T, I don’t have much to add, but I wanted to say that I agree with what you are saying completely.

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