Some personal, feminist thoughts on marriage and what is considered a socially acceptable relationship

Marriage has been on my mind lately.  Not in a dreamy, hearts and flowers kind of way, but in a conflicting and frustrating kind of way.  It’s been an issue that has been increasingly a touchy subject for me lately as it seems to be happening everywhere.  The recent coverage of gay marriage rights, largely in New York, has been a part of this – spurring on many conflicting feelings about marriage itself.

You see, I am a huge proponent of gay marriage rights.  I do and always have supported two people’s right to enter into marriage if they feel that is right for them.  I fully support this legislation and hope to see it continue nationally (and internationally for that matter – but one thing at a time, I guess).  The thing that has been nagging at me inside my head is that I don’t like that marriage continues to be the only socially acceptable option for a long-lasting relationship and that marriage seems to be the only way to have full access to the legal rights of having a partner.  I would personally love to see marriage as one legal and socially accepted option for couples that exists among varied legal and socially accepted options for couples that harbor equitable legal rights and privileges.  Marriage, after all, is steeped in religious connotation and has a troubled history, at best, when it comes to equality and equity in a partnership (it wasn’t all that long ago that becoming a wife meant becoming property).  It frustrates me to no end that this continues to be seen as the gold standard in relationship decisions when relationships themselves have changed so dramatically over time.

It also frustrates me on a personal level.  I’m not married, though I am in a committed relationship.  My partner and I may get married someday, (being a heterosexual couple we are fortunate enough to have that right wherever we live) but it’s not exactly a pressing issue in our relationship.  We live together.  We share life and household responsibilities and decision making.  We mingle our finances.   We have every intention of spending our lives together and have been doing all of this for over 6 years.  Longer, in fact, than many couples I know who do happen to be married.  Yet our relationship is not celebrated or acknowledged in the same way as those who have married.  And, we certainly don’t have the legal privileges that marriage provides.  Recently several old friends of mine had wedding anniversaries all around the same period of time.  Big exchanges of congratulations and excitement were shared among everyone, honoring that each couple were celebrating another year together.  My partner and I had an anniversary a few weeks later and no one said a word.  Message received: we are not married, so our relationship is not worthy of celebration.  Don’t get me wrong, it certainly was worth it to us, but clearly not to those around us.

Also, recently I had an encounter with a work colleague that was quite bizarre to me on many levels.  The one pertinent to this conversation though, is how dismissive she was of my relationship because I was not married.  To make a long story short, she was telling me of about noticing changes in me (apparently due to some weight loss she felt as if my whole world was changing).  She asked me if I was married.  My answer, as it usually does, had to include an explanation.  It went something like this:  “Well, no, I’m not married, but I am in a committed relationship.”  (As an aside – this is similar to when I fill out documents – say at a doctor’s office – that ask me to check off my relationship status as single, married, widowed, you know the ones right?  I always make my own box to indicate my relationship status.  I am not married – but I most certainly not single.)  Anyway,  she literally shrugged that off and proceeded to tell me that she knew I was going to get a new man in my life because of being thinner, which would apparently, automatically also make me happier and more engaging to strange men.  Now, there are many things wrong with this scenario, but the one I felt most irksome was the assumption that because I was not married to my partner, he was replaceable in my life.  I was angry about this one for at least a week.  Harrumph.

I have two co-workers getting married soon.  I really respect and value both of them and am thus thrilled for their happiness and partnerships – truly.  But, it also makes me reflect more on the construct of marriage.  Getting money and gifts and applause from family and friends for making this decision, while others who don’t choose that particular path don’t (or at least rarely) get any of that grandiose response for choosing to spend a life together without the ceremony of a marriage.  Placing such obvious social preference on a single act rather than the entirety of the relationship itself is such a misguided way of honoring commitments that people make to one another.  Please hear me, I am not saying that marriage shouldn’t exist – but rather I am saying that it shouldn’t be the only celebrated and honored option for people who choose to share a life together.

While I certainly feel like I’m in the minority with these viewpoints, I know that I am not alone.  I know that these ideas are not unique to me and that others have written about similar feelings.  This is just my personal reflection on the issue, as it has been on my mind a great deal.  I’ve felt so conflicted with feeling celebratory for that monumental legislation being passed in New York just a few short weeks ago and for those I know who are planning their own weddings, while also feeling resentful toward the single-mindedness of us as a culture when it comes to the issue of what a meaningful relationship should look like.  This issue is on my very long list of things I would like to see change in our world, though I am most regrettably not confident that it will happen any time soon.

I am a 30-year old feminist living in Portland, Oregon. I work in the domestic violence movement and am always excited to talk about issues related to the media!

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