Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love and Marriage Redux

I have decided to readdress the marriage issue a second time, partially because I failed to mention the Alternatives to Marriage Project in the prior post, but also because, to my dismay, no one aside from Jim even attempted to answer directly any of the many questions I asked (and Jim's answer was a weak one, in my opinion). I can only guess that my questions were all misconstrued as rhetorical. So, this time I think I'll use more direct language, which will hopefully encourage a more fruitful discussion.

Marriage is, at best, meaningless. At worst, marriage is a superstition on a par with a belief in wood sprites. Marriage and commitment (...and love ...and cuddling ...and financial support ...and sex, etc.) are not identical, and I believe that people who conflate these things are making a category mistake. Contrary to Jim's assertion, people's primary motivations for marriage don't include avoiding getting hassled by hospital staffs (or I should say this is true at least for the vast majority of people who aren't robots).

On Valentine's Day, Howard Stern announced his engagement to Beth Ostrowsky, his sweetheart of more than 6 years. He received dozens of congratulatory phone calls about the engagement. I truly do not understand why (and, by the way, none of the people congratulating him brought up tax savings or avoiding hassles in hospitals). How will marriage improve their relationship? (By the way, that is not a rhetorical question). Is Howard, perhaps, afraid that without the marriage contract, BethO might leave him? Is perhaps fear the primary reason for marriage, then?

At one point Howard made the odd statement that by getting married he was "giving up other pussy." How is that? Hadn't he already done that six years earlier? I honestly do not understand this--unless, in truth, marriage consists primarily in making the statement, "I promise to give you half of my assets, plus additional future income, if I ever have sex with someone other than you, or even if I decide at some later date that I no longer want to be with you."

Do people really find that to be a romantic sentiment?

(Non-religious) people who want to defend marriage need to explain:

1) Why forcing someone to stay with you past the point they would in the absence of a marriage contract should ever be considered a good thing. Why would that situation ever be preferable to one where it's clear that the couple is together out of love and shared values?
2) Exactly what it is that marriage gives you that you absolutely cannot get outside of marriage.
3) Why those few legal rights marriage conveys to a couple are so damned important - and yet no one ever mentions them, really, when they talk about marriage.

7 comments:

steve said...

Yeah, you pretty much covered it. I don't know, but I think it is a combination of insecurity and the want, perhaps for ritual, or some kind of celebration. I'm pretty neutral on marriage and notice how once the celebration is over, reality sets in and, for many, it's less than fun. I know of too many people who aren't very happy in marriage, and I think it's the result of false portrayals in the media and way too high expectations.

Anaxamander said...

I completely agree with your position on marriage. We get married because we have bought the myth about what constitutes the good life. It is part of how we see ourselves and others. We get married because we are expected to get married by almost everyone we know. We, ourselves, expect others to get married and we expect to do it ourselves. We have looked forward to it since we were children. It has been drilled into us as a major goal in life. It is a Borg implant. We are not complete human beings unless we are married. A great relationship (or two or twelve) is not enough. Only marriage is capable of providing true happiness. Sadly, this is a lie. The reality is that marriage is the sanctioning of a personal relationship either by the church or the state. As an anarchist and an atheist, I say - who needs it?

Do we really need or want to involve the church or state in our personal lives? Do we need their permission to have sex with or live with someone we love? Do we need others to define the terms of our relationships? Can’t we celebrate our relationships without making them legal? Is it really natural to love only one person at a time? Can’t we make our own agreements on our own terms? When our relationships are over, do we need permission from the church or state to terminate them? Do we really want the church or state to provide obstacles to ending bad relationships in order to make them last longer? Why would we want a bad relationship to last longer?

When you really think about it, the romantic reasons usually given for getting married don’t really apply at all to marriage itself. The other more practical reasons, like kids or insurance, or hospital visitation and the like are rather lame excuses for meekly going along with the status quo. Marriage is an element of possessive love – the most destructive form of love. It is an attempt to cage the object of one’s love. It is a claim of ownership. It is a destructive relic from the past, left over from the days when women were the property of the men who gave them their last name. Even though, today, the possessive claims are bidirectional, they are no less destructive. Marriage is a bond, in the most negative sense of the word. If two people love each other, why should they need to chain themselves together? There is nothing positive about the constraints imposed upon a relationship by marriage. Again, who needs it?

Nobody is answering your questions directly because there are no good answers. The best we can do is to agree with you. For me the big questions about marriage are:

1. Why do smart people who clearly know better get married anyway?
2. Why are women particularly interested in getting married?
3. Why do so many people get married more than once?
4. Why do so many atheist/libertarians get married?
5. Is it more romantic to get married to the person you love or to live with them without getting married?

Anonymous said...

Not all of us get married because we buy the myth associated with marriage. I was never pressured into marriage by my family. I also didn't fantasize about getting married as a younger woman or spend hours drooling over wedding gown photographs. In fact, I really didn't consider marriage until I fell in love with someone I wanted to spend my life with.

Our ceremony was a rather simple one. It didn't take place in a church, it took place in front of family and friends with vows we both wrote. We happened to want a commitment on paper. Who cares whether the commitment is on paper, in your heart, or with a ring? Why is it less of a commitment if it's sanctioned by the state or church?

1. Why do smart people who clearly know better get married anyway? LOL Because people can't be told about marriage, they have to experience it.

2. Why are women particularly interested in getting married? It used to be that women were conditioned to want marriage from an early age but more and more women are becoming less interested in marriage and having children.

3. Why do so many people get married more than once? I think they're addicted to the hope of being with the perfect person to spend the rest of one's life with.

4. Why do so many atheist/libertarians get married? They are not immune to romantic notions.

5. Is it more romantic to get married to the person you love or to live with them without getting married? It depends on the couple. Some people shouldn't be together period.

Anonymous said...

(Non-religious) people who want to defend marriage need to explain:

I like a debate and I'm not religious.

1) Why forcing someone to stay with you past the point they would in the absence of a marriage contract should ever be considered a good thing.

As though guilt was limited to marriage... You make marriage sound so sinister. Okay, who has the intention of forcing his/her partner to stay in a loveless marriage? Contracts are broken all the time, whether on paper or verbally. Marriage contracts (and common-law marriages in some states) just have more repercussions if the relationship ends.

Why would that situation ever be preferable to one where it's clear that the couple is together out of love and shared values?

Why isn't a married couple together out of love and shared values? Why the hatin'? :) Neither one are preferable over the other. It really depends on the couple. Some don't need the piece of paper, some do. Why should anyone judge?

2) Exactly what it is that marriage gives you that you absolutely cannot get outside of marriage.

Stability for children. Validation. Sense of tradition.

3) Why those few legal rights marriage conveys to a couple are so damned important - and yet no one ever mentions them, really, when they talk about marriage.

Ask a couple that would like to be married but can't because it is currently illegal. He/She might have a purer idea of what marriage should be.

Einzige said...

Thanks, anonymous (the first), for your thoughtful contribution.

You ask:

"Why is it less of a commitment if it's sanctioned by the state or church?"

Did I give the impression that I thought state/church sanction soured the commitment? If so, I apologize.

The commitment is real or it is not. It is for life or it is not.

The sanction does a couple of things I find disturbing:

1) It imposes terms that neither party to the marriage would otherwise include (e.g., "love, honor, and obey.")

2) It clouds motivations for remaining committed - this one I've already mentioned.

It appears to me, anyway, that our views on marriage are substantially similar (perhaps you would take issue with that assessment). So thanks again for throwing in your two cents. It's very much appreciated.

Einzige said...

I like a debate and I'm not religious.

Cool! Sorry it’s taken me a little while to respond.

Okay, who has the intention of forcing his/her partner to stay in a loveless marriage?

My point is: Intentions or not, a marriage (and by this I mean a legal marriage contract) makes leaving more difficult than it otherwise would be, which means that people will terminate the relationship later than they otherwise would have. The difference may be small, but isn’t it enough that some people may stay together absent love?

Why isn't a married couple together out of love and shared values?

I’m not saying they’re not. See above. Personally, I would prefer it if my family and friends knew that me and my partner were self-evidently together out of love instead of out of some obligation beyond the relationship itself.

This reminds me of a Devo song, actually…

Found a girl with a pretty face
Tied a rope around her waist
I know when she’s in and when she’s out
There ain’t nothing to guess about

She covers her ears when I play my guitar
She runs away—but not very far
Push a button, retractable cord
I pull her back when I get bored

Woman I am bound to you
What, what do I wanna do?

One word from her and she’d be free
But she’s exactly where she wants to be…


That song is a good metaphor for marriage—it’s distasteful and ultimately meaningless at the same time. What does it have to offer anyone?

Stability for children.

How? What evidence is there for that? Not only are there many divorced couples with small children, but I know of one couple who had 3 kids and lived together for 14 years before deciding that the tax benefits of getting married made staying single together too expensive. I wouldn’t call tax savings “romantic”, though. Would you?

Validation.

By whom? Why would you need validation outside of the parties to the commitment? Why would not being married make the relationship invalid?

Also, no same-sex couple is ever going to get “validation” from the religious community. So what? Why would they want it?

Sense of tradition.

Sort of like arranged marriages, then? Seriously, though, why is this important? And isn’t it “traditional” for “marriage” to only be between a man and a woman?

Also, I have already said more than once that I have no problem with commitment or ceremony or celebration or public declaration. I have said, though, that these things are not the same as marriage—as apparently most people seem to need for there to be this official, state-sanctioned certificate, too. Would you disagree with that?

Ask a couple that would like to be married but can't because it is currently illegal. He/She might have a purer idea of what marriage should be.

Whom should we ask about this? Only gays and lesbians? What about multiple partners? What about bestial marriages? What if I want to marry my coffee table?

Here is a good summary of the typical complaints you mention. I don’t believe these complaints are an indictment of my position, however. We live in a fucked-up world filled with a bunch of superstitious, bigoted, zealous morons. To argue with such people about the definition of “marriage” strikes me as about as productive as jousting windmills.

Sacred Slut said...

I wanted the commitment and recognition. I was sick of calling my 57 year old partner my "boyfriend." I also wanted the financial security for myself and my son, should anything happen to either of us. We're older so it's pretty likely to happen before he turns 18. You don't get spousal social security benefits if you're not married. And there are other civil benefits that come with marriage.

We had a humanist celebrant and had our marriage outside at home. We wrote the ceremony ourselves. Afterwards, his family all "welcomed me to the family" even though we had been living together for 8 years and had a 4 year old son together.