Why "I Do" are the most Dangerous Words in the English Language

I'm not a big fan of marriage. I think I've made that abundantly clear. When people ask me what problem I have with marriage, I reply, "You get married in a church, but divorced in court." People tease me with "oh, you'll get married again, you just wait."

I won't. I will never be married again. Not when hell freezes over. Not when pigs fly. Not when it means the difference between letting someone else make medical decisions for someone I love. Not when it denies me the ability to inherit property. The answer is no.

That is not to say that I don't hope one day to have a long-term monogamous co-habitating type relationship. I would like that very much. But it will not involve walking down the aisle and saying "I do." The first reason is purely selifsh. I want someone to choose every single day to be with me. Not to be there out of obligation or because it is too expensive to think about getting out. Trust me, I know the toll such conditions can take. My blood pressure toward the end of my marriage was 160/91, I drank Pepto Bismol for breakfast, I had a constant headache, my teeth hurt, and the skin on my head was taught from the never-ending aggravation. I recall thinking that death wold be preferable to spending one more day in that house with him. The second reason is that I firmly believe that my personal life is none of the state's damn business. End of discussion.

The real reason I've come upon this topic is that I have been thinking about the Equal Rights Amendment lately. Many of you have probably never heard of it, but in the mid-1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment was the culmination of the women's movement. It proposed, quite simply, that equality of rights would not be denied based on sex. The Amendment was hard-fought in Congress, but never ratified. What I didn't know until I started poking around on this topic, was that the ERA has been proposed in every congress since, and STILL it isn't taken seriously. But, I'll get back to that later.

Marriage has entered the political arena over the past decade or so as the gay community has pressed to have same-sex unions recognized as marriages. They maintain, and I have to agree, that marriage comes with rights and privileges that they are denied. Currently, marriage between men and women is permitted, albeit regulated, by every state in the union. Marriage between same-sex couples is permitted by only two states: California and Massachusetts. What do I mean by regulated? I mean that the state gets to decide whether a marriage is legal and has the right to prohibit illegal marriages.

Call me a libertarian, but my ultimate question is, why the hell is the government involved in my social, sexual, economic, and familial relationships? Interesting question that, so I set out to do some research.

Turns out, the government got interested in regulating marriage about the time some black and white folks wanted to tie the knot, jump over the broomstick, or take a spin around the altar. Since we all know what sorts of mayhem can result when big black bucks weave a spell of romance over our lily-white daughters, the state got involved by requiring a marriage license. Efforts to outlaw miscegenation is how the states got involved in your love life. IMO, the marriage license is the state's silent but subtle support of white morality--more specifically, white male superiority--over the other dirty races. It's like asking the KKK if it's ok for you to get married. I believe that marriage licenses were the way for white men to prevent themselves from becoming obsolete and to maintain white privilege and white power. I'll leave it at that.

The marriage license is an insidious little instrument that basically says that marriage is a privilege, not a right. So you have a marriage license, a driver's license, but a death certificate. I guess everyone has a right to die.

So, my original flippant remark about marriage isn't exactly right. The states are involved up front. Any marriage conducted without a marriage license isn't valid. Common law marriages are the only exceptions. Not all states recognize common law marriages. And this is where is gets muddy. States with common-law statutes don't say a damn thing about the gender of the participants. Only that they are husband and wife. Since husband and wife are not, to the best of my understanding, legally defined, it stands to reason in my head anyway that same-sex partners need only identify themselves as husband and wife, not husband and husband or wife and wife. Shrugs. I'm sure there's a loophole in there somewhere.

The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 defines marriage as that between a man and a woman, and offers a specific exception to the Full Faith and Credit Provision of the Constitution. So a same-sex marriage in California or Massachusetts need not be recognized in Kentucky or Colorado. Furthermore, the DOMA specifically prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions as marriages, even if the states do. This is pretty heady stuff. For instance, the Full Faith and Credit Provision is what prevents deadbeat parents from fleeing to other states to escape support orders. It is what accounts for our liberal extradition laws. I'm not sure, but I would imagine that the Full Faith and Credit Provision prevents other states from disenfranchising felons, when the state in which they were incarcerated enacts laws re-establishing their suffrage. (I bring up the right to vote because it is holds special significance in our republic. Four of our 27 Constitutional amendments deal directly with the voting rights of the people.) The second provision (that prevents the federal government from recognizing the state marriages as marriages) seems inherently unconstitutional. Why? Because any right not specifically given to the federal government is given to the states or the people. If the states are the ones with the right to determine what is a legal marriage, then that seems to prevent the federal government from abridging those rights. Without a Constitutional amendment establishing marriage as that between a man and a woman, the DOMA (at least as it pertains to the federal government), seems to be unconstitutional.

But I'm no constitutional scholar.

So why the hell have I just researched and written all this on a subject that I'd rather die than enter again? It's the issue of rights. As I understand it, the Equal Rights Amendment has been proposed in every Congress since 1923. In 1970, it managed to get to the floor but it was not ratified before it expired. It has been proposed in every Congress since.

The state maintains that marriage is a privilege. In fact, the issuance of a license (and not a certificate) reinforces the precedent that it is a privilege, not a right. However, it seems to me that there are certain rights afforded married persons that are denied unmarried persons. For instance? Well, husband and wife are considered to be "blood family". They have rights of inheritance, rights to make medical decisions on behalf of their spouses and children, and so forth. Family rights are most definitely seen as off limits by the states. Therefore, these "family rights" should appropriately be considered civil rights, not privileges. If they are civil rights, they can't be denied or abridged by the state. So while marriage itself may be a privilege, the rights assigned to married persons are specifically denied to unmarried persons. Therefore, certain civil rights are provisional and are being infringed by denying same-sex couples from marrying.

The Equal Rights Amendment as proposed in the 70s said that no rights may be denied or abridged based on sex.

Do you see where I'm going here?

We could kill two birds with one stone. If the gay community and the feminist community managed to get the ERA ratified, it would be a de facto ratification of gay marriage. All it would take is one successful court case that argues that rights afforded to married persons but denied to single ones is based on sex.

The reasons that the ERA failed to be ratified in the 1970s are many. It had to do a bit with the cultural climate--women had only begun to enter the workforce in numbers. Remember, Title Nine was enacted in 1972 and think of the stink it causes still.

In the end, I have no idea why gay people would want to marry. I don't see any use in the institution at all. But if they are determined, no reason they shouldn't have the right to suffer high blood pressure and chronic headaches, too. I hope they like Pepto Bismol. It's the breakfast of married people. And I wouldn't scream if it did something--anything--to address income, opportunity, and other inequalities of women in America.


  1. Truthfully? You can see no reason that gay people would want to marry? I mean, I'm all for your aversion to marriage -- or rather, all for you being able to have it and never get married again, etc. But there are several elements of the institution. The state involvement, if it is as recent as you claim, is a distinct element rather than the whole -- perhaps you *only* meant state marriage, but I didn't get that impression. And of course, even if it was founded on poisoned ground, that in itself does not mean the institution is rotten -- almost everything one treasures from the past seems to have, in reality, been founded on poisoned ground, and I believe in the conscious choice of reclaiming the good from things that have that potential in them, even without a purity of origin.

    As to marriage itself, I can trace my own desires simply to a certain like of ceremony. While I'm not one for ceremonies of all kinds, my friend Jef and I once commented that the problem with secularism is the lack of ceremonies. Ceremonies bring communities together and form and reinforce bonds that help people be people, I feel. To each, their own ceremony, but that is why the institution of marriage -- despite being inherited from a system of ownership -- appeals to me in its pure sense. A public declaration of something before your friends and family is, to me, fun (or can be). And of course its not mutually exclusive with choosing to be with someone every day -- a painful marriage may be the result of not making that choice for the right reasons, but not making that choice for the right reasons is not a necessary result of marriage.

    I'm not trying to advocate marriage for you -- the details and elements of relationships deeply personal thing which one person can't (or shouldn't) proscribe for another (outside of reasonable boundaries regarding civil rights). And it seems to me that the state does have a compelling interest in distinguishing between couples considering themselves blood family and those that are more casual -- I'd be all for them de-linking this from marriage, such that marriage is civil and "legal partners" is gov't part, but that de-linking doesn't change the bad origins of state-licensed marriage, nor the real advantages to distinguishing between a relationship meant to be long-term family and one that, well, isn't.

    And of course there's separate but equal -- not all gay people who want to get married necessarily analyzed it on this level, but if they did, I suspect the emphasis is on legal equality and joining a cultural tradition -- much more appealing than tearing the tradition down for everyone, to some (or many). The fact that there are very bad elements of the tradition does not mean it hasn't worked well or brought joy to some -- and for some, that's all they want, and if they themselves, imho, fight for and practice the relevant civil rights for everyone, the fact that they choose to celebrate their interpretation of an ill-conceived celebration, all power to them.

    I don't want to come off as preachy (too late) or trying to convert anyone -- I'm not. I'm just talking about my interpretation of things, and reasons why I see some worth to an institution that has so poorly served so many (though like I said, the legal and the ceremonial are separate components, and it seems like you're implicitly critiquing both though your evidence primarily deals with the former). This is obviously a longer conversation meant to be had over alcohol =]

  2. At least for the purposes of this blog post, I was trying to concentrate on a potential legal approach to help both gays and women. Maybe it was a crackpot idea, but WTF? I was wasting time while watching the silver tight pants play the blue tight pants. All that background about my life was just smart-ass intro. I have thought in greater depth about marriage (as it pertains to me) and I left out some pretty important points (e.g., attempts on my life), and honestly, I have a shit-ton to say about it, but Olivia has already indicated that my OC tendencies are showing in this blog (*cough*Sarah Palin*cough).

    So keeping the personal experience out of it for the time being, I have asked myself and other married people what purpose is served by marriage. The most common answer is that is provides a stable structure for the rearing of children. I will give them that. Marriage is an extra security blanket for future single mothers. It is very difficult for a married man to deny paternity without compelling evidence. The burden of proof seems to fall on the unwed mother to prove paternity otherwise. But, what purpose then for people who don't wish to rear children? Next most common answer: a companion and sexual partner. Someone to care for them in good times and bad. You know...throw our lot in together and make a go of things. Ok, I've got no problem with that. Next most common reason after that? Insurance and inheritance. That I have a very big problem with. Personally, I think domestic partners should be recognized as family members when it comes to insurance availability, medical decisions, and rights of inheritance.

    So, let's summarize: a married relationship offer a structure for the rearing of children, a companion and helper in times of need, a sexual partner, a provider and a beneficiary. While I will agree that a stable structure for the rearing of children IS a just reason to marry, the others don't hold water for me. They aren't exclusive to marriage (I can give someone medical power of attorney or make them beneficiary in my will), so I don't consider them compelling reasons for marrying. Why bother?

    I like your idea of de-linking the legal partnership from the civil union. You know, I'm all for the "idea" of marriage. Hence my statement about a desire for a long-term monogamous supportive, healthy relationship. I have to agree with your point about the ceremonial aspects. I really hadn't thought about that, but it is nice. There is a sense of acceptance and legitimacy that comes from being married. You are perceived as more stable, more serious. Your relationship garners respect and you take your relationship more seriously. But isn't the stuff that comes with marriage more a social construct than a fundamental part of marriage?

    I mean, black people don't marry at the same rates as white people, and (despite what politicians howl about) I sure know plenty of unmarried black men who are very involved in their children's lives. Suffice it to say that the organization of a family around this state contract is not an imperative, except that the state seems to be defining "family" as a married couple and their offspring.

    So where are we? Currently, heterosexual couples can't have the civil union without the legal partnership. Homosexual couples can have neither (CA and MA notwithstanding). And which one is it that makes you "family"? The marriage part or the legal part? Finally, if marriage is a state contract, what are the terms? I was married and I still am not sure. All I know is that the state put conditions on me for granting the dissolution of my contract. I had to wait 6 months. We had to live apart. I had to appear in court. Other than that, it was all a formality.

    I admit, I had a religious wedding for no other reason than that was my family's custom. Granted, I hadn't thought as deeply about religion then as I have now. And given the outcome of that marriage, perhaps my lack of sentimentality about the ceremony is grounded in the fact that the whole making-my-vows-in-front-of-God thing was never an issue for me. But still, J, is the desire for a ceremony really worth a contract of marriage? I like to party with the best of them and most of the fun of the wedding was the party afterwords. And if I feel like it in the future, I'm not above hosting a truly sappy "we are in love and even though we aren't getting married, we want our friends and family to understand the depth of our commitment to one another" bash with wine and cheese and hors d'oeurves, and strolling violins.

    But as for marriage, (and this is where I'll let my personal experience creep in), going through a divorce is one of the most excruciating experiences imaginable. If you want to lose faith in humanity, try having to spar in public with the person who you thought you'd love forever, and who now thinks exposing your most intimate secrets is blood sport. And make no mistake...you lose half your income, half your friends, and half of your stuff.

    Since I'm now back to scrambling the personal and the legal again, I'm going to lay off. Besides, I think my CTAB is finally in solution. I'll buy the first round if ever we find ourselves within drinking distance.

    It will be a black and tan. :)

  3. Good points. But it seems to me like there is value (separate from the personal/ceremonial value) in a legal declaration of quasi-permanent partner status. The fact that we make it extraordinarily hard to get divorced in most cases is, I think more an argument against extraordinarily cumbersome divorce laws than an argument against legal marriage. Though you are completely correct in that legal marriage/marriage contracts as I'm thinking of them only bears a faint resemblance to what they normally are, and a specific delineation of rights of married couples is completely logical and should be required of the state. But just as you're correct in saying "But isn't the stuff that comes with marriage more a social construct than a fundamental part of marriage?" -- it's also correct to view the problems of divorce as a social construct -- meaning that unless the essential idea of the institution is wrong, it seems to me as logical to reform it as to abolish it. I think the modern understanding of its core concept is partnership and societal stability (though I swear, the ideas you mention have never occurred to me per se -- I never thought I had to get married to have a companion, I don't feel personally that a marriage license inherently generates stability for kids, that comes from the people and how they behave, and not a single mom) is a valid one. So I think the question becomes -- why fight an institution many gain great personal strength from and/or place an (often completely irrational) importance on it, rather than fight to make it what it should be? Of course, in the long term I suppose I'd see the gov't hand in this as acting negatively largely because of the underlying problems with our gov't, rather than inherent in marriage. But hey, what do I know about marriage? It just seems to me to be a beautiful idea often ruined by a combination of unreasonable expectations and both well-meaning and big-daddyish gov't impulses. And ideas are worth fighting for, I think -- and being quite un-libertarian, the idea of being left alone doesn't appeal to me but rather the ideal of creating more and better ways and spaces for people to come together. So we'll see what happens when/if I get married, if my opinions change, but I do think that the ideal is worth fighting the huge, mounting crap around it to create a culture more independent on the ceremonial aspect, and less intrusive/more transparent socio-governmental aspect (not to mention more EQUAL in re: gay vs. straight marriage).

    In a way, it's the opposite for me of male polygamy -- while I have little doubt some people legitimately want to be in some arrangements and can create a loving space with it, that's not what usually happens, nor what is was created for, thus though I believe people should have the most rights possible without infringing on others, the institution of polygamy has seemingly almost always infringed on women's rights and is based on ideas of property and religious dominance, so that's one not worth saving for some of the same reasons I think single marriage is. But I digress =]

    I'll take a vodka gimlet on our first round =]

  4. Vodka gimlet? On the rocks or straight up? Man, I didn't think that someone your age went there. *hat tip*

    I could respond ad nauseum, but I'm not sure I want to. I've got a good buzz on and I don' want to waste it. :) Enjoy your evening.

  5. Ok, except for this one thing.

    You said,

    "And it seems to me that the state does have a compelling interest in distinguishing between couples considering themselves blood family and those that are more casual -- I'd be all for them de-linking this from marriage, such that marriage is civil and "legal partners" is gov't part, but that de-linking doesn't change the bad origins of state-licensed marriage, nor the real advantages to distinguishing between a relationship meant to be long-term family and one that, well, isn't."'

    I'd love to know what you think is the state's specific interest in the differential expression of these personal bonds, and furthermore, I am reminded of the Mormon's "levels" of marriage, wherein a marriage "for all eternity" is deemed higher than those "for just this lifetime". I reiterate my belief that a decoupling of the civil and legal aspects of marriage would go far toward repairing my general opinion of the institution.

    At present, it's all woo on the religious side, and all invasion of privacy on the state's side.

    There is one thing you don't know about marriage unless you've been there. You don't think that sheet of paper is going to change things. You can't imagine that it will. How could it? But it does and in ways that you can't even begin to imagine from the outside and that are exceedingly difficult to explain.

    I will give it a go if you are interested, but definitely not when tipsy and not tonight.


  6. Oh, FFS, finally this:

    Even Gloria Steinem, who said she didn't breed well in captivity, got married.

    There is always wiggle room, J.


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