Saturday, January 10, 2009

Marriage

Tonight I got distracted - as many of us do - on RoadRunner's help portal while trying to find out the maximum size e-mail message I can send. The best I could tell is that it's about 1MB, and the file I want to send to my parents is about 250MB. Yes, I know that I have no business sending a file that large in e-mail, but that is the easiest for my parents. So please don't give me a public flogging about considering sending a 250MB message through e-mail. Seriously, I didn't want to, and it looks like I won't. I think the answer is to find someplace who'll give me some free space and account and give my parents the URL.

Oh, yes, the distraction.

RoadRunner had a link on their portal to an eHarmony article/discussion titled, "Reasons you Shouldn't Marry." The subject sounded interesting, so I read the article. The article wasn't nearly as interesting as the follow-up discussion about the article on their forums. Reading the discussion brought to light a very good question: Why should I get married? After all, this was one of the key issues with Marianne and I over 20 years ago (recall I wanted marriage, she didn't).

I will begin by saying that since I do not worship a god nor do I have any religious reasons to marry, any reference to bonding in holy matrimony can be discarded immediately. If you're religious and feel that marriage is a union under God, then we need to agree to disagree. As soon as marriage had any kind of legal implication, it made the transition away from a solely spiritual bond. If you want it to be governed by religious doctrine, then please remove any secular privileges of marriage. I'll save the larger implications of this comment for another discussion. Separation of church and state - it isn't just a good idea, it's in the U.S. Constitution.

Since I also do not plan to ever have children, nor do I want to rear someone else's children, the concept of marrying to create a loving environment to raise kids is not applicable here. I'm not saying that this is a bad reason to marry - in fact, it's one excellent reason to marry - it simply would not apply to me, so it is outside the scope of this discsussion.

So the two key reasons for marriage out of the way, we're left with a pair of individuals, in love with each other, and looking to....what? What I'd usually say at this point is that I want to marry as an ultimate expression of my love and commitment to spend the rest of my life with another person. "To love, honor, and cherish, till death do us part." I'll add "to give physical, emotional, and financial support in time of need" to the list. What about sex? Sure, that's part of it. If you're in a good marriage then you're not worried about your spouse sleeping with someone else and passing their diseases onto you, as marriage is supposed to imply an exclusive relationship with another.

Legally, marriage provides a couple with the ability to help provide for the other in times of need (the "financial" part of the previous paragraph is included in this). Marriage allows legal privilege in terms of being able to participate in employer group health plans, to have certain power-of-attorney should the spouse be unable to make a decision due to an accident or illness, to have a lower income tax rate, etc. Interestingly the reason for many of these legal privileges originated from the concept of a wife as mother staying at home to care for the children while the father worked to provide for the family. Since a housewife doesn't receive income or health benefits, the idea was that the family (and marriage) was treated as a single unit. This concept of a family has become a relic of the past, but the privileges associated with it remain. Again, I will refrain from a discussion of whether this is appropriate or not - fact is that they are as they are, and marriage entitles one to certain privileges.

Another legal aspect of marriage is divorce. Because of the structure of the "traditional family," it was felt that resources acquired during the formation of a family had to be equitably divided among the marriage partners when they separated, particularly since the housewife had no earnings of her own. Alimony was one way to handle this division. Since the children were reared by the wife, the law typically awarded custody of the children to the wife, and the husband (still working) would continue to provide for the children (a continued shared responsibility) through child support. Fast-forward to the year 2009, and many of these aspects of divorce remain even though the structure of a family is not the same as the traditional family of the past. So for a childfree couple with two incomes (so-called "DINKs"), the equal division of assets can result in unfair inequities, particularly if one partner had significantly more assets prior to entering the marriage. While nobody likes to look at divorce prior to marriage, it is a very real and distressingly common occurrence these days.

All these things considered, why get married? I can't answer this. Except for the legal aspects of marriage, there is no good reason for two people to marry if their relationship is on a firm foundation. For a marriage to be successful, there would have to be a relationship on a firm foundation anyway. Except in the case where one partner voluntarily chooses not to work (or has a job without health benefits, for example), most of the legal benefits given to married couples can be handled by contractual or written directives. In the case of a dual-income marriage, the lower tax rate can be offset by a higher tax bracket (since income tax is not a constant rate, but rather higher rates are assigned as higher income "brackets" are entered). This is the so-called "marriage penalty" which really isn't a penalty (see my discussion above about housewives).

Would it not be much more straightforward and far less stressful for a couple to declare their relationship to be exclusive in front of their friends and family in a casual gathering? Really, this tends to happen anyway, but the gathering and declaration gives the occasion sentimental and romantic value. Rings on fingers can (and probably should, to prevent confusion) continue to be symbolic of the exclusive relationship. The result of this non-marriage, as it should probably be called, is that a couple can experience all of the emotional bonds that are ideally present in a true marriage, without the legal complications that occur should the relationship dissolve.

I'm not sure if I'm missing something in this analysis. For now, I'm considering this a "thought experiment." One of the reasons I wrote this is because I have been asked to think about it by several people over the past few years, in addition to Marianne (who tended to make snap judgements rather than elaborate on her thoughts as I have here). If any attorneys out there (Matt? you there?) could verify my thinking on the legal impact of a non-marriage (can one really assign certain rights usually reserved for married couples through written directives?), that would be helpful as well. The truth is that I really am looking for a woman to be a life-long partner, in an exclusive relationship, which is the cornerstone of marriage as I see it. While I refuse to blame marriage for my inability to find said partner, I sometimes feel that the goal of marriage is preventing a truly special relationship from forming. My (our?) concentration should be on the partnership and the emotional bond, cemented by trust. Those need to happen without the pressure of marriage looming overhead. Maybe the person I'm looking for wants to keep her own house, and/or maintain separate savings accounts. I don't know. As time goes on, though, I grow more and more frustrated in my search for my partner, and in watching so many friends' and acquaintances' marriages fail, I am starting to wonder if Marianne was once again, right (her first "right" thing was her decision not to have children).

Addition on 2/11/2009:
Interestingly enough, my employer (a local university) has the following rules regarding the use of sick leave:
When to use sick leave:
  • for your own medical condition
  • an absence required for medical, dental or visual exams or treatment
  • physical therapy
  • laboratory work or tests ordered by a licensed practitioner
  • parent-teacher conferences, up to eight hours per calendar year
  • When you must provide care to the following people because of sickness, injury or confinement due to pregnancy:
    • your spouse
    • your child
    • your parent
    • another immediate family member who lives in your household and is related by kinship, adoption or marriage
    • a foster child who is certified by the Texas Department of Child Protective and Regulatory Services
Notice in no place here does it specify that one can take sick leave to care for another adult living in the same household, or someone in a civil union/partnership, etc. So, while the discussion above has a lot of merit, this is an excellent example showing why a legal marriage is necessary.

It is also safe to say that this is one very good reason why the gay/lesbian community takes issue with the government's unwillingness to recognize homosexual marriage.

1 comment:

JC said...

I have to say, having been married twice now, I don't recommend it. Like you, I don't want kids (mine or anybody else's, although I've already inherited 2 stepkids), nor am I the least bit religious.

I'm still married, somewhat happily. Don't get me wrong - I love my husband, and we're dedicated to each other. But ever since we walked down the aisle, it's been an uphill battle for us. Somehow, in my experience, getting married seems to complicate relationships, and if I had to do it over again...I wouldn't.

Problem is, I fell in love with an immigrant, and if we hadn't gotten married, eventually he would've had to return to his country of origin. We didn't marry for the papers per se (we were WILDLY in love for sure), but unfortunately for us, it was a factor we had to consider.

I'm thinking positive, and we're working hard on holding it together (neither of us wants to lose the person we love nor have a 2nd divorce), but being a realist, I've decided that if things don't work out, I almost definitely won't be making that trip down the aisle again.

PS - again, blogger's intuitive Word Verification challenge is an appropriately funny one:

noussi: (pronounced "now you see") that feeling similar to deja vu that you get when you've done the same stupid thing more than once and the universe is trying to enlighten you so you don't do it again...