Should Marriage Be Abolished?

30 April 2011

Our topics this week: Should Marriage Be Abolished?   That’s a pretty punchy and provocative way to ask the question, we’re trying to get at, but we need to be careful.  Asking whether marriage should be “abolished” isn’t like asking whether slavery should be abolished.  We don’t want to suggest that people should be forbidden from marrying.

Of course,  some people are forbidden from marrying.  In most places in the United States, gay couples are not legally allowed to marry.  Once upon a time, interracial couples were not legally permitted to marry.   So one question that we could be asking is whether the legal inequality between those who are permitted to marry and those who aren't, is morally and/or politically defensible.

Of course, that’s not at all the same as asking whether marriage should be totally abolished.   So let’s try again to say just what the question is.

Now there are places where marriage is actually disappearing, on its own accord, without anybody actively trying to abolish it.  In Sweden, for example, more and more couples simply cohabitate without bothering to get married, even when they have children.  But our issue isn’t really whether Americans ought to become more like the Swedes – though if marriage were indeed “abolished”  in the sense that we will be discussing,  that might be one result of the abolition of marriage.

But let’s go back a step.  Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the inequality between people who are allowed to marry and people who aren't is NOT morally… politically… or rationally defensible.  What then?   Now I grant that that is a contentious assumption.  Many people are willing to go to the barricades to “defend” marriage as we currently know it, especially against the encroachment by gays and lesbians into that cherished institution.  But humor me for moment.  For the sake of argument, suppose we reject all the arguments offered up by people massing at the barricades to defend marriage.  What then?

Well, I suggest that on that assumption – which I’m just entertaining for the sake of argument -- there’s no good reason why any two consenting adults -- regardless of their race or gender or whatever – should be legally forbidden from marrying.  But, of course, our society, as currently constituted, is very far from agreeing with this quite obvious conclusion.  Which raises a prior question:  Why is marriage such a hot button issue in the first place?  Why are so many people who were previously excluded from it, clamoring for the right to marry, while so many others are determined to deny them that right?

One response might be that marriage is a good thing.   But apparently the Swedes don’t think so.  And if you consider our rising divorce rates, apparently a lot of people who have experienced it don’t think so either.

But perhaps what is meant by calling marriage a good thing is that being married, legally married, married in the eyes of the state, brings in its wake all sorts of social benefits.  Access to health insurance, hospital visitation rights, the right to file joint tax returns, property rights, inheritance rights, social status.  Stuff like that.    The

state showers those who marry with benefits that it doesn’t extend to those who don’t or can’t marry.  But then it’s fair to ask why the state should be in the business of favoring the married over the non-married, in the first place?

One response might be that marriage is a good thing – this time in the sense that marriage makes for stable families and stable families make for stable communities and stable communities make for …  You get the idea.  Isn’t it just obvious that the state has an interest in promoting such stability?

That may well be true. But think of marriage as just one form of "intimate entanglement," to coin a phrase.  There's also cohabitation, and deep, long-lasting, non-sexual friendships.  Indeed, if you let your imagination run wild, I’m sure you can imagine many possible forms of intimate entanglement among consenting adults.    What I’m suggesting is that it’s not marriage as such, but intimate entanglements, in a possibly wide variety of forms, that promote the kind of stability that the state has reason to favor.   And if that’s right, then it’s far from clear why the state should single out marriage as a favored and privileged form of intimate entanglement.  Why should it bother endowing this one particular form of entanglement with a special legal status?   Which is another way of asking: Should marriage be abolished?

So now that we’re clear about the question,  tune into the program this week to see if we achieve any clarity about the answer.   Trying to help us achieve that clarity, will be Tamara Metz, author of Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State and the Case for Their Divorce.   

Comments (15)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 30, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I can't understand why most opponents of the marri

I can't understand why most opponents of the marriage think that it is just in interests of the state. But what about people themselves?
Marriage is obligation. Not in eyes of State or God. But in eyes of your husband/wofe first of all. And this obligation tells that my intentions are very strong - i'm not willing to live with you only for a while untill I will meet somebody else more interesting for me. And I will do it again and again. And what I will have on the end of my life?
I think that people need STRONG and LONGLASTING relations - it's in their blood. And community, society and even State should do everything to promote/stimulate all social tools or mechanisms which will force people to have STRONG relations - because sometimes they refuse to believe in that, but it is true!

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 30, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I WANT TO MARRY MY CHICKEN There are two proper

I WANT TO MARRY MY CHICKEN
There are two properties of marriage.
The first is contractual: it is just fine for the state to have a model ?breakup and caregiving? contract, which any two beings (subject to state laws on ability to contract) can either agree to, or be bound by in the absence of an agreement, or which agreement can be substituted for by an agreement drawn up by the parties. If the legislature won?t fix the contract, let the courts create one (under equal protection and enforcement of contract jurisdiction), or let the people select a contract under the initiative process, and let the court test it for minority protections.
The second is spiritual: the state has no right to be involved in this, to enforce, interfere, or even confirm. The state?s only right is: if ANYONE says they are spiritually married (let them marry their dog, cat, chicken or grandchildren, spiritually), the state can allow them to use the state?s contract under all the contract provisos above.
Divorce rates are proof of the failure of the ?institution,? but also proof of the universal social ?need? for the marriage ceremony, which exists in every human society (and probably something like it in every animal society, too). We could say it is ?instinctual to marry.?
The philosophical question is: why would any rational person want to marry without a contract between them fixing what will happen when they split up? In this regard, it is philosophically interesting that some of those gay couples that got married in San Francisco during the first period when it was legalized, were just getting their ?divorces? by the time the second approval period went into effect. All the issues around property and debt division, and child custody and support, were just coming up.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 30, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

p.s. such critic on marriage institution I tend to

p.s. such critic on marriage institution I tend to explain in conflict of generation. Critics tend to say that marriage is "old-fashion" and is not suitable to modern times mostly. Children try to find their way all the time. It's classic.
But destruction is much more easy action than creation.
OK, critics, if you are eager to ruint the marriage, what is your proposal? What should be in it's place? Only being together? Is it enough talking from long-term perspective? Talking about psychology of the children, who grow without dad or mother?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, May 1, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I do not know if marriage is in our blood; or if i

I do not know if marriage is in our blood; or if it is instinctual. Presumably, however, our genes are every bit as selfish as those of a turtle, toad or chimpanzee. They 'want' to propagate themselves and assure replication over time. It is not conscious, this selfishness, and to say genes WANT to do anything is only metaphor---a 'way of talking' about the process that spawned evolutionary biology.
Au contraire,people (and by association)governments are selfish. They think in such terms because they have self-awareness---consciousness, we have called it. And, as Mr. Savinar has illustrated, there are all of these terms of property, possessions and ownership which enter the equation. We all have our 'stuff' before and after we are married---or if we marry. And most of us want to keep our stuff, should something other than death cause us to part. Alluding to Tim's discussion about contracts, this is why people who have a lot of stuff and attractive incomes resort to pre-nuptial agreements: they are righteously selfish. And who can blame them? There are a lot of golddiggers out there---just waiting to get their paws on your stuff.
Governments have vested interests in the institution of marriage, as do churches. Societal and economic stability are their friends and the American Dream was predicated on social and economic stability. Progress, in any field or endeavor, requires it. But governments (and, generally, churches)want marriage to fall within accepted boundaries. Perceptions of deviance and debauchery drive fears of chaos and instability: if one marries one's chicken, do we have to provide the chicken healthcare; confer citizenship and the right to vote? It is complicated.
I imagine much of this and more will be discussed on your show, so I'll go have coffee now.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, May 1, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

The Carpenter said: the American Dream was predica

The Carpenter said: the American Dream was predicated on social and economic stability. He puts the hammer before the nail. Social and economic stability were the factors that ENABLED the American Dream (such as that has become.)Everything since WWII has been gravy, until we met other enemies---or made them. Most of what the Carpenter says is sound. He is mostly good with hammer and nails. But, as some of us have found, carpenters and plumbers should stay out of politics. Farmers do marginally better. Attorneys? Judge for yourself. Or not.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, May 2, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Why would anyone want to restrict their love with

Why would anyone want to restrict their love with a binding agreement of any kind; shouldn't love be infinitely and most beautifully free?
=
MJA

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, May 2, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Interesting question. Marx, for example, was a mar

Interesting question. Marx, for example, was a marriage contemptor. According to him (and Engels), marriage is a burgress institution, instituted by capitalists to save properties... I definitely agree ...

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Bless you Kestutis and Dave, you remind us of the

Bless you Kestutis and Dave, you remind us of the limitations and the shortcomings of philosophical analysis, namely that a methodology founded on rationalism can fail to take into account wonderful human impulses like love and un-selfishness. Your advocacy of considering these motivations and thereby moderating the coldness of rationality, reminds us, as I have said here before, that philosophy and poetry have the same goals, but philosophy only takes you as far as rationality can go; poetry can go further, and is more "acurate," because it depends on metaphor, and a methodology using metaphor better represents the impulses you remind us of, love and un-selfish-ness. Thanks again for the lovely reminder.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, May 7, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Society without marriage has been the stuff of sci

Society without marriage has been the stuff of science fiction on several occasions. It has been woven into utopian visions and egalitarian scenarios. But, as other commenters have pointed out, stability is the stuff of human progress and old habits die hard---particularly when they have been acceptably successful.
Government and its close associate, religion,are heavily invested in stability and progress, and yes, I am only repeating some of the notions already offered.
As Kestutis astutely suggested: if someone has a better idea, let him proffer it with sufficient (or at least arguable) proofs. If anyone would like to examine some fictional ramifications, revisit the books of the late sixties, written by Robert Rimmer: The Harrad Experiment and The Rebellion of Yale Marratt. These books were controversial, even for the tumultuous times in which they appeared. Your mothers and fathers did not like them and neither did your clergy and governmental leadership.
It is ironic (or perhaps paradoxical)that we feign to teach our children generosity over selfishness. We want them to be able to 'play well with others.' But, as they are growing up, they must learn an inconvenient truth: generosity is often rewarded with disdain and doormat status. Competition for position, power and prestige transforms selfishness into a virtue. If you want to make it in the world, you can't always be nice.
And if someone wants to take your 'stuff', steal your trophy wife or otherwise disrespect you, you are expected to get mad---and to get even. We talk the talk about utopia and egalitarianism. But we are taught to be ruthless when necessary. The Historionic Effect. Keep that phrase in mind.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, May 7, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I think that we need to get married because God wa

I think that we need to get married because God wants it that way. Since God has created us, we need to listen to Him and not depend on our own logic. Having children without getting married is not good (even if King David from the Bible had children through concubines. Not all that David did was pleasing to the Lord). Divorce can be avoided when people are serious about the vows they make before Almighty God on wedding day. I can change a job if my boss is a nut but I can't change my wife if she turns out to be a difficult person to live with.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

Abolish marriage. Hmmmm. Playing the Devil's Advoc

Abolish marriage. Hmmmm. Playing the Devil's Advocate: what would we do to replace marriage? The previous commenters on this post have aptly illustrated the social, economic, political and theosophical bases for the erstwhile institution. Should we change several millenia of custom and tradition? I am not saying this would be untenable, undesirable or impossible. I just wonder why we might try to do so, and, moreover, what might happen if we were able to. Looks like it will be moot anyway. Word on the street says the world will end on May 21, 2011,@6:00pm Pacific time. If this does not happen, we can take up the discussion again.
Live long enough; prosper if you find it meaningful.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, May 13, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

marriege is something different from longlastig fr

marriege is something different from longlastig friendshp etc maybe because of the kind of commitment.it has a different sense even if nobody can explain.maybe a need for marrieage has a genetic root in human nature.sorry about week english

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, May 16, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

I disagree. Marriage is the foundation of family l

I disagree. Marriage is the foundation of family life. Families are the building blocks of our communities. Communities are the building blocks of nations. The abolishment of marriage will lead to social decay.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, June 6, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

To Issaic Neutron: Why would do we need to repl

To Issaic Neutron:
Why would do we need to replace it? Why not allow people to associate with who they want and leave when the relationship has run it course. There is no emotional, financial or pyschological security that a person can gain from marriage or a relationship, therefore, the challenge is can a person live this life knowing that with gain, comes lost. That although life feel enjoyable and bearing with someone, this may not always be the case in my life. That my wife or husband may comfort me now but there may be some time in the future where they may not. To me, there is no need for replace, just free association with people. We are not here to be owned by culture and tradition to act in a certain way.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, June 6, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

To gift Some may say that we have social deca

To gift
Some may say that we have social decay despite people still participate in the tradition of getting married. If marriage is the foundation for a family which creates communities and nations, then how do you explain the decay in society? How do you explain people polarized by race, class, politics and economic and they both fight one another to gain either justice among most or to take advantage of the majority. Social decay is not due to the lack of family but it does say that we are not producing human beings who can live in the world peacefully. It does say that family is not the priori for a stable nation. In fact, I tend to think that most of the things that are told to me that are important are mere distractions from the things that are more important. Marriage, to me, is one of those distractions. Nation, community and family are all ways that a person tries to secure wealth and stability in life. If you are rich person, marriage may be important but if you are poor, why should marriage be such a big deal?

 
 

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