I just don't get why the legal institution of marriage is such a big deal.

Sure, I understand why people like ceremony and public acknowledgment of their union, and yes, I understand why religious people want the approval of their gods, but why do people make such a big deal about the legal part of it? As far as I can tell, unless you want to have kids, you're better off becoming domestic partners.

Hear me out, now.

For starters, if you're a woman who wants to keep her birth name, you have to fight to keep it. It automatically changes to your husband's last name unless you tell the state to leave it. Even if you succeed, most people will assume that you took his name anyway, so can look forward to a lifetime of correcting mindless idiots who insist on calling you "Mr. and Mrs. X." On top of which, there are all sorts of societal expectations that go along with being a "wife" and a "bride" that I'd think no modern-day woman would want a part of.

Don't even get me started on the engagement ring--it's nothing but a financial payoff stating that your man has bought you fair and square. If there were any sort of gender equity to the exchange of engagement tokens, that would be one thing, but it's entirely one-sided, and that makes it a purchase of a bride. The "three months' salary" rule only proves it. You are putting financial value on your relationship and your bride-to-be. Finally, most weddings contain a lovely property exchange ceremony. You know, when the father gives his daughter to her new owner, her husband? Not many people seem to realize that that's what the "giving away" ceremony is all about. Sick, isn't it?

Those are just the female-specific issues. No matter what gender you are, do you really want to be financially responsible for your partner? Do you really want to deal with higher taxes? Do you really want to be legally responsible for your partner? I don't, and I don't expect anyone to want that kind of responsibility over me. Add to this the fact that legal marriage is only open to two people of opposite genders. Forget it. I can't buy into something that won't let me participate unless my lover is the appropriate gender. That's discriminatory.

All this leads me back to domestic partnership. Through domestic partnership, a couple gets legal and medical power of attorney over each other, plus they can receive health benefits, but don't get saddled with the financial and legal screw-ups of their partner. And it's open to couples of all gender combinations. I just wish domestic partnership was open to multiples and not just couples.

Anyhow, on to marriage.

It seems to me that the legal side of marriage should be divorced (so to speak) from the ceremonial and/or religious side of marriage. Since legal divorce is such a mess, legal marriage should be a little harder to come by. I think that if you need a learner's permit for a driver's license, and you need to sit through a waiting period to buy a handgun, then you should have a similar permit/waiting period for marriage--preferably a year. If you can't wait a year to marry, then clearly you're either too immature for marriage or you're just not right for each other.

Perhaps to shorten the time, people could opt to go through classes that detail the legal obligations of marriage and the process of divorce in all its ugly glory. That's got to be worth shaving six months off of the waiting time. In the meantime, if you want some sort of ceremony, you can go ahead and have it, even though it won't be legally binding. You know, like a commitment ceremony, although if you do it through an organized religion and it wants to consider you married at that point, then fine. I mean, if a bar mitzvah doesn't make you legally an adult, then why should a religious wedding make you legally married?

Of course, the U.S. government would never enact laws like this. They'd rather keep marriage easy and make divorce hard, thus sticking people in rashly conceived, loveless marriages that they can't escape. Why? Because we were founded by Puritans, and we love punishing ourselves and everyone else in the name of "righteousness." Feh.

Ah well. It's a nice thought.


Jennifer Pelland is an easily annoyed third generation feminist living in the Boston area. While she often rants about the weather, she'll never move, because she enjoys living in an area so liberal that she rarely needs to write angry letters to her Congressbeings. When not ranting, she listens to loud music, writes science fiction, and tries to win the affection of her cats.


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