Remember back in 2015, when the US Supreme Court finally allowed LGBTQ folks to get married? Why did that take so long? Queer sexual activity and relationships were legalized in the US in 1963 in some states, and nationally in 2003. So why was taking that extra step to make the relationship official such a trial?
Going back further, it wasn’t until 1967 that interracial marriages were allowed in the US after the Loving v Virginia case led the Supreme Court to decide that “anti-miscegenation” laws were unconstitutional. In both cases, the court decided that “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State” and that “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” If that’s the case, why does the government even get a say in marriage at all?
I understand some of the benefits of getting married. For example, In 1983 a lesbian couple was confronted with a spousal rights issue when one of them got into a car accident and the other was denied the right to care for her. This was on the basis that they were not recognized as legally married. Had they been married, they wouldn’t have faced any legal issues. As a result of situations like this, the city of Berkeley, California passed the nation’s first domestic partnership law in 1984. However, the historical influence of marriage as an institution still lingers on.
Historically, marriage has been organized not as a private concern, but as a public institution that serves common and social good, not only for the benefit of individuals but also of society as a whole. The Anglo-Saxons viewed marriage as a strategic tool to establish diplomatic trade relations between tribal groups. In the 11th Century, marriages were conducted to secure economic or political advantage. What the couple in question actually wanted mattered very little, as it was the families who arranged it for their own benefits.
In patriarchal societies like Rome and Greece, marriage arrangements were made on behalf of the bride as a way to bind the women to the men. Women were also obligated to wear engagement rings to demonstrate that they were owned by the men. Women were seen as property at best, and a liability at worst. To further punctuate the transactional nature of marriage, dowries are still a thing in Jewish, Slavic, Arab, East Asian, North-African, and Sub-Saharan African cultures, though they are more casual and informal.
In 2005, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales held the first ceremonies under the Civil Partnerships Act, and it was thought that this law would end the inequalities that LGBTQ couples face— perhaps setting the international standard. Yet, despite these legal efforts, the entwinement of Church, Marriage, and the State still prevails in many societies. This is why I have bone to pick with marriage as an institution! It’s beyond the simple union of two people who love each other, which I think has several downfalls.
Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge a slight societal shift these days. Civil and domestic partnerships, and common law marriages, have allowed the rights and responsibilities of marriage to be bestowed on couples who have not legally obtained a marriage license. Sex outside of marriage is legal too, and there are laws in place to prevent sexual assault against those who are underaged. Nevertheless, all of this raises the question; why is the government still involved in marriage in the first place?
With all the work it took to get to where we are with LGBTQ couples, I’ve come to think that the institution of marriage itself is archaic. Given the constant fluctuation of civil rights progress, maybe it’s time the government stops playing a part in what should be a private relationship.
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