Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Is it Time We Ended Marriage?

I am tired of the culture wars.  I surrender.  I no longer wish to defend marriage.  Perhaps the time has come to end our marriage to marriage.  Today we need a divorce from our concept of how we define relationships in the 21st century.

Today’s ruling by a single California Judge that overturns the will of a majority of Californians has led me to a cataclysmic conclusion.  Marriage may have outlived its usefulness.  We live in a society that has evolved in the last 40 years from one in which the divorce rate went from in the 20% range to nearly 50%.  Apparently, no one takes ‘till death do us part’ too seriously anymore.

The concept of marriage grew out of our traditions. 

Under English common law, and in all American colonies and states until the middle of the 19th century, married women had no legal standing. They could not own property, sign contracts, or legally control any wages they might earn. Nearly all marriage ceremonies were performed in the church and were defined by these institutions.

In 1848, New York became the first state to pass a Married Woman's Property Act, guaranteeing the right of married women to own property.  By 1900 all states had legislation granting women some control over their property and earnings.  Thus began a relatively slow process where the state began to intervene in a centuries old institution that till then had been primarily under the jurisdiction of religious institutions.  This led to the wholesale shift from marriage as a religiously based institution to a civil contract.

Over the years, the states have both built up and codified the legal understanding of a relationship and more recently has torn down the same “rules” of a relationship.  Most of the concepts for marriage and family law in the early part of the twentieth century were an attempt to protect families in general and women in particular, clearly defining rights to women.

In 1969 California adopted the nation’s first “no fault” divorce law, allowing divorce by mutual consent.  This opened the door to a whole other view of what a “marriage” should be.

With current trends away from religious institutions having a major impact on our moral viewpoint and the shift in our attitudes of sex; away from procreation and towards pleasure, society has become more tolerant of non-traditional forms of sexual partnerships.  What would have been represented as an “abomination” by my father has yielded to a “live and let live” mantra by our current generation.

US Data published in 2007 states that the average duration of 1st marriages that end in divorce is approximately 8 years.  According to The State of Our Unions 2005, a report issued by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents -- the lowest figure in the Western world.  As of 2003, 43.7% of custodial mothers and 56.2% of custodial fathers were either separated or divorced.

Nearly 40 percent of babies born in the United States in 2007 were delivered by unwed mothers, according to data released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics. The 1.7 million out-of-wedlock births, of 4.3 million total births, marked a more than 25 percent jump from five years before.

Apparently, an increasing number of men and women no longer hold marriage as a respected or necessary event.

The judges ruling today fundamentally makes it clear that marriage can no longer be defined by the people.  This is because any such definition yields a discriminatory environment that encroaches on the rights of some group of people.  Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that no definition of marriage can be constructed by the people that is non-discriminatory.  Since this is the case, I suggest that we end the institution of marriage as a state sanctioned vehicle that codifies rights and responsibilities between people.  Instead, we should develop a set of civil contracts for all that codifies and defines those rights and responsibilities, a 'civil partnership agreement' perhaps.

If two (or more people) wish to celebrate this with a “marriage” ceremony, then I would leave that up to whatever institution would provide the ceremony and the “marriage” would then be recognized by followers of that institution’s authority but would have no legal standing with regards to the state.  By the same token, if two people want to get 'married' by the traditions of their institution, but not define their relationship legally, they would be free to do so.  At any rate these would be two seperate and distinct acts.

This, then would free us, as a society from the pretense that ‘marriage’ is somehow to be sanctioned by the law.  Instead, we would have our legal rights and responsibilities defined by civil contract.  If we were to adopt such a measure, I could care less whether the people involved were two men, two women or some other agreed upon relationship between people.

I realize that this is a pretty far-fetched idea and I am not saying that this position is without consequences.  But today’s ruling makes it clear, the will of the people do not matter.  Families do not matter.  The future health of our society does not matter.  Only the will of the few, (or in this case, the one) matter.  If that is the case, I no longer want to play that game.  I will not allow myself to be sidetracked by accusations of bigotry because I happen to hold a traditional view of marriage.  We have more important issues than fighting for an institution that many Americans clearly no longer think is worth fighting for.

Do you have a better idea?  Provide me with your comments.  Let’s see if we can create something that will work.

Let Freedom Ring.

1 comment:

Benjamin F. Snowden, Jr. said...

I came to this conclusion over 20 years ago when I was married. I was divorced 5 years later and undoing the marriage was infinitely more difficult than entering into it. It was then I had the idea of habitation and property/support contracts that would be standardized (according to civil laws already used) whereby a couple or more(could polygamist become the next aggrieved class?) could enter whatever living arrangement they desired, with codified and standardized contracts defining property rights and support agreements. Even sexual relations arrangements and agreements could be made (friends w/ benefits) protecting persons from certain liabilities and responsibilities resulting from their relationship. It could become the next social evolution- the purely contractual religious, traditional or cultural considerations at all.... A religious ceremony could take place either before or after to satisfy the participants and their families, friends, and community, but the legalities would be spelled out. If things go sideways, invoke the "escape" clause and walk away with assets, property and piece of mind intact.