The Business of Marriage
I’m supposed to be working on my taxes (playing avoidance) so money is on my mind. At the same time, the media is full of debates going on about same-sex marriage. So, I guess I have money and marriage on my mind… I thought I would tackle what I think could be a solution: Make Marriage a Business!
Actually, it’s been a business all along. There are three main reasons for getting married: property, access and benefits. Historically, property and political allegiances informed marriage choices for both the elite and for the poor. The rich expanded their kingdoms while the poor sold their daughters for dowries or to lighten the load. But, religion and folklore have romanticized the trade, elevating it to a higher plane where God is the glue and where love binds the couple together til death do ye part. We all know how marriage can be momentous and memorable:
I believe in marriage as an institution. When it is a good match, it strengthens society and provides a solid base for both the couple and for those around them. I have been fortunate to witness excellent matches, have been the “best man” twice, a maid of honor twice and in the wedding party another time (undefined role). I have been unfortunate in that I haven’t experienced that wedded bliss, although I have experienced the wedded part. It’s a beautiful thing to see a good marriage, but the reality is that there are a lot of bad ones out there and statistically, we do a poor job of staying married as a society.
Here are the stats in the US for 2012:
- 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
- 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
- 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.
A friend of mine once told me that he would rather die than go through a second divorce. It’s rarely painless and if children are involved…. well, we all know how awful that can be on their lives!
So, if straight people can’t get it right, why do gays want to subject themselves to the same potential nightmare? Because of those three reasons: property, access and benefits. Sure, they want the weddings, the acceptance, and the social status married people get, but the most important reasons are business ones. When a couple is married, there are clear laws that allow the partner to inherit, to benefit from a divorce, to care for a partner who is ill, plus the health benefits and tax incentives. The main reasons for denying same-sex couples those benefits are social and religious.
Church and State
Ever since I have been aware of a political consciousness, I’ve felt strongly that a healthy society must have a clear separation of religion from the state. As a Christian, I might believe that certain things are right and wrong, but that might not make a certain practice right or wrong for someone else. Yet, there are universal laws that might satisfy both my Christian views and protect society from harm. The Ten Commandments plus the Golden Rule (Love thy neighbor as thyself), pretty much sum up a simple modus vivendi for most Christians:
Commandment #7 talks about not committing adultery, but no mention is made about two dudes or dudettes not getting married. Yes, there are a couple of places in the Bible that condemn homosexuality, but they are describing social disasters where everything has gone wrong and it’s debatable whether a loving and committed relationship would get the same harsh treatment.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the Bible, let’s look at how a secular society can have a basic set of laws to guide it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does a good enough job for me. The United Nations basically goes on and on in this document about how everybody is equal to each other and should have equal rights, housing, access to meaningful work, etc.
Marriage, as we know it, has two parts in our society: the religious and the “civil” or legal part that stands up in a court of law. If we knock the religious and social part out of the discussion, then maybe we can be a little more objective about why it should be denied to two people who happen to be of the same sex. It makes you uncomfortable? It’s not natural? Well, there are a lot of things that heterosexual couples do that might make us go “oh, ick” and “yikes!”, yet they can still be married. Not to even start talking about all of the sexual abuse that happens in heterosexual marriages, wives raped and beaten by their husbands… Discomfort is not a good enough reason to outlaw same-sex marriages.
Stephen Colbert does a good job of capturing the debate that is going on these days. There are three parts to the same show:
Two of the issues raised that stick out for me: marriage is for procreation (yeah, right….) and corporations are people. Save that thought…
So, for the sake of argument, how about if we just put all of the moral and religious debate into the courts of the churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other holy places? Let them each decide what they think about same-sex marriage. Then, the state is stripped down to the bare facts and I can’t see an argument against it.
Aaaaahhhh….. but that opens a whole new can of worms and I have seen very little mention of it: polygamy!
If same-sex marriage is allowed, why not polygamy, which historically is a part of our Judeo-Christian tradition? Didn’t Solomon have some 700 wives and 300 concubines?
And, polygamy is still alive and well in Muslim regions and in many other societies! I have a friend from Ghana who has several wives and when he talks about them, his eyes glass over with love and he goes on and on (while mine roll around in my head). I’ve watched a lot of foreign flicks, read tons about other cultures, and the happiness factor between arranged and multiple marriages compare to being about the same as the happiness factor in our way of doing things: about 50% are happy and 50% are miserable.
The problem with polygamy in my book is that most of the places where it is allowed are also places where women are treated as property and have no legal recourse to self-defense. Much attention has been given lately to how young girls are still given in marriage to older men all over the world, basically enslaving them as indentured labor. But, we are a “civilized” melting pot where women supposedly do have legal recourse, so that should not be an argument against polygamy. In fact, I am not even talking about one man marrying many women, but rather of a bunch of people marrying each other. Polygamy actually refers to a marriage which includes more than two partners and it could be any mix. Polygyny is one guy, bunch of girls and polyandry is one girl, lots of guys. (See Wikipedia for more.) Polyandry is also alive in some places like India, Tibet, some other Asian countries and in the Amazon. Here, too, it is a case of keeping land and wealth in the hands of a few people.
In Islamic Law, a man has the right to marry four wives, but he must treat them all equally. Since that is impossible to define or monitor, many Islamic countries have outlawed multiple partners. But, what would the justification be on a secular level to have any kind of a limit? Why shouldn’t people just be able to marry whomever they want to? Aaahhh…. it gets complicated, doesn’t it?
Make marriage a business. They can be any size, but like businesses, have some regulation. Here’s what it could look like:
- Anybody can marry anybody.
- When one person enters a marriage, he/she is marrying everybody else in that marriage.
- All partners are equal partners in the eyes of the law and share equally from the common pot.
- The bigger the marriage, the more penalties it gets by the State.
- When someone divorces the marriage he/she must reach a settlement with the rest of the partners.
So, basically, you have this potential scenario:
Sole Proprietor: Single people like me who are the least risky to the state. We get a nice tax refund as a bonus and an incentive to stay single.
Partnership: Two or more people who basically have a small business marriage. Get some penalties for being married.
S-Corporation: Limited marriage with quite a few people. Mormons would be legal, Muslims happy, but we see a hefty tax. You might see a bunch of famous people marrying each other.
Corporation: Publicly owned marriage. This would be for huge marriages that show entrepreneurial success. They would have to be accountable to a board on their performance.
I say that it is hard enough to make a marriage work between two people, gay or straight, and that the more you bring into the equation, the more opportunities there will be for social disruption. However, the truth is that we already live in a polygamous society, only it’s called “serial polygamy” as we take on a partner, one at a time. That was in my sociology class over 30 years ago and the numbers have only grown since then!
Sure, people could still sleep around, have affairs, and do what they do. But, if civil marriage is really about property, access and benefits, then all people should be able to enjoy those amenities using whatever combination of partners they want to. We may go, “Oh, ick!” and hide our heads under the sand but that won’t solve anything. Neither will God nor religion. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the 10 Commandments and I don’t even need to start harping on how the religious right ignores that one!
No, we are a secular country with a pluralistic population and our laws need to protect ALL people and give them the freedom to make decisions that work for them. The key is to make it available, but to make it expensive.
As for me………… uh, I’m sticking to being self-employed for now! 🙂
What do you think is the solution? I have been saying these things with some seriousness, but also kind of tongue in cheek. I am much more concerned about the environment, drones (why isn’t there massive protest against them?), our prisons, gun control, and so many other things than I am about whether two men or women love each other and want to commit to each other. I don’t like promiscuity, straight or gay, and have no interest in knowing what goes on behind people’s bedroom doors. Really, civil marriage is NOT about sex. These decisions are complicated and need to be discussed. It all boils down to equal rights and justice, doesn’t it? The problem, for me, is where do we draw the line? What does marriage really mean?
The other option, much easier, would be to get rid of civil marriages completely and let couples draw up prenuptial agreements if they want to protect themselves in the case of death or divorce. Then, how we structure our family units would be completely up to our communities and our social and religious institutions. What say you?