Should you get married? No. Yes. Maybe.
By: Francesca Ferrauto
Disclaimer: in this article, marriage is considered not in opposition to bachelorhood, but to a long-term, monogamous and cohabiting choice.
My mother has always made it quite easy for me to play the part of the empowered modern woman, constantly encouraging my leftist instincts at home. In my eyes, she's a unique person, because, although she's a religious divorcee, twice married, in her fifties, raised in southern Italy, she believes in an equal division of housework, finds comfort in her life outside the restriction of domestic walls and has strong passions and views, which she never fails to voice. Never have I felt the pressure of fulfilling the role of the lady of the house until my mother met my partner and fell in love with him. Then the question came: When will you get married?
The conversations that followed made me aware of how much my mother believes in marriage. These talks made me realize that her belief system simply doesn’t align with mine in this particular case. In fact, most of her reasoning in favor of marriage were simply not valid for me. She certainly doesn’t consider getting married and having children as prerequisites of adulthood, but she respects the institution of marriage in terms of social acceptance: it simply makes things clearer.
Since many of my friends and I spent most of our childhoods bouncing between two arguing parents, lawyers and split holidays, how could I respect an institution that made my own mother miserable for years? Marriage, to many of us, simply looks like a romantic choice made in youth, that will come back to haunt you in your later years, when you and your partner have changed and the relationship isn’t working anymore. The financial and legal obstacles put in place by marriage in order for a couple to “make it through tough times” caused pain to many young adults, precisely those who are now faced with the choice of repeating the “same mistake” as their parents. A society that asks for things to be clearer at the expense of my happiness is simply a society I don’t want to be part of. If that were the whole issue though, then a generational gap would suffice to declare the institution of marriage done for and I could end this article with: marriage is a relic of the past, stemming from patriarchal and imbalanced societies, still upheld by religious folks. But, as it will soon become obvious, it's just not that simple.
Since moving to Berlin, marriage has come up once or twice, but only recently has it become an urgent matter to discuss. A lovely couple, very close to my heart, have recently gotten engaged. They are young, non-religious adults, who hold few to no common values with the older generations. After a moment of hesitation upon hearing the news, I congratulated my two friends and, once back home, piled on the feminism and marital focused reading content. Though my research wasn’t entirely comprehensive, I have to admit that for the vast majority of people out there, even for those whose set of values I deem similar to mine, there are still some fairly compelling reasons one might decide to get married.
The Belief that It Improves the Quality of Life of Children. Many still believe that children’s lives are vastly improved when their parents are married. In my opinion, children largely benefit from a two-parent household, however parents needn't be married in order to fulfill their childcare duties. In most European countries, once both parents have officially recognised the child’s parentage, they are bound by law to childcare, hence the child will be protected no matter what. Because of this, having married parents (in the EU, at least) neither adds nor deprives children of anything, leaving marriage to be something of a moot point. Moreover, considering how many of my friends were brought up in a single-parent family and came to be functioning adults whom I adore, the choice of getting married based on antiquated beliefs about improved childcare don't hold water for me.
Taxes, pension, healthcare, and other benefits (i.e. sponsoring the partner’s visa). Per German law, a joint tax application is only possible for married couples. In instances where the couple’s earnings vary significantly, couples might reap benefits from being married. Marital status could also grant more security in old age, considering pensions and heritage claims. Marriage also affords more rights regarding adoption, though this isn’t particularly fair, it’s still typical in many countries. In the USA, though, marriage can literally make the difference between life and death. Often partners can only share the healthcare benefits of each other if they are legally married. An extreme case is presented by international marriages, where one of the two might need to obtain a visa or permanent citizenship simply in order to cohabit. Those who decide to marry for these reasons make something I call a ratio-political choice. Civil partnerships in some countries grant many of the aforementioned rights in terms of pension, health insurance and immigration, however considering that adoption and tax benefits still remain a marriage prerogative I can’t personally condemn this choice altogether. (If marriage is no longer necessary for child-caring, all we need to do is to look up the laws of our country and make a rational choice over this state-mandated license to love, based on a cost-benefit analysis. However, this isn’t at all how we commonly approach the institution of marriage, as we discuss now in point number 3.)
Romanticism and commitment. Marriage makes the relationship public, legitimising it in the public eye. It’s the adult version of FB-official. The idea of getting married often gives us a sense of security, a feeling that “now we truly will be together forever.” Only because our partner has sworn their commitment to us, in no uncertain terms, in front of a priest, rabbi, judge, wizard, your-uncle-Joe-who-took-one-course-and-now-can-officiate. However, this commitment argument could easily be counterbalanced by the existence of divorce. What we look for in marriage is not only our partner’s commitment, but also our own. By getting married, we confirm our own commitment, giving an ending to our love story and consistency to our lives as adults. We reach our happy-ending, which is what has been promised to us in every rom-com or book since tender ages. This is what I’d call the fairytale choice.
My biggest struggle revolves precisely around the dreams, hopes, and marriage-themed Pinterest profiles. Over the centuries, marriage has been depicted to society as a natural step in our lives. Through this lens, my relationship with my partner appears to hold no real value, since the state hasn’t confirmed the legitimacy of it. My rebellious, left-radical blood boils at the thought of bowing to a social restriction and conforming just because this is what is expected of me. Yet despite this feeling, I find myself thinking in contradictory terms. I day-dream about a romantic day in the forest, where I gather all my friends to testify and approve of my love choice. Do I too believe that, without a contract, my relationship is only a transient arrangement that might crumble when the wind changes?
I know that marriage gives us only a false sense of security, simply because of the existence of divorce, but nonetheless, a very romantic one that still traps a lot of us. Sure, one might be more inclined to think twice before splitting up, because more paperwork will be involved if there’s a legal binding contract, but I hardly believe that a 10+ year-long cohabiting relationship might end more easily than a 2 year marriage. So, what’s the deal? What cultural and societal influences can cause even me to fantasise about something I’ve so clearly argued against?
Partnerships have existed since the days when hunter-gatherer societies were predominant. These partnerships weren’t really considered a life-long commitment, but rather an easily dissolved male-female partnering. Marriage, as we know it, has changed drastically as our ancestors have moved through their peculiar socio-historical changes, and the spiritual meaning behind male-female relationships has changed with it.
Agricultural society on the European continent brought about many of those significant changes. The concept of property and the need to farm the land for years in order to prosper was a huge incentive to look for stability in the aforementioned male-female partnering, making marriage a lifelong deal. As we found smarter ways to farm and our societies became richer, marriage became less a matter of survival and more a tool for securing power, protecting wealth, solidify social class, controlling female sexuality, and assuring lineage. This is the kind of marriage we are rebelling against, one that is strictly tied up with our western-born patriarchal and consumer society, where in order to gather more and more wealth, women’s rights have been stepped on and ignored for centuries.
Nowadays, though, we don’t need to form Game-of-Thrones-style alliances, protecting land, money, and blood lines. Many don’t see marriage as an outdated unnecessary restrictive institution, because marriage has adapted to modern times and holds different values than before, values that we might actually share. Despite the many ways that people can partner, marriage still remains the one that seems most valid and official, perhaps because of the way it continues to be presented as a love story in popular culture. In the countries I’ve personally experienced (in particular Italy and Germany), these values have become such an important part of our psyche that rebelling against them just for the sake of rebelling might simply be useless. One might save the energy of abolishing the whole institution of marriage by simply making it more inclusive to all variations and concepts of committed relationships.
Considering that statistics show a rise in marriage in countries that have seen a more inclusive marriage practise (i.e. Germany) compared to the others (i.e. Italy), I dare to argue that those excluded from the institution and benefits of marriage are now taking advantage of the choice that has just been made available to them. This might be a stretch, but it would also make sense that they are bringing with them a renewed trust in the institution, since they have been dreaming — and possibly idolising it — for years.
Picture this: if, until now, you’d been against marriage because your queer sibling was unfairly denied the chance to tie the knot, wouldn’t you too feel empowered by the recognition of gay marriage? Wouldn’t you also see most of your arguments against marriage based on its unfairness suddenly vanish?
At the same time, it is still true that marriage, as it is, reinforces lifestyle models that support patriarchy. In Germany, a country that is considered among the most progressive and wealthiest nations in Europe, the most financially advantageous tax benefit is for married couples with unequal earnings. Hence, if both partners were to equally contribute to the household their tax benefits wouldn’t be as advantageous. Though it’s not explicitly stated that the higher earner must be the male partner, this particular financial model was born in 1958 with the purpose in mind to uphold old gender roles and bring women back into the kitchen and it remains still valid and unchanged.
We can argue that marriage has changed enough that those who want to may go ahead and do it, but the history and the reputation inherited by modern day marriages might also prevent others from tying the knot. It all comes down to your values, your relationship and your future. So tell me, why do you want to get married?
Does Marriage Even Make Sense Anymore? / aut. Gage Kris // Medium.
*Ehegattensplitting wird 60 Jahre alt */ aut. Michael Hüther // ntv.
Heiraten? Ja! Aber warum? | Menschen hautnah | WDR / aut. ARD // Youtube.
Ich möchte meinen Freund heiraten, jedoch ist da ein Problem / aut.
PASSIERT ECHT // YouTube.
*Istat, tasso di disoccupazione scende al 10,3% ma aumentano i contratti a
termine* / aut. Redazione // Sole24Ore.
Marrying Him Was Political. Sponsoring His Visa Is for Love. / aut. Crispin Jessa // The New York Times.
*Same-sex marriage */ aut. Unknown // Wikipedia.
The Evolution of Families and Marriages/ aut. Hill Shirley A. // Sage