29 October 2000

"If I didn't think marriage was such a silly institution, I'd have probably asked you to marry me by now."

-- my boyfriend Jon, almost two years ago.

Most of the personal stuff on this site was written a couple of years ago, when Jon and I didn't really consider ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend -- just "best friends with benefits." Then I floated between a couple of lovers without saying any of them was, in polyamory terms, my "primary," and I could start an essay with the words "I love best outside of relationships."

Now I've been living with Jon for almost two and a half years and we've called ourselves a couple in the romantic sense a few months longer. But we're getting to the point where people ask when we're going to get married (some are flexible enough to make it "if" rather than "when," but it's still the default goal). Friends who haven't been involved nearly as long as we have are getting married (it seems like a lot of friends). Hardly anyone seems to understand that living together is fine for us.

I don't really see a point in getting married -- for us, at least. I can understand why members of religions which consider marriage holy and a contract with a higher power would do it. But this is an agnostic/atheist household, and the friends who were married at the last wedding we attended are also atheists. Still, their ceremony meant something to them. Enough atheists seem to want to be married that American Atheists web site has some information on atheist weddings. For me, I'd steal a line I've heard elsewhere: "Why let the state be your pimp?"

A contract would change nothing between us. We're as married as we want to be, sharing rent, food, and splitting the cost of our precious Simpsons toys. An acquaintance I know as "pingouin" on the Everything database said to us (in response to my praise of [living together before marriage]): "Why not call me when you're say, 57, and tell me how great this is?" But why would actual marriage change that? How many married people in their late 20s will still be married at 57? When a relationship is dead, it's like spoiled milk -- keeping it in your refrigerator won't make it go back to its unspoiled state. Having someone pronounce you husband and wife won't do anything but make it harder to escape the stench if the relationship does go sour.

I'm not opposed to marriage; it just doesn't matter to me. When I was dating my first boyfriend, he assumed we would get married after college and that was fine with me (though we did come into conflict over my refusal to take his last name). It mattered to him and I loved him enough to try and make him happy, saving disagreement for the things that mattered to me. (Like the ones that eventually broke us up.)

A wedding is a bunch of symbols and traditions, some of which I actively oppose (white wedding dress? I'm not pure, the white is a Victorian-era addition, and even then only the rich could afford to have a special wedding dress -- most people got married in their best available clothes). Jon and I joke about what it would be like if we did get married, from the serious (changing the vows from "forsaking all others" to "taking no others before me") to the humorous (walking down the aisle to the "Theme from Shaft"). Our own symbols are more important to us than anyone else, so why have an audience for our own private symbols? Those good ones from the past can be used in some other context.

"What about kids?" one might ask. What about them? We haven't worked out if there will be kids, but any kids we might raise in the U.S. will be in schoolrooms full of kids raised by single parents or blended families; ours wouldn't stand out. And if we were to have kids and then break up, either the bond of parenthood would keep us both close to the child, or it wouldn't; a broken marriage contract would have no force for the child's benefit in and of itself.

And then there's recognition by society. Married couples get privileges that unmarried couples usually don't. This sucks, really, but Jon's and my relationship does not exist for the sake of getting stuff from society. We're lucky that our families approve of our bond (even though they'd probably approve more if we made it legal) so we wouldn't be in the horrible situation that some loving relationships (especially but not exclusively homosexual ones) are in if one partner gets sick or dies and only "family members" are allowed to have a say in treatment or property division. Nonetheless, we wish that getting the societal perks of marriage weren't limited to only certain persons (I won't even say couples, since as a polyamorist I know two isn't the only number that can make up a relationship). Jon and I lucked out in that we could marry if it mattered. Since we want the freedom not to be married because we decide not to be, we also want all those who do want to marry to have the freedom to do so. The only reason to marry is if that recognition by society means something to you, but some of those who can't marry are the ones who want that recognition the most.

It isn't the government's business to interfere in love, legislate who is a family, or grant privileges to certain people because of their personal lives. So don't ask me when I'm going to get married. Go to the Alternatives to Marriage Project for more information on people choosing to live without marriage or without an option to marry. If you approve of marriage so much, work to allow same-sex couples to marry, or groups. (I'm always amazed that people who condemn homosexuality on Old Testament grounds aren't working to allow the polygamy so prominent in the Old Testament.) In short, let people run their own love lives.

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