Why Do People get Married Anyway?

When I first heard of the American movement to legalize homosexual marriages, my first thought was that Americans are completely mad. My second thought was “What’s the point of marrying anyway?”

The Companionate View of Marriage

This is one I grew up hearing. It goes like  this: Alex and Jill meet. Alex and Jill feel very much affection for each other. Depending on the context, Alex and Jill might feel sexually attracted to each other. Alex and Jill feel like they can’t live without each other. Alex and Jill decide to get married so they can have sexual relations and care for each other and make each other happy for the rest of their lives. (Or at least till they change their minds).

What problem do I have with that  theory? Well, really nothing. I just think it’s a little weird. Consider this spinoff:

A Sikh couple getting married. Anand Karaj cer...
A Sikh couple getting married. Anand Karaj ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jill meets Renee at a dance party. Jill and Renee feel very much affection for each other. They like to dance with each other very much. They feel that they can’t live without each other. So, they decide to get married and dance together and take care of each other for the rest of their lives.

Now, if Alex and Jill and Jill and Renee just had a private ceremony to which they invited all their friends, made promises to each other, ate lots of food and danced a lot, I would pay no attention to them. But if they had to go to the government to fill a form, be officially registered as married, get tax breaks for it and other special results, I would go “What the hell?” So you want to be with each other. Fine. Be with each other. But why are we subsidizing your relationship? Why should we even care about it? How is it any of my business if you want to rub each other’s tummy for the rest of your lives and why should you get special privileges for it?

My point: If the government is going to officially recognize two people who care for each other, I have a couple of friends I would like to get married to. Then they can visit me when I’m sick, inherit my stuff, share my property and we can get tax deductions for it. But that’s all unnecessary. Two people who want to be together can be together but it’s kind of ridiculous to assign some special status to it. My verdict is that the companionate reason for marriage is pointless and ridiculous.

So, in what context does marriage make sense?

The Conjugal View of Marriage

Beautiful Chinese Bride in White Wedding Dress
Beautiful Chinese Bride in White Wedding Dress (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Everyone knows that sex between two members of the same species has the biological purpose of producing children and it often does. Children are vulnerable. They need care, stability and guidance. Consequently, they do best when they are able to be raised by both of their biological parents. Sadly, this is sometimes impossible but it is nevertheless, an ideal to strive for.

That’s where marriage comes in. Marriage can be a mechanism by which we bind two members of opposite sexes together so that when they bear children, we can ensure (to the best of our ability) that those children have both parents available. Marriage would be different from cohabiting in that both partners have an obligation to be there for each other and their children and cannot just leave at a moment’s notice. Such an environment would be very good for children. In this context, the idea of marriage does make sense. It serves some purpose. The privileges given to married people make sense and they are well worth it. The only problem with it is that not everybody who wants to marry can simply marry. There has to be a good reason they should marry. Because of such rules, I can’t marry my brother. But no one has ever complained about that. There are people who shouldn’t marry.

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Tracy

I’m Tracy

22 thoughts on “Why Do People get Married Anyway?”

  1. Do you think that people who can not have children with each other should not marry? Even if they are of opposite sexes? That is not a rare situation, even though there are all kinds of modern medical treatments to this. Should they be deprived of their right to marry, because you would not wish to subsidise their relationship?

    What about couples, who choose not to have children? There are a lot of those too. How could it be legistlated and who would controll, that people who are capable of producing offspring will also produce them?

    1. I’m tired and short tempered so I need you to please be kind to me and follow my logic.

      If we define marriage as a union between two people who care for each other, then it becomes inexplicable that the government doesn’t officially recognize, promote, register and subsidize friendships too. I repeat, marriage will be pointless then. Afterall, we don’t officially record friendships. The whole institution will become useless.

      This doesn’t mean that people will no longer form loving relationships any more than people will not be friends just because the government doesn’t keep record of friendship. It just means that the institution will be pointless.

      The only point I’ve been able to think of that’s strong enough to warrant the current practice of marriage is what I explained above as the conjugal view. I am, of course, open to other suggestions.

      So, do I think people who can’t have children should not get married? Currently, it is profitable for them to do so – so they should. Afterall, it comes with benefits. However, and this is my main point: if the government does not think marriage to be anymore important than a very good friendship, it need not make such a fuss about it. If it’s going to make a fuss about it, then it should make a fuss about friendships either. If it won’t do that, then it should dissolve the institution.

      If they choose to go with my idea and define marriage in the conjugal manner, (which I believe to be the only useful definition), I do not suggest that they mandate that everyone who marries have children. In fact, they’ll hardly have to do anything. They just have to not do things that go against that definition of marriage. For example, the government can believe lying to your spouse to be wrong in certain cases, but they won’t criminalize it. It would be very impractical.

      “Should they be deprived of their right to marry, because you would not wish to subsidize their relationship? “[emphasis mine]

      I think this is a fundamental difference between us. Think about what happens when people marry. Depending on the culture and time, it is at least a few of these.

      1. Both partners move in together
      2. They get registered with the government.
      3. The community officially recognizes them as a unit.
      4. They throw a big party.
      5. They get lots of gifts.
      6. They start having sex.
      7. The community (or government) gives them special benefits – collective bargaining power, a home, tax breaks, etc.

      This collection of events is what we call a marriage. Numbers 1, 4, and 6 can be done with no input from the rest of us – at least in most countries. The rest are things that we have to give. Now, to say that they have the right to those things is to say that we are obligated to give it to them. That’s ridiculous. I’m not obligated to give anybody my money or gifts or even recognition. They have no right to it. If they want it, they need to give me good reason to give it to them. The idea that I want them to stay together and raise good children is good reason for us to give it to them. Most communities are in favor of better trained children – if only because they like low crime rates. But the idea that I should recognize them just because they want me to is ridiculous. Even if they are having sex.

      So, let me summarize this:
      1. The collective things that make up marriage are not things that anybody has a *right* to. So we are not obligated to give it to anyone.
      2. Marriage is something that a community (or government) gives to certain people for good purpose.
      3. Simply loving someone isn’t good enough to request that we grant you special benefits. Big deal. You can love them in private. You can leave us out of it.

      1. Sorry, I did not mean to be so blunt, but you see I tend to write these too long replies to your blog posts 😉

        Anyway, it is an interresting subject how our rights as humans and members of societes and as citizens are formed. In my opinion they come from the understanding of natural ethics, wich is ever growing. By better information and less reliance on authoritarian commands by pathriarchs and demagogues we are able to make better estimation and hence better judgement of what is objectively right, or wrong. And then collectively form our rules to adapt the reality. Yes?

        If I have understood you correctly, you would think that a government, should subsidise a marriage only if it has a reproductive purpose to the society, or more precisely, if it endorses the chances of a child having a safe childhood by the union of the parents of this child. This would mean that the contemporary concept of marriage here in the western countries was totally abandoned and a new one would be endorsed by legistlation.

        So, a heterosexual couple having children would be subsidised by government and with taxpayers money, just as well as for example a heterosexual couple being foster parents to kids who have lost their parents, as well as a gay couple with kids. Correct? I have no quarrel with this notion.

        There is however the sociological and cultural inheritance, that “compels” us to be fair. Would this new system be fair towards people who have a deep devotion towards each other, but are not rearing children?

        I think, that the main reason for the gay community to demand a right to have same recognition by the society to their long lasting relations as the heterosexuals traditionally have, is because they feel like bein treated as second class citizens without it. Do you see that?

      2. Slight clarification: I believe that the government should actively promote a union only if it has sufficient benefits for the whole community and the government (or community’s) help would improve that union significantly and make it more effectively achieve its purpose. I merely think that the only such benefit of marriage is children.

        That said, I do understand the feelings of the gay community. They feel left out. They don’t feel valued or affirmed and those are things that all human beings naturally desire. It’s like the school kid who feels left out because the teacher gave some of his classmates candy and didn’t give him any. As a result, if extending the definition of marriage to include them had no cost, I would be all for it.

        But it does have a cost. If we start treating marriage as if it were nothing but a union of two people who care for each other, we’ll ruin the whole institution. It will foster the idea that people should get divorced whenever their partner no longer satisfies them, leaving the children whom the institution was supposed to protect broken. In fact, that’s already the case in western countries. Why make it worse? There’s nothing that kills me more than broken children. If the institution no longer does what it should (protect children), then why keep it? That’s the choice I see – restrict marriage to those capable of and intending to provide for children or get rid of the institution. It would be useless, anyway.

        Denying some people one thing while giving it to others is not fair in the sense that it does not treat everybody equally. But it doesn’t have to. My teachers don’t give everybody the same grade on exams because not everybody deserves it. My parents don’t give us equal chores because we’re not all equally capable. My employer doesn’t give us all the same wage because we don’t do the same amount of work. That is fair. Governments don’t have to subsidize and promote relationships without children to be fair any more than my employer has to pay the guy who works 6 hours and the guy who works 12 hours the same wage. They can do so, but they don’t have to.

        In conclusion, I understand the feeling of being left out. But they need to understand that some people don’t get candy because there’s no point giving it to them.

      3. I really don’t mind long posts as long as they’re well structured and to the point. I only get upset when people use a lot of space to say nothing. I do appreciate your newfound brevity, by the way. What changed?

  2. Well, I have a tendency to write long answers, but I do try to indulge your previous wishes, that the comments should be shorter. I just sometimes am unable to put my thought in a neat package. Perhaps it is because I am not writing in my native tongue.

    To me it seems that the institution of marriage in the western world has never been quite as utilitarian as you would have it. There has been several different cultural aspects to it, that were seen as practical and traditional, like for example the union of families and even political powerhouses through marriage, or children being married. These have died out from our culture as our collective understanding of them as unethical practices has grown.

    You would define the meaning of marriage totally anew, wich is interresting, because usually when people are opposed to gay marriage they claim, that even if it was more fair to let them marry like the heterosexuals, it is against tradition to let them. Wich by the way, as you would propably agree with me, is a poor argument as the institution has grown into a more ethical direction throughout past centuries and we have abandoned a lot of unethical traditions along the way. Why should we suddenly stop? But I guess there have allways been the conservatives who have defended the old ways simply because their own sense of security has come not from changes for the better, but rather from some sort of hope for social stability. Stability is not a bad thing, but we should also endorse change for the better.

    You however, have a completely new and radical point of view. As you would connect the marriage solely to the rearing of children. That is fine by me personally, though I do not think it is a very realistic expectation, that western people would give up the ideal of romantic love and marriage as its fullfilment, just because it is very hard to point out any clear benefits of endorsing that model of marriage would provide to the society.

    But, gay couples are perfectly capable of rearing children just as hetero couples, of wich only one, or neither are capable of having children of their own. There are a lot of gay couples who have children who are the biological offspring of one or the other of the members of the couple. Just as there are a lot of hetero couples with kids that are not at all their biological children. I agree with you that children deserve our care and to me it seems, that any able and willing couples should have the equal benefits by the society for bringing up orphans rather than, that these kids were abandoned to institutions, or even on the streets of third world countries. Heterosexual couples who are totally unable to take care of children, or even theimselves are having children all the time regardless if they are married, or not. Should gay unions with children not be subsidised by the society in your model and if not, why would that be?

    1. You misunderstand me. I have no problem with the desire for love or companionship in a marriage. I only argue that those things do not make marriage any different than a friendship and so provide no foundation for the institution of marriage. Tying children to marriage on the other hand, makes the institution make more sense and gives it importance. This is not a novel idea. In West Africa for instance, a man and a woman may marry for love or money or convenience or even political gain – but the fulfillment of a marriage is children. A marriage with no children is not seen as okay (as in the western world) but as sad. And the more children of both sexes that you have, the more fortunate you are considered. This is also true in the Old Testament and I believe it was similar a few decades ago in the western world. I’m happy to be corrected, of course.

      As for its benefits, like I have said, it makes it more likely that children will be born into an intact biological family (A family in which both parents are the biological parents in the children) – which is the best known environment for raising children.

      The desire for intact biological families (IBF’s) is a logical reason for encouraging marriage for heterosexual relationships but it is not so for homosexual relationships, obviously. A homosexual relationship with children will only exist if the child is deprived of (at least) one biological parent and so it isn’t an ideal situation. But in so much as it cannot be avoided, homosexual relationships with children should be given every encouragement for stability – even marriage, if it serves that goal (which it really won’t as long as people think ‘I marry because I’m in love and when I fall out of love, I no longer have to live with the person’).

  3. Well, it is fun to agree with you about the fact, that the homosexual parents should have all the same rights as the heterosexual ones. 🙂

    There are couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) who have been married for ages without children. I would not be inclined to demand, that these people would feel their relatioships are any less meaningfull, than those who have children. The thing is, that we cannot know for sure, if a couple planning on getting married will have children, or not.

    Children should be supported by the government and by the taxpayers on that we agree. There is this idea of marriage being a stabilizing force in human relationships. Marriage as a system of stabilizing human relationships is traditionally supported by the society even when people have no children. If marriage has a stabilizing effect on the relationships of heterosexuals, should it not have the same effect on homosexual relationships?

    It has not been a cultural tradition of the western world to marry just for the protection of the future newborn children. We have this ideal of romantic love, wich has grown into a social norm, because people started to doubt wether their parents had the right to choose their spouses and would it not be more convinient and ethical for the adult people to choose their own spouses. But it is a slow cultural and ethical process, that has led us to this point.

    Marriage laws are there to make sure, that the loved and chosen companion of a person has the first right to inherite that person before the relatives. That is one of the most important factor of a marriage and why should the homosexual couples not benefit from that system as well? What other subsidiaries should the society offer the married couple? Here in Finland we have the childrens allowances, that the government makes from the tax budget to the families with kids. Then we have the goverment supported daycare system and free school, art and craft and profession schools and universities for free also and allowances to the students and government supported student loans. Our society supports the family unit regardless, if they have biological children, or not. Much more so than it supports a married couple who has no children. However, it regocnises both as equal legal unions, or pacts between the two adults. We also have this common law system where the society recognizes a couple living together as a family unit (wether they are of the same or opposite sexes and wether they have children or not). It is a quite common phenomenon that couples will not get officially married, but remain in the common law marriage for life.

    I do not see why the children being biological decendants of their parents is such an issue anyway. I understand that every parent has strong feelings of responsibility of their own biological children, but does not a foster parent love his/her child as much?

    Children are a “blessing” in a society, that has no pensionate system, but as there are allways those people who grow old without children, a civilized society takes care of those elderly people just as well. This leads to the necessity of having children being less and less important in a society. Today people have better ways of choosing wether to have children or not because we have advanced means of contraception. Wich is good, because one of the main problems we as a humanity are facing allready is overpopulation of the world.

    1. Gosh, it feels like you don’t remember anything from my article. I addressed the idea of marriage as a union between people who love each other. I said it is a pointless and ridiculous as the idea of the government subsidizing friendships. Friendships do just fine without it. As for the benefit of having a partner inherit one’s wealth, marriage is not required for that, nor should it be the only institution with that benefit. I might have a really nice friend who I want to inherit my property before my family. It would be sad if I had to marry her for that. It can be fixed with a simple legal process. If you still feel like arguing for companionate marriage, try reading my article again and respond to the argument I already made.

      As for children being with their biological parents, it is an established sociological act that the best environment for raising children is with both of their biological parents. It’s the gold standard and should be encouraged wherever possible and feasible. I don’t think it has anything to do with how much the parents love the kids. I guess kids raised in other types of families have different and more serious problems. There is a study comparing children conceived from sperm donors, adopted children and others here:
      http://www.familyscholars.org/assets/Donor_FINAL.pdf
      The summary of findings is here: http://www.familyscholars.org/assets/Donor_summ_findings.pdf

      Also, I found this wonderful info-graphic comparing children raised in IBFs, divorced, single, step and homosexual families here: http://www.familystructurestudies.com/outcomes/
      You should definitely check it out. Note that the homosexual category only features families in which the parent had a homosexual relationship. They couldn’t find enough long term homosexual relationships for comparison (2 out of 2,988).

      As for overpopulation, here’s what the american enterprise institute has to say:
      http://www.aei.org/article/society-and-culture/five-myths-about-the-worlds-population/

      1. The world is overpopulated.

      Sure, 7 billion is a big number. But most serious demographers, economists and population specialists rarely use the term “overpopulation” – because there is no clear demographic definition.

      For instance, is Haiti, with an annual population growth rate of 1.3 percent, overpopulated? If it is, then was the United States overpopulated in 1790, when the new country was growing at more than 3 percent per year? And if population density is the correct yardstick, then Monaco, with more than 16,000 people per square kilometer, has a far greater problem than, say, Bangladesh and its 1,000 people per square kilometer.

      Back in the 1970s, some scholars tried to estimate the “optimum population” for particular countries, but most gave up. There were too many uncertainties (how much food would the world produce with future technologies?) and too many value judgments (how much parkland is ideal?)

      Even considering resource scarcity isn’t all that helpful. During the 20th century’s population explosion – when we went from 1.6 billion people to more than 6 billion – real prices for rice, corn and wheat fell radically, and despite recent spikes, real prices for food are lower than 100 years ago. Prices, of course, are meant to reflect scarcity; by such reasoning, the world would be less overpopulated today than a century ago, not more.

      There’s another cool info-graphic here. I don’t have a source, for the picture, so please exercise caution. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat/2012/07/overpopulation-is-total-bunk.html

      This was a really long response, but you asked for it.

  4. Well, well. I read your post again, and do not see as to what you are referring to when you say, it is as if I had forgotten everything in it. Thanks for the links, anyway.

    Do you think, that marriage as an institution has a stabilizing factor in the lives of people? If it is that for the parents of little kids (as we are assuming), is it not that to the other married people as well? Could it not be that for the homosexuals as well? If not, howcome? If it is a stabilizing factor in the lives of people and their sexual relationships, then should not the government subsidise it? I do not see this cultural tradition as “ridiculous as subsidising friendships” and frienships and communities are frequently supported and subsidised by the western governments.

    Marriage is a legal pact between two consenting adult people in the western culture. A promise of fidelity, if you wish. It is a tradition and it is generally seen as stabilizing element in the society. That is why it is subsidised by the governments of many countries. There is no tradition of homosexuals marrying, but if society can make a case for it being good for heterosexuals, then it will be very hard to establish any ethical reasons why it would not be good for homosexuals also. Correct?

    If the demograpics show, that the homosexuals are at present much less likely to establish long lasting relationships, than the heterosexuals, could it be indicative of the fact that marriage is indeed a stabilizing factor in heterosexual relationships? As far as we know, the homosexuals do not differ from us heterosexuals in any other way, than their sexual orientation, so the fact that they are so different in this one aspect of life of achieving stable relationships clearly shows their cultural behaviour is different. What else is different, is how the society traditionally has seen homosexuality. Is the correlation not obvious? What is more likely to cause the homosexual relationships to be short term? The fact that they are homosexual relationships, or how the society percieves homosexuality?

    Would you really rather re-invent marriage as an institution only for the people who have children, than to add homosexuals to the existing tradition? Why? Do you think it is easier to accomplish? Either way, what you are suggesting is something totally radical.

    It is easy to establish, that a middle class family is statistically a very good situation for the kids to be raised, but never the less, children are born into different situations just as well. Those children and families with allready worse off chances in life need more support from the society than those who have it all OK from the beginnig. Correct? Encouraging only the well of people to have children is suggesting some sort of form of eugenics, wich can hardly be justified as ethical anyway. Can it?

    We had a terrible outrage by the Finnish public, when a young conservative politician here suggested, that the society should not support people with low chances of taking care of their children, to have children by support from the government. Even all the other representatives of his party demanded him to recant. Was he wrong, or right in your opinion?

    The rules for marriage and how much society should support and how it should subsidise the institution are arguable, but the overpopulation problem hardly is.

    Human population has grown in less than 300 years exponentially In the beginning of the 19th century there were less than one billion of us. By the mid 20th century, that amount had tripled, and now there are over seven billion. I hope you can see where this is going, and there seems no end to the growth. However, there are limits to it. What happens in the next 50, or 300 years, if the world population continues to grow as it has for the past 300 years? What about the next 1000 years and so on? It is a problem we should face rather sooner than later. Should we not?

    Monaco is just an indipendent city and hardly self sufficient, so it can not be compared to bangladesh where there are so much people living in such poverty, that they have burned out much their forests and greatly increased erosion. Wich in turn causes catastrophies, since the vast nubers of people are living in areas where the floods hit the hardest. And the floods are getting worse because of the erosion of hills upstream.

    Prices of food at this point are a very poor indicator as to what is to come, when the critical limit on food production is finally overstepped. Agriculture has been and can be greatly developed to meet the problem, but it does not resolve the problem of ever increasing population growth alone.

    Allready there are problems of clean water in some densely populated areas of the world. Natural ecosystems are constantly being destroyed by the ever growing population. Entire animal and plant species are dissappearing as a direct result. Deforestation is an actual fact, results of wich are not only in the nature being destroyed, but also the damage to the carbondioxide/oxygen balance at the same time as the ever growing population produces more of the former. We are loosing arable land to desertification as a direct result of overpopulation. And for sure more people cause more pollution, do they not?

    The good news is, that if a society developes its economy and social morals, the population growth may slow down, or even turn into reverse, because statistically educated people with pension planning have less children, than the uneducated people with no other safety for their old age, than their offspring. Even vaccinations may slow down the population growth, since children are not as prone to die as without any. But, just as with the marriage issue, there are cultural matters and traditions, that affect the matter, like religious attitudes towards contraception.

    Bear with me. I come to read and comment your blog, because I want to understand people with completely different backround and cultural heritage and totally different approach to life, ethics and all that. It is so much easier to discuss such issues with people who allready agree with oneself. Is it not? If I am getting really irritating, or too tiresome, please do tell me, and I promise I will not “harass” you any more.

    1. I don’t know I would think you’re harassing me. Even in the Netherlands where homosexuality is widely accepted and gay marriage has been legal forever, homosexual unions are still a lot less stable. It doesn’t really matter why in this conversation. We’re talking about the definition of marriage.

      Marriage may or may not make a relationship stable depending on how it is approached. Where I come from, a divorce is only possible if both partners agree. The man and the woman often assume responsibility for separate spheres, of the family, making them co-dependent. Also, marriage is less a thing of personal satisfaction and more something done for the children and affects the way you are seen in society. Because of such benefits, people who get married are likely to stay married, providing stability for their children.

      If, on the other hand, you think of marriage as something you do with someone who makes you happy, have laws allowing one partner to get a divorce without the approval of the other, and if both partners in a marriage strive to be independent of each other – share chores equally, keep their own jobs, etc. That is, if the marriage is significantly like co-habitation, it’ll break up pretty easily. That’s probably one of the reasons egalitarian marriages are more likely to end in the divorce. Also, if you marry someone only because you love them and they make you happy, when that is no longer the case, divorce is the logical conclusion. That’s why the idea of marriage as a tradition between two people who love each other will lead to more divorce. Which is the reason I oppose that definition – children need stability.

      If you think of marriage as a tradition that people who love each other engage in, then of course homosexuals should be allowed to get married. In fact, three people who love each other should be allowed to get married. What won’t work is to argue that the community should subsidize or even care about their relationship. Why should they?

      Like I said, the one reason I have thought of why the community should support married individuals is that the stability it provides for children.

  5. I could just as well agree with you, that a marriage could be subsidized by the society only when a child is born to, or adopted by people in cohabitation. It is a radical thought just about anywhere in the world, but as the nature of marriage is about to change anyway, why not.

    People are prone to keep to their traditions and achieved benefits, so I doubt, if your idea will be adopted by any number of societies in any near foreseeable future, however. As long as people think that marriage has a stabilizing effect on the society as a whole and not only for the lives of the kids, it will at least continue to be subsidized by the society regardless of the children. Here in Finland we have several other subsidiaries to families with children in addition to those given by the government for married couples, but we also have a very low birth rate. People have other things to do. Even so, we have doubled our number in the past 70 years.

    Often culture changes only when people agree, that there is cultural injustice and decide to change that. I guess that is what is happening as the western societies are getting ready to legalize gay marriages.

    As a rethorical question, why do you think in western countries the legal position was changed into, that it only takes the will of one person in a marriage to end it? Could it be, that abusive marriages would continue, if the other party (the abusive one) would not agree to divorce?

    Peace, love and happiness to you.

    1. in the US, prior to the legalization of no-fault divorce laws, a couple couldn’t get a divorce just because they wanted to (even if they both wanted it). They had to prove that one of the partners had acted in a certain way (e.g. abandonment, abuse, adultery or a felony). They could always make something up. e.g Both partners agree that the wife should come home late and discover her husband with a ‘mistress’, specially prepared for the occasion. The wife testifies to that in court, the husband admits to it and you have a divorce. So, the reason was probably not abuse of spouses. If a woman was being abused, she could probably get a divorce.

      What I found was this: in the 1930s, a treatise on American family law complained that

      “In divorce litigation it is well known that the parties often seek to evade the statutory limitations and thus there is great danger of perjury, collusion, and fraud . . . . In many cases no defense is interposed, and often when the case is contested the contest is not waged with vigor or good faith. – Vernier, Chester. Section 80, “Proctors” of Divorce and Separation, Vol. 2 American Family Laws: A Comparative Study of the Family Law of the Forty-eight American States, Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1932), p. 93.

      In addition, advocates for no-fault divorce argued that the law should be changed to provide a straightforward procedure for ending a marriage, rather than forcing a couple who simply couldn’t get along to choose between living together in “marital hell” or lying under oath in open court. The most prominent advocate of this position was feminist law professor Herma Hill Kay (who later became dean of UC Berkeley School of Law). (Bishop, Katherine. “Sweet Victory for Feminist Pioneer at Law School.” The New York Times, 3 April 1992, sec. A, p. 1)

      I also got this from National Affairs:

      “In 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan of California made what he later admitted was one of the biggest mistakes of his political life. Seeking to eliminate the strife and deception often associated with the legal regime of fault-based divorce, Reagan signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce bill. The new law eliminated the need for couples to fabricate spousal wrongdoing in pursuit of a divorce; indeed, one likely reason for Reagan’s decision to sign the bill was that his first wife, Jane Wyman, had unfairly accused him of “mental cruelty” to obtain a divorce in 1948. But no-fault divorce also gutted marriage of its legal power to bind husband and wife, allowing one spouse to dissolve a marriage for any reason — or for no reason at all.”

      And I found a woman talking about a woman whose husband wanted to divorce her to marry his mistress (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/08/28/no-fault-divorce-my-fight-to-save-my-marriage.html). She could fight because her state had fault-based divorce, but he eventually moved to another state and got the divorce.

      My pain over the issue is that it gives one partner to basically destroy the life of another who had lived with him for years, make useless all the work she put into the marriage and destroy their children too. If two people have to agree in order to get married, one of them shouldn’t be forced to lose that life for no reason at all.

  6. We have no way of knowing wether Mr. Reagan was abusive towards his wife by the way of “mental cruelty”, or not. However, a lot of abuse wich is very difficult to prove goes on between married people. Perhaps that is why his first wife appealed to such to get a divorce. Could it really been better for both of them to continue in that relationship?

    Do you not think that the life for wich a couple invested in a marriage is over when one of them has allready abandoned it in a way, and wishes to end it? Many couples artificially continue in a marriage untill their children are grown up, even though the happiness of their marriage has ended long before. Is it really better for the children to grow up in an environment where their parents learn to hate each others guts, because they can not get away from that situation, than to be brought up by single parents? Perhaps it sometimes is, but that is for these people to decide for themselves. Correct?

    Also an abusive marriage has been the source of many murders, when people were stuck in a marriage, they could not end separately. Has it not?

    In my view, the best way to prevent abusive marriages and divorces is that people who get married really learn to know each other before they get married and that they are somewhat experienced in human relationships. Statistically simply illegalizing divorce would be the easiest way to stop people from divorcing, but I do think mine is better for the people.

    1. Who is suggesting making divorce illegal. My concern is only that when divorce can be obtained for any reason or no reason at all, children suffer. It is one thing for a woman to divorce her husband because he abuses her. It is another for her to obtain a divorce because she fell in love with someone else. In the first she is protecting herself (and her children, consequently) in the second, she is doing them irreparable harm for no justifiable reason. In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have eros as my god.

      I suppose it must be different in the western world but where I come from, selfishness is not a virtue. Parents make sacrifices for their children, not the other way around.

      I’m tired of this conversation. It was nice while it lasted.

  7. One personal proposal is for government to not become involved with marriage at all unless it is to prevent someone from getting hurt. People should know when they are financially and otherwise responsible enough for any relationship. Government participating in any way financially funding Marriages of any kind could be considered an example of Pork Spending. It may sound a radical idea, but a governments primary purpose should be to protect people from threats both at home and abroad with money raised by taxes and that should be the limit of their power. Giving people perks at all for any thing else seems excessive and contributes to putting countries into the massive debts we see today. To summarize, government should not be permitted to interfere in a marriage unless it poses a personal threat to an individual.

    1. You seem to be limiting those with a stake in the marriage to the participants. A government is responsible for protecting the whole community and as I have said, a chief benefit of marriage is the wellbeing of children. Children are the future of any society. Sick children lead to a sick society.

      For that reason any solution to this debate must make sure that children are safe. If the government gets out of the marriage business, what mechanism would ensure stable homes for children? In a small town, the entire community can do that, but in cities, where nobody knows what their neighbor is doing, that will never work.

      Marriage as a means of protecting children only works with the force of the community behind it and in a large enough community, that force is the government.

      1. This is a fascinating discussion, which I have come to late. I shall not attempt to respond to any of the interesting points made – I’d be largely duplicating points already made by somebody.

        My personal view (which may interest nobody) is that ‘marriage’ as an institution recognised by governments is outdated and irrelevant. People have a right to go though any sort of religious or secular ceremony they wish to, but that should not concern governments. The legal system can protect the interests of those who have signed some form of contract of partnership. Governments can legislate on the duties of people who choose to bring children in the world. Employers may choose to recognise certain benefits for contracted partners, as many do at present for spouses. That’s it.

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