Marriage has been an integral part of society for almost all of human history. It has historically been essential for deciding important rights such as property, royalty, child custody, etc. Recently, many people have been raising questions on how involved the government should be in marriage, of if it should even exist in the first place. With the issues of gay marriage, civil unions, women’s rights, etc. being the topic of much debate in the privatization of marriage discussion, it is clear this is a very important issue that needs resolving in order for society to continue progressing. Marriage should promote protection and wellbeing of everyone involved including: relatives, children, pets, etc. while also not infringing on the rights and freedoms of the public. Would it just be easier to do away with marriage altogether? Is it a vital part of our social construct? Or is there some healthy middle we can come together in?
Laurie Shrage, a professor of philosophy at Florida International University wrote an article for The New York Times titled “The End of ‘Marriage’” detailing her opinion on the privatization of marriage and what she believes should be done. She takes a very centralized stance that shows both the pros and cons to privatizing marriage, and what can be done to remedy the cons of both sides. She has written or co-written many books and articles in her career about social topics and women’s rights. Some of these books include: “Abortion and Social Responsibility”, “Moral Dilemmas of Feminism” and “Philosophizing About Sex” (Florida International University, 2018). Her past works show a vast knowledge on social implications of sex and women’s rights, so it makes sense that she uses these as her main ideas in her article.
It seems her main purpose for writing the article is to weigh the pros and cons of privatizing marriage, and how that relates to her bread and butter of women’s rights as well as children/other dependents in a partnership. She states many times in “The End of ‘Marriage’” that the reason for governmental interference in relationships is to help promote and protect the rights of people involved. This includes the children, the relatives and even one of the people in the marriage being abused or mistreated. This is true, the government’s main responsibility in society is to protect its citizens, but what does a relationship have anything to do with how the parties should be protected? Whether a child is born to a married couple, a single parent, a domestic partnership or any other type of situation, should have no bearing on how the child is protected. Claiming this is the reason for governmental interference in relationships is ludicrous.
These rights should be appointed to everybody regardless of their marital status. The National Review claims that “government rightly recognizes, protects, and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for childbearing and childrearing.” (Lopez, 2013) This is a very narrowminded and somewhat bigoted view. This implies that children born to a man and woman marriage are the perfect way to ensure they are valuable members to society, which just isn’t true. Toxic marriages can be very harmful to a child’s development, while stable substitutes, (gay, single, sibling) can be very healthy and beneficial to a child’s development. There are so many different types of households that can raise a perfectly normal and healthy child, limiting this just to marriage is outrageous.
The book “Marriage: The Dream That Refused to Die” says, “if the gravest and most sacred features of human existence are reduced to matters of style, why should we care which styles others may choose?” (Genovese, 45). This is how marriage affects society as a whole, it turns it into a civil rights issue. The only difference between heterosexual marriages and gay, poly, etc. is style. Why should the government put any limits on the style of marriage and restrict freedoms of millions of people throughout the country? This would make it seem like getting rid of marriage all together would be the easiest way to ensure there is no discrimination in relationships, but what about the cons of getting rid of marriage that Laurie Shrage brings up?
The key question that author Laurie Shrage is asking in her article is what should we do with the concept of marriage’she brings up the pros of abolishing marriage but then also takes a look at the cons. At one point she writes, “Privatizing marriage will not cause it to disappear- it will just leave it to be regulated by private institutions, especially religious and ethnic ones.” (Shrage, 3). This can mean the exact opposite of what the desired outcome of privatizing marriage. Instead of making it more inclusive of everyone by not regulating it, it can become even more discriminatory by having private institutions that don’t have to listen to the government decide the terms of marriage.
This can cause women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, etc. to take a massive turn in the wrong way. If a marriage contract through a private institution says a woman isn’t entitled to certain rights such as property, custody or divorce how is the government going to be able to protect them as an individual? And when it comes to gay and transgendered marriages, they may have a hard time finding somewhere that will marry them since it is not enforced by the law. For some LGBTQ members, a civil union isn’t enough, and they may want a legitimate marriage, but a lot of religious and ethnic institutions are highly against the LGBTQ community. That is even more discrimination that the government can’t help since marriage would be out of their hands.
Not only are there cons to privatizing marriage, there are also is surprisingly some benefits to keeping it in the government’s control. Marriage gives families added benefits that can really help. In the book “The Place of Families” the author writes, “Government properly facilitates marriage and assigns important benefits, obligations, and protections to it because of its role in fostering individual happiness and important social goods.” (McClain, 181). Marriages are helpful for taxes, discounts for certain social security benefits, and rights to the spouse’s estate in the form of life insurance, etc. These are all very beneficial and privatizing marriage can mean certain people may not be able to share these benefits because of their sexuality or lifestyle. This is obvious discrimination. So, if keeping marriage as it is can lead to discrimination, but privatizing can lead to even more discrimination, is there somewhere in the middle where marriage is fair to everyone?
Luckily, Laurie Shrage makes an excellent point in “The End of ‘Marriage’” on how to find a solution to both sides of this issue. She makes many excellent points in her final paragraph. She states that the government should not push sexual intimacy in marriages, should allow marriages for same sex couples and should help different kinds of relationships make deals in the best interest for children. These are all good points, but they can be expanded on. Not only should the state recognize same sex marriages in order to stop discrimination, they should accept every relationship between consenting adults.
This includes polyamorous marriages and even incestual ones. If all parties involved want to be in the relationship and are able to consent to it, why should the government care at all what kind it is? Unless there are actual legitimate issues with the safety or rights of someone within the marriage, the government should respect all forms. Not only this, but the government should allow for civil unions to be made for everyone that doesn’t adhere to marriage. People not romantically involved with each other but still caring for others together deserve the same benefits as a marriage. Just because they aren’t having sex with each other doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same tax breaks and inheritance as a couple having sex. Raising a child or caring for an elderly family member doesn’t change whether people are having sex or not, and the government’s idea that only a marriage between a man and a woman deserves these benefits is just wrong.
There are obvious problems with the institution of marriage as it exists today, but total privatization of it isn’t the answer and will only lead to more problems. Laurie Shrage’s article is very enlightening on both sides of this issue, and her ultimate solution is a great starting point. Civil unions for all types of partnerships are essential in promoting the wellbeing of dependents in society, which is the ultimate goal for the government regulating marriage in the first place. Having marriage be inclusive to everyone and not only who certain politicians deem acceptable by their age-old religious ideology will help America continue progressing into true freedom, or as close to it as possible.