The end of marriage as we know it, or: Why I won’t be making it legal

Guest post by lapalissade
why I won't be making it legal
By: Migrants' Rights NetworkCC BY 2.0

My partner and I spent the last year discussing a potential move from Toronto to California so that I could start a PhD. Although in the end I chose to stay in Toronto for my studies, it was a lot of talking and strategizing and stress as we waited for responses to my applications.

We do not currently live together, we have three cats between us, only one of us (me) has US citizenship, oh and she doesn't fly… During those many anxious months, we were often asked if we'd get married so that she could immigrate. Every time it came up I had such vehemently negative response, she started to tease me for it. And an accidental very un-romantic proposal was blurted out:

“Of course I'd marry you tomorrow if you wanted to, I just don't want it to be for that!”

“It that a proposal?”

“I don't know! It could be?”

“Dear diary, it's just how I always imagined it would be…”

There are two main reasons for my negative responses to the idea of getting married so that she could have status…

First of all, I believe borders hurt people, and the process of immigrating is demeaning in the best of times, criminally inhumane in the worst of times. I was sponsored to immigrate to Canada by my ex. We did not get married nor did I ever want to, but we were common law at that point. I really didn't want to go through the immigration process again, especially not for the dubious privilege of living for a few years in a country we didn't intend to stay in. As much if not more than the first time, I did NOT want to get married for immigration.

Secondly, I am just not interested in having the state involved in my relationship, period. In the age of marriage equality, I know it's not a popular sentiment, particularly coming from someone who has chosen of her own free will to become an active participant in a wedding blog. But here's my rationale: marriage, should I choose to do it, is about my partner(s), my community, and possibly my spirituality.

It is a cultural practice that I do in fact believe in. I believe in the interconnectedness of people and life and that we need each other to survive the bad and rejoice in the good. I believe that cultural and religious rituals have value in celebrating and cementing those relationships (and I wonder if we shouldn't have some for best friends too, frankly).

I just don't believe in it as a legal practice. Like, for anybody. There is so much wrong with the legal aspects of marriage I can't even begin. So many privileges that it awards seem like things we should all have access to, not just those who happen to have fallen in love and/or enjoy having sex with each other. Legally speaking, I'd like a world where I'd be able to sign a contract with whomever I like, pledging to take care of each other and share expenses. These are the things legal marriage is really about: property, expenses, medical decisions, who is responsible for taking care of small people who are not yet legally emancipated.

All of those questions can be complicated, and marriage provides a one-size-fits-all solution. Except it doesn't actually fit all.

What kinds of trust and strong connections could we build if the strength of our commitments was not dependent on sex and romantic love? What would change if we valued other kinds of relationships just as deeply? It might sound weird, especially to most straight people who have spent lifetimes dreaming of “the one,” but a lot of queers do this every day. We make our own families and re-think what relationships can or should be, sometimes by choice and sometimes because we have to. And we learn that there might not be just one perfect person to complete us, but rather many imperfect people who make our lives whole.

In the event that I feel moved to involve the state in my personal affairs, I would like to be able to agree to share some or all of those rights and responsibilities with anyone with whom I share my life — whether or not we plan on or currently have sex, plan on or currently have children. In practice, that might well be my partner. Or my partner and our best friend. Or me and my two best friends and she and her two best friends. Or nobody. Yeah it's messy but life is, for many of us, very messy.

I recognize that at some point I may have to sign papers, because the state has a nasty way of making itself necessary. But I'd prefer not to and I plan to avoid it if at all possible. I mean, I am actually more of a socialist at heart, happy to pay into a system that protects the vulnerable and accomplishes things as a group that we can't do alone (see the bit above about interconnectedness). I just think it would be easier to do that if it didn't spend so much time and energy propping up the already powerful and regulating what people do with their own bodies.

Regarding an historic omnibus bill that decriminalized both “homosexual acts” and abortion, Canada's socialist poster-boy Pierre Trudeau famously said, “there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” There is no place for for the state in my bedroom or my relationship.

Meet our fave wedding vendors

Comments on The end of marriage as we know it, or: Why I won’t be making it legal

  1. Really thoughtful piece. But, I’d quibble with the idea that getting married is a commitment “dependent [on] sex and romantic love.” if I wanted sex and romantic love, I would just date (different people) forever because sex and romance will ebb and flow if you stay with one person long enough. To me, marriage is about making a commitment to care for one another, to throw in the lot together and do your best to support one another and it’s done in front of other members of the community so they can support the relationship too.

    • Yes! I was always curious about this, because to me it seems there is nothing in a legal marriage contract about sex or romantic love. Technically, you can sign that with whomever you want (except, you know, siblings). The government doesn’t ask you if you’re “in love” before you get married. The commitments are about support and such.

      • Well, the government doesn’t ask if you’re “in love” unless there’s immigration involved on the part of one of the parties. Then the government gets all kinds of inquisitive and invasive.

  2. My wedding is coming up in October and lately I’ve been thinking about it more as a business partnership than the lovey Dovey stuff people think weddings are made out of. Of course we love each other, we’ve loved each other for years without getting married. Now things are more complex because we want to buy a house together. But this makes me more confident that I’m marrying the right person, because we’re getting married to have a secure future together, not because we’re caught up in having a wedding or because it’s what we’re “supposed” to do at this time.

    • This is literally how I have worded my understanding of marriage since I was 21. My grandmother, mother, and sister all had very traumatic divorces. My grandmother’s is still a part of her story and she has sadly passed away, much of my mother’s anger and self-hate based health issues are stemmed from this divorce (there were no children from that marriage) and my sister luckily grew up in a more open-minded world and is basically past it but it has hardened her. Marriage for love is not something I can commit to, marriage for everything else with someone I love ABSOLUTELY, I’m going to raise KIDS with this person I need them to be my business partner for my personal life first and foremost and my lover and love secondarily.

  3. I’m America, and my boyfriend of 12 years is Canadian (from Toronto actually!) in the States on a work visa he renews practically every year. In the myriad of people not “getting” why we don’t “just make it legal already”, it’s nice to know there are others out there who do understand! While we will likely have to take that step since we are different nationalities, there is no hurry do so and it won’t change anything about who we are for each other. I have NOTHING against marriage or weddings (I custom make bridal gowns and bridesmaids dresses for a living, and LOVE attending weddings for friends, family, and clients!), I don’t feel it’s a step that is NECESSARY for happiness!

  4. I can’t say I agree. The state is involved in your personal affairs, because you live in a community and your actions affect those around you. The state’s “nasty way of making itself necessary” is just an organised way of saying that your actions affect more than just you, so others – even strangers – will need some guidance when that happens. Yeah, others needing to know about your relationship mostly happens where there are medical, business, property or funeral decisions to be made. This is true of any partnership.

    Of course don’t marry if you don’t want to, but a blanket objection to all “signing papers” for the state because you don’t like government involvement is just muteness. All the risk of such muteness is borne by those you care about. Refusing to put your partnerships or desires on paper to the state because there is “no room for the state in my relationship” sounds to me deliberately obtuse. That’s like refusing to give your passengers seat belts because you object to the auto industry – even if you are “eventually” thinking about installing some.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. Also, from this comment–

      “I would like to be able to agree to share some or all of those rights and responsibilities with anyone with whom I share my life — whether or not we plan on or currently have sex, plan on or currently have children. In practice, that might well be my partner. Or my partner and our best friend. Or me and my two best friends and she and her two best friends. Or nobody. Yeah it’s messy but life is, for many of us, very messy.”

      –it sounds like you would like to dole out rights and responsibilities to a myriad of folks, and although you state that you know it’s messy, it doesn’t sound like you know just how messy and inefficient that really is if you think your beliefs should be codified. I have no problem with someone legally doling out certain responsibilities to one person, and writing a will that leaves certain things to others, but it should not be taken as a given that others know what you want. I do believe you should be able to enter into a civil union with whomever you please, but, in my opinion, if you want state benefits that are generally afforded to you because of said civil union, then the state MUST be involved in some fashion. The state is simply trying to reign in some of the messes inherent in life so that there is some sort of order when necessary (do you REALLY want to have to sort out legalities if you are in a life or death situation?)

      (also, many, if not most states in the US don’t recognize common law marriage)

  5. I’m firmly in the “do it or don’t, whatever works for you” camp, which baffles a lot of folks who assume I’m in the EVERYONE SHOULD BE MARRIED! camp since I had a wedding of my own.

    With that being said, and I’m trying not to get word police-y or holier than thou, but I find some of your premises a bit problematic.

    First, a marriage is the most cost effective way to set up the creation of a family. It’s easy for folks of a certain income level (region and country depending on the specific level) to go through the process of the transfer of mutual property rights, power of attorney, health care proxy, etc etc etc to set up a marriage-like agreement with someone, regardless of whether or not you’re lovers.

    If anyone has seen The Birdcage, that’s the pile of documents that Robin Williams and Nathan Lane’s characters sign at the lagoon as the cruise ship goes by.

    If you have the resources to do that, go ahead and lawyer up. It’s going to cost thousands and take months, if not over a year, but it is available to you.

    Or, you can go down to your Clerk or Records office and pay the $20 (or whatever it may be) to file for a Marriage License which confers all of these things.

    From a legal standpoint, the marriage is a contract of mutual property. What you own and what your spouse owns becomes what you both own. You as individuals also have “parental” style rights in the situations of death or incapacity. Including difficult medical decisions like “pulling the plug” or enforcing a DNR.

    The government, frankly, doesn’t care if you’re screwing. The government cares if your parents or closest adult relation is making this decision, or if this other unrelated legal entity is.

    The intermixing of the “procreative” arguments into the legal context of marriage is a ploy by of the Religious Right, in any nation, to give all of us social amnesia in reference to “by the power vested unto me by the State/Province/Territory of wherever” to enforce marriage as a strictly religious rite. It’s not and hasn’t been since longer than the Christian Fundamentalists have had a religion to cling to.

    Admittedly, I’m more versed on the legal definitions of family in the States than I am for Canada, where you’re located. I can tell you that, in some part thanks to the AIDS crisis, there is some, limited, legal recognition of close relationships which are not relatives in some instances for death and funerary purposes. This is from rulings by the US Supreme Court in the early 1990s, I believe.

    We do agree with each other on more points than we disagree, but I think it’s a bit dismissive to, essentially, tell the government to “fuck off” when what they want to know is who to call if you get hit by a bus.

  6. i could not agree more.
    marriage should be a commitment made by and between consenting adults.
    the end.
    (in other words: forget legalizing gay marriage. just get the government *out* of marriage.)
    the state need not be involved. officiants should be of the couple’s choosing. the manner and method of wedding should be up to the couple. let people do what is most meaningful to them.
    happy to read this take here. i would have expected it sooner, but i am glad to see it at all!

  7. This idea – the idea that the state, the government, or any other higher authority, whether it be the community or whether it be a religious figure, should not be involved in our relationship and how we define our relationship – is part of why my partner and I have decided against having a marriage ceremony. We’re not getting legally hitched, either. We’ve talked the topic over and over, and for a while we were thinking about having a commitment ceremony, but even that felt too much like a wedding. And then my partner, genius that he is, hit on the perfect solution; each year, on a specified date, we’ll get together and re-affirm our love for and commitment to one another. We might invite others to join us in this affirmation, we might not. Some years, it might be a nice dinner or brunch with some family and friends. Some years, ir might be a full on party. Some years, it might be just the two of us. But we feel that this, this continual renewal and affirmation of our intent to hold to one another is far more genuine and an accurate reflection of the changing nature of our lives and our relationship.

  8. I don’t have any opinion either way on this, and no points to point out that haven’t already been stated. Just wanted to say I really love that I can read different perspectives on this site and learn about different ways of viewing the world here. Even if it’s an article I, or majority of people, don’t agree with, it’s a really great thing to still learn about an alternative thought process. Thank you for sharing this!

  9. As someone who lost my fiancee in as car accident and who has tons of experience in dealing with what happens when you’re not married, but share a life together (including as child) if you want to protect your partner at time when they are at their absalute most vulnerable you will need to have that little piece of paper. Or your partner could lose everything. Including custody of any children (in some states even if a man’s name is on the birth certificate if he’s not married to the mother he does not have any custodial or parental rights unless granted by the courts this means if the mother dies it’s a very real possibility he could lose his children if her parents fight him for custody). Your partner will also lose big financially. What even you have your name on goes to your closest relative. If your not married that’s not your partner. This includes any ownership of jointly held assests. Now you could pay out thousands in legal fees to give your partner those rights, but that just hurts your family financially. And all of that can be contested and possibly over turned in probate. On top of that they will not be eligible for any government benefits awarded to surviving spouses. Benifits that are ment to keep your partner from plunging into poverty if you pass away. Trust me this will happen. I know because that was what happened to me. No social security for survining spouses and nothing from Veterans Affairs plus Ty he loss of his paycheck was catastrophic for me financially. The only luck I had was his family considered us married and our son was his only heir. And don’t get me started on how screwed you’d be in a split. You think a death is bad? In a split without papers you have no rights. At all. You could lose everything. Now it would be great if we could grant these rights without papers, but then there’s no proof you deserve this rights and fraud would rampant. As for the arguments isn’t one of the reasons we form relationships to protect each other from harm?

    • I could have ended up homeless when my fiancé passed away as he hadn’t written a will so everything went to his mother. The only reason I was even allowed to register his death was because I’d been at his bedside in ICU when the ventilator was turned off. Six months later, it wouldn’t have been a problem because we’d have had that piece of paper.

      Just make sure that you’ve both got paperwork that covers you when the worst happens, that’s all I’m saying!

  10. I’ve always been resistant to the idea of common law. Like, if I live with a roommate and my boyfriend, the only difference is which one I’m sleeping with, but the government makes decisions on me based on that? What about the time my ex boyfriend stayed in my spare room for a couple months? Do we both have to decide to be common law or can he decide that for both of us?
    Don’t even get me started on alimony.

    • Only a handful of states recognize common law (and not the ones you think), and most recognize it only after seven years of being together – and only if you call yourselves husband and wife socially. The intent of both parties has to be there. In states where it’s recognized, the questions asked will be “What is the status of your relationship?” and if you want to claim Common Law then “How long were you together?” There’s also probably some proof you have to give of how long you’ve been together, like living at the same address with utilities or the like.

      Roommate situations don’t count, period.

  11. I was born Canadian but grew up in the States. When I got married, I had already started the process of getting my citizenship on my own (all I had left was the final interview and oath ceremony) because I qualified for citizenship on my own. When I got my citizenship, people kept asking me if I got it through my husband. It was like no! I got this all by myself and was going to do it anyway.

    On the plus side, during the US citizenship finals you are given the option of changing your name and it made changing mine super simple.

  12. If I want to be allowed to live in the same country as my FH, I have to marry him. Looking into the legal ramifications of that, however, has been terrifying – to say nothing of the marriage tax! I really wish we could just choose to be non-legally married but then one of us would be an illegal alien, or we’d still have to live apart.

  13. I have to say, this article has upset me. The picture at the top relates to a campaign going on in the UK right now, which I’m part of. It’s about changing the financial requirement (£18,600, more than most people earn) for someone to bring their spouse to the UK to live with them. It’s a requirement that has torn families apart (it goes up £2400 for each child, even if the children are British citizens too). A court case about it was recently decided against changing the law, and an appeal is going to the equivalent of the Supreme Court in England.

    To see the image of that protest attached to a fluffy article about how someone doesn’t want to get married because they don’t want the state ‘in their relationship’… Is incredibly insensitive. Thanks for flaunting your privilege to live with the one you love regardless of marriage – some of us marry & still aren’t guaranteed this. I’m sorry, but please – change the image if possible! A lot of people are hurting just now.

    • I’m a US citizen engaged to a British citizen and this visa situation is terrible. Whenever I see people saying that marriage is stupid or the whole “why get the government involved in your relationship,” it’s terribly upsetting to me because just as you said, it shows a level of privilege and no thought for those who need marriage to be with their loved ones (and even then…)

  14. The only marriages that can be legally performed in ISrael are religious marriages. Which means that those who are not eligible (and so many people are not) have to have their marriages performed outside of the country. Because of this, Israel allows people to stay in Israel on a partner visa. It does not require legal marriage, but it is based on two people living a life together. While I definitely agree with the above criticisms of this article, there are places where the requirements are different. Although, forming a family is pretty much the point, regardless of country.

  15. “…provides a one-size-fits-all solution. Except it doesn’t actually fit all.” As a plus-size woman, don’t I know it. One-Size solutions almost never fit.

    That’s a huge reason why I <3 Offbeat – you get to try on everything and see what you like. I love pictures from non-legals and elopements, even though Husband Elect and I are probably going to be closer to traditional.

Comments are closed.