One of the topics that’s been coming up a lot during this election season is marriage equality. There’s been a lot of encouraging news on that front, to be sure, and it’s great to see how the tide of history is shifting to become more and more inclusive (and it means that I get to go to more fun weddings and talk about sex ed with ministers). However, sometimes the discussions can get so focused on the worthy goal of making marriage accessible to everyone, that they also assume that marriage is the goal for everyone.
There have been some great points made about how non-traditional relationships can often meet people’s needs in ways that traditional, monogamous, marriage can’t. Rachel Maddow did a particularly good job of placing this in the context of queer history when it came up last year, and there’s a great book on my ‘to read’ shelf that looks at a variety of different family structures that we’ve built up in different societies – Unhitched.
I really value the ways in which people are questioning marriage, and are working to create alternate systems and relationships that reflect what they want and need. But the downside of this topic coming up in the context of politics is that the most publicized, widely shared discussions can sometimes become reduced to binary, yes/no choices. (And you all know that I’m inherently suspicious of binaries).
Just as people can work to define non-marriage relationships that work for them, people also redefine marriage, and one of the biggest benefits that comes along with making an institution open to everyone is the fact that it can be more reflective of where our society is. Another good book about this, Marriage, A History, looks at the ways in which marriage has shifted over time. Like many aspects of personal life, these kinds of changes can happen quietly, and change can be slow in coming. (The ongoing disparity between married men and women when it comes to housework and childrearing has been stagnant for far too long.) But being aware of these problems can make them more approachable, and looking to how non-married folks try to avoid those issues can be instructive.
Marriage is a momentous ritual, rite of passage and social institution, and it’s one that’s going to be with us for a while. Recognizing the ways that it can change is, to me, an empowering and joyous thing, and something that I’ll celebrate together with all of the ways in which we build strong families outside of marriage.