As same-sex marriage opponents argue, allowing homosexuals to marry would destroy the institution of marriage and corrupt the minds of our youth. On the other hand, proponents of gay marriage consider the conservative view based on outdated or misinterpreted religious teachings, for as research shows, same-sex families are not any more dysfunctional than traditional ones. The back-and-forth debate seems to have no end in sight, especially since religious opponents are unlikely to surrender their convictions, while supporters of gay marriage will continue to fight for what they consider the moral right of homosexuals. However, there is a third option in the marriage debate: marriage privatization.
One of the reasons same-sex marriage is so controversial is that opponents associate the state-approval of marriage with their religious views of marriage. They do this because of the cultural significance that is inherent in the word “marriage,” for to many, marriage is not merely a legal contract, but a symbolic, spiritual, and societal affirmation of love. However, why are state-approvals necessary in affirming a couple’s love? Symbolically and socially, a marriage’s significance should be done on a personal level, for marriage is an arbitrary social construct to begin with. This approach is more romantic at least, since in theory it means that a couple is getting married for sincere love rather than societal approval, which should have been abandoned after the conception of romantic love. Spiritually, marriage should be legitimized through private ceremonies based on personal ideologies. That is, a Christian can have a Christian marriage, a Jew can have a Jewish marriage, and a Muslim can have an Islamic marriage. To the religions, this all that matters anyway, for marriage is a spiritual unification, and thus the approval of God, through a ritual, is what legitimizes a marriage, not the state; after all, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” In this system, opposition towards homosexual marriages would be reduced since a homosexual marriage wouldn’t be perceived as intruding on the personal forms of marriage of conservatives (or at least eventually over time).
The cultural significance of marriage extends past the same-sex marriage debate. Many feminists argue that marriage upholds a patriarchal hierarchy, and academic studies support their claim, such as the University of Michigan study that claims women gain up to seven hours of housework once they are married (http://michigantoday.umich.edu/2008/apr/husband.php). Of course, abolishing state-marriage won’t remove sexist elements in marriage since people will still associate traditional stereotypes with their personal marriage form, but it will reduce them by removing the historical and cultural legacy of the “domestic sphere,” thus allowing women to further explore new roles outside the household.
Furthermore, since marriage is a sociocultural institution, couples feel pressure to get married even if they don’t want to; doing certain things while not married is taboo, such as having kids. By abolishing state-marriages, marriage as a universal societal institution will be challenged, which will reduce its cultural significance as a “necessary act.” This development might lead people to fear a decline in the permanence of the marriage contract, but high divorce rates and the development of no-fault divorces in America indicate that marriage already lost its strength of unity.
One of the problems of abolishing state-sanctioned marriages is that a legal safety net is removed. Without the legal contract of marriages, couples may run into financial disputes during divorces. This problem can be solved with personal contracts, which is more ideal since each contract could be drafted with the personal needs of a couple in mind. If a couple doesn’t want to go through the trouble of creating a personalized contract however, then they can use a one-size-fit-all contract similar to the one already used for state-sanctioned marriages.
The question then becomes, does the state even have a stake in marriage? The most common answer is that state-sanctioned marriages uphold social stability since it creates a semi-communal atmosphere and allows spouses to legally rely on each other. However, many of these social nets can be replicated on a national scale in which the whole nation is treated as a cohesive community, rather than a web of individual families. This can be achieved through social policies such as instituting universal healthcare for all people instead of using joint healthcare between spouses. Incidentally, federal marriage benefits aren’t as widespread as people assume; writers Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison argue that, “federal law favors unmarried taxpayers in almost every case—only those whose incomes are wildly unequal get a real tax break—and under President Obama’s new health plan, low-earning single people get better subsidies to buy insurance.”
If one of the intentions of state-sanctioned marriages is the state’s investment in children, then again, national social programs would better serve the country than benefits for married couples. This is because not all married couples have children, so the state could better allocate its funds by supporting all parental couples or single parents with their children rather than married couples without children. And contrary to popular belief, a traditional marriage isn’t necessary for raising “proper” children. Studies after studies refute the idea that progressive families such as homosexual ones create a hostile environment for children. In fact, in Scandinavia, where a majority of children are born out of wedlock, kids spend more time with their parents than American kids do (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/660zypwj.asp). Though this may partially be a product of Scandinavian culture, it shows that functional families can exist in untraditional forms.
State-sanctioned marriage has become a cultural and social nuisance; its function as a legal framework died when feminism and secularism rose. Now, spouses are not officially required to conform to their established roles as “husband” and “wife,” while the metaphysical justification of marriage, thanks to separation of church and state, has no place in government. It may seem intuitive to us that official and socially-approved marriages are better, but this view is arbitrary and only a construct of our culture. As an evolving society, we shouldn’t adhere to outdated customs, but progress forward. We have idealized marriage as an institution of perfect love, which differs from the reality. As a consequence, our relationships with our loved ones, as they fail the expectations of our romantic imaginings, are declining. Abolishing state-marriages is not only an issue of practicality, but an issue of love. It is a way to abolish the arbitrary meanings we put in an arbitrary institution, a way to abolish the necessity of marriage to those who don’t wish it, a way to uphold individual and free love, and a way to spread equality by refusing to define what is sexually “appropriate” between adults in love through state-sanctioning.