I just read a piece on Huffpost about marriage, or more specifically, why marriage should be eliminated. Take a moment to think about how you feel about the topic before reading on, because I'm not trying to change anyone's point of view; I'd rather you decide for yourself before I get all pedantic.
In this piece, the author makes a number of sweeping generalizations, ultimately honing in on the patriarchy and government meddling that marriage represents. She also strikes out at those who get married for religious reasons and casts even more gloom over those who are NOT religious and got married anyway (because that blindly supports the government meddling and patriarchy).
Now, as I've said before, I'm not religious. Not even a tiny bit. But I am married, and happily so. Here's why: I wanted to make a pledge, before all the people who were important to me, that R and I were going forward as partners, committed to each other and the life we are making together. Sure, getting a piece of paper from the state of Wyoming (in R's hometown where we had the ceremony) has simplified our taxes, financial dealings, and medical issues; yes, that is because the government has placed a special status on 'married' that makes those factors relevant. And yes, the historical foundations of marriage has some serious patriarchal roots. BUT (and this but is big enough to satisfy Sir Mix-a-Lot), we went into our marriage as equal partners. We wrote our vows, short as they were, to reflect the meaning that our union had. There was no mention of obeying. No one paid for our wedding but us; there was no dowry.
Our marriage was a commitment we made to each other. Would our lives be different without the legal overlay? Maybe. Maybe not. We are very good for one another and very happy. We were both eager to make our union official in a formal and very legally binding sense because it reflected how we felt. We stood up in front of a judge, our family, and our friends and essentially said that we were, from here on out, a monogamous couple who would share our joy, pain, hardships, and strength together for as long as we both still lived. And we meant it.
So why does that hurt anyone? The only reason that I can see is that not everyone is allowed to get married. Since I am very vocally opposed to withholding equal rights from anyone, and I firmly believe that soon all people, regardless of gender and sexual assignment, will soon have that right, I'm going to set that issue aside. Afterall, it wasn't that long ago that R and I would have been refused a non-religious ceremony. Equality is slowly making ground, as many changing state laws demonstrate. Thus, soon everyone will have the opportunity to make this kind of commitment and be able to obtain the legal benefits it provides. I think it's quite reasonable to require this level of commitment to have access to these benefits - otherwise, my ex-boyfriend would have been able to access my accounts, destroy my credit, or make end-of-life decisions for me (shudder).
As for the patriarchal foundations of marriage, I simply offer this little tidbit: monogamy was also a patriarchal notion. Granted, certain religious philosophers twisted the meaning a bit, giving the female role in the equation considerably more weight. That doesn't change the fact that the only known matriarchal societies had much looser (and sometimes no) notions of committed relationships. If the patriarchal line isn't important, than neither is monogamy.
Finally, does the fact that so many marriages end in divorce cheapen the commitment that R and I have made? That is like asking if knowing other people lie eliminates my belief in honesty.