Yasmin Nair

Make Marriage Work Like Disappearing Ink

Filed By Yasmin Nair | September 30, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: gay marriage, marriage equality, marriage politics, Mexico, Mexico City, same-sex marriage, straight marriage

I don't usually care about marriage news because, well, I don't generally care about marriage, period. But this recent piece on Reuters intrigued and delighted me: Mexico City lawmakers are contemplating issuing temporary marriage licenses.

According to Reuters, mexico_10.jpg.gif"Leftists in the city's assembly - who have already riled conservatives by legalizing gay marriage - proposed a reform to the civil code this week that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime."

Even better: "The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits."

This is, I think, the perfect solution to the intractable and painful process that marriage often becomes for many people. Divorce in a predominantly Catholic country like Mexico is, I imagine, both culturally and economically stressful and while it may be more acceptable here, nothing makes you feel more vulnerable than the drawn out process of deciding who gets the $24.99 toaster you received as a wedding gift, or the 13-year-old kid whose onerous college fees can be seen looming in the near future.

This is a perfect solution: Make marriage work like disappearing ink. Get married, see how it works out for two years - a reasonable time period to decide who gets to take out the garbage and who gets the left side of the bed and, of course, whether or not you'd actually want to continue living with each other for much longer.

I like this. There are, of course, logistical issues to consider.

Would a marital contract mean being tethered to state benefits? I imagine that would differ from country to country. In the U.S, there are those famous 1000 plus benefits that accrue to marriage but in a shattered economy where most people are unable to get jobs, I think it's fair to say that marriage is not on their minds, benefits be damned.

As for the argument that marriage gets you health care: I think it's fair to say that most would scoff at the possibility of finding health care these days. Furthermore, the idea of marital status as a guarantor of health care is an abhorrent one - except, of course, among teh gayz who think nothing of perpetuating the idea that married people are simply better people and therefore deserve more rights. I've lost track of how many straight people have told me, unhappily, that they got married for health care, and of the strain that puts on them and their relationships.

Reality intrudes, as it must, into the gay marriage utopia where more and more people will get married. Marriage rates, in the US and elsewhere, have been slipping and with good reason: there is no sustainable logic to the institution. In fact, it may well turn out that the only group that shows an increasing support for marriage will be... the mainstream gay community. After all, all things being equal, why should two people agree to hitch themselves to each other and the state for eternity? Gay marriage advocates are fond of insisting that marriage is the guarantor of 1000 plus benefits, but they miss the point entirely: that the state should be in charge of benefits that are tied to marriage is the problem, not the solution.

But if we are to have marriage, and if people do feel the need to exercise some kind of contractual obligation upon themselves or to each other, the Mexican proposal sounds like an excellent idea. It erases that tired idea of the sanctity of marriage - something that both gays and conservative Catholics have held to - and asks us, instead, to think of a relationship as something crafted out of contemplation and intention. Do we want to be in this for the long haul? Is it possible that we might move on in two years to something else entirely, or even to other people? Is it possible that we might expand this into something that, perhaps, includes other people? Is it possible that one or both of us might actually be happier without a partner? Is it possible that we ought to part ways but remain friends?

I see this heading in the right direction. This is yet another way to uncouple marriage from capitalism and the state. Marriage today is thrust down people's throats as something that needs to last forever and a day, and both religious forces and the state have historic investments in that fantasy. Marriage has been a way to tie women and children in particular into relationships over which they have no choice, and which deprives them of financial or social agency.

Privileged feminists like Gloria Steinem have claimed that "we" have made marriage better, but the reality of working women's lives is that they still make less than men, and that they still have little to no access to basic and affordable or, imagine that, free childcare. In the absence of a structural betterment of women's economic conditions, it makes no sense to argue that marriage is better when the costs of divorce - the loss of spousal health care, for instance, or a loss of income from a partner's job - fall more heavily upon women.

Translate that to gay marriage, which has been oddly de-gendered and de-classed by a mass of people who seem to believe that teh gayz are somehow immune to issues of class and gender and whose major proponents seem to assume that we are all making $300,000 a year and able to leave estates worth millions to our partners. The truth that Mayor Bloomberg and Fortune 500 corporations - who avidly support gay marriage - don't want to know or ignore about queers is that we are not all like them. The gays they support - and the only ones they see - are not the sort who are likely to suffer in this economy. The rest of us are screwed.

Gay divorce, which will come about in larger numbers than we can predict, will be a shattering dose of reality - LGBTQ people are more economically vulnerable, face fewer to no protections in the workplace, and are more likely to face quotidian forms of discrimination in, for instance, the hunt for housing. Try being an out and not-quite-perfectly-gender-conforming trans person or too faggy a gay boy in some cities and see how quickly you find an apartment to rent after your divorce.

So, to return to the Mexican proposal (in a city that has already legalised gay marriage, I should note): Making marriage seem like a conscious choice with an opt-out option built into it makes it less of a state-endowed enterprise and more like something that people enter into out of curiosity and a genuine desire to see what they might craft together. Isn't that the basis of any healthy friendship? And isn't friendship the basis of any relationship?

A two-year marital contract might also lead us towards the possibility that the state might get out of the marriage business altogether. You want to live with two partners, three dogs, and a cat? Or with no one at all? Go right ahead: We'll still give you health and child care. Imagine that: a world where marriage is not some sacrosanct institution which you tie yourself to in order to survive.

I don't care about marriage, but in my world those who enter into it should be allowed the flexibility to leave, no matter why they join. And those who are not married should be allowed the exact benefits as those who are. Such simple bits of logic have failed to enter the consciousness of a gay community that does not merely advocate for gay marriage but insists that its retrograde features, like economic enslavement and tethering it to life-saving health care, are actually worth preserving.

This might surprise those who know my politics on marriage and how much contempt I have for the institution, but I'm actually offering marriage supporters a way to help themselves: You want to save marriage? Make it work like disappearing ink.

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Best. Post. Of the week. I'd love to see how this works out. Keep us updated?

Thanks, Bil - and, definitely! I see all kinds of potential in this.

Om Kalthoum | October 1, 2011 5:52 PM

I don't care much about marriage, either. But it is most definitely a feminist issue. And if there are two different sexes involved in this contract, I have a sneaking suspicion I know which one of them is going to be expected to put out and then get traded in for a newer, tighter, fresher model. Not, of course, that this doesn't happen already. But it seems like a wonderful deal for guys, not so much for women, especially in culturally conservative countries.

Google "temporary marriages Islam" for some more insight into this practice and the less progressive reasons that it is quite common in some parts of the world.