Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Single-sex marriage is still marriage

Two related posts have me thinking about the role of government in privileging certain relationships. On Feministing there is a lively conversation about the fact that gay marriage does not address “fundamental problems of inequality” since it still only bestows benefits like access to healthcare and medical decision-making on those who are married. Bella DePaulo makes the same point, though she specifically calls this out as singlism. The point of both posts is that marriage confers benefits that really should be available to everyone, not just those who are in a certain type of relationship. I have to admit that when I first read DePaulo’s post, I resisted the idea that these laws are ‘discriminatory’. After all, I'm not really disadvantaged since I don’t need to cover anyone else with my health insurance and I could make a living will if I were really worried about who will make medical decisions for me if I’m every incapacitated, etc. But after thinking more about it, I think I agree that there is something problematic about employers and the government privileging certain relationships (spouse) over other relationships (family, friends).

Now, before I get flamed by anyone thinking that I’m somehow saying that marriage is no different from friendship, let me quote a comment on Feministing from Bethany, who expresses my thinking well: “…I do think a formal relationship IS useful for things like hospital visitation and child adoption because it creates a way for both partners to agree about the nature and seriousness of the relationship and its long-term commitment. Maybe we need some other kind of formal relationship that's not tied up in sex, since you don't need a sexual relationship to care for each other or a child together.”
I have no problem with society valuing committed relationships, and I believe that there is some justification for government policies that encourage people to enter into committed relationships, since such relationships have positive externalities like promoting stability and stronger community ties (though it's important to note I say can, not must). But if such externalities are the rationale for these policies, then they apply to many types of long-term relationships, including family and friendships, not just marriage (heterosexual or otherwise). So while I am hoping that California continues to make me proud and does not do anything to jeopardize gay marriage, I also hope that all those who are currently advocating for gay marriage will continue fighting to honor all types of committed relationships.

1 comment:

Beth said...

There was a recent challenge in the high courts over here in the UK by two olderly sisters who were contesting the inheritance tax rules. Basically, they share a house and when one of them dies, the other will face a huge inheritance tax bill which will mean they have to sell the house to pay the bill.

If they were married, they wouldn't have to pay this as married couples (or same sex couples in a civil partnership) don't have to pay inheritance tax unless the value of the estate is over £600,000.