One of humanity’s oldest constructs, marriage is an enduring facet of society. For so many of us, marriage is an assumed milestone for adulthood that we think about from childhood. However, dissenting lifestyles have become more and more prevalent, and many are faced with answering a question that the average person in previous generations may not have ever even considered. Is marriage worth it?
I’m faced with this question myself, and so I want to dive headfirst into the matrimonial deep end to weigh the pros and cons of the institution of marriage. To be perfectly clear, there is no definitive right or wrong answer to this question, only arguments for and against. I will only be considering marriage from a secular perspective; if marriage is a cultural cornerstone in your world, then that’s great! If not, then join me in my quest to assess the merits of marriage from a logical and empiric perspective.
My Initial Arguments Against Marriage
Any time a man says they’re opposed to marriage, the easy assumption to make is that they’re a commitment-fearing scamp who objectifies the human form. That certainly may be the case for some, but not for me. I am a serial monogamist who opposes marriage.
Yes, I absolutely believe in being with one person for as long as they’ll tolerate me, and I’ve been with my partner for 11 years. So why, then, would I be against marriage?
Most of my hang-ups about marriage focus primarily on weddings, but ceremonies aren’t necessarily a requirement. Yes they’re unnecessarily lavish and expensive, yes they force guests to purchase a gift from a pre-selected list, effectively defeating the purpose of gift-giving and yes they create a hierarchy of social importance that hurts people’s feelings, but they’re also entirely avoidable. Plus, most people seem to like them, I guess.
No, my current perspective on holy matrimony is that it’s a forced social construct that simply makes it harder for couples to break up. How many couples that shouldn’t be together have stayed together simply because it’s such a pain to get divorced? Why do I need a legally binding contract with the government to validate my love for another person?
My Initial Arguments For Marriage
Social constructs don’t exist in a vacuum. As much as I would like to separate marriage from society’s expectations and assess it solely on its own merits, I can’t. The fact is that living in society creates certain expectations that are important. Beyond moral imperatives like not murdering and stealing, existing around other people creates expectations that ought to be met in order to successfully coexist with others.
Marriage in its purest form is the ultimate expression of love between two people. Marriage says “I love you so much that I want legislative proof of my feelings.” It is so naively sweet. People like to make spectacles out of their feelings. Why else would proposals be so dramatic?
All of the ceremonies and major events associated with marriage are akin to one of humanity’s other most enduring practices, funerals. We have such a need to apply such great sentiment to those close to us, whether it’s actually beneficial or not. Funerals are terribly expensive and don’t benefit their subjects in any way. They’re dead. Yet we still spend thousands of dollars on caskets, grave plots and black suits to express our grief.
Marriage is an irrational arrangement emblematic of an irrational feeling felt by irrational beings. Should I even be applying any logic to this discussion at all?
Alright, let’s turn to the numbers. It’s become a cliché that half of all marriages end in divorce. That number always gets brought up as a reason not to get married, but let’s dig deeper. 2019 census data revealed that both marriage and divorce rates are declining considerably. The divorce rate was at its lowest point in 50 years, and the marriage rate is at an all-time low.
I won’t bog this discussion down with the specific numbers and you can view them yourself if you want, but to me these trends support marriage, but with a caveat. Fewer couples are getting married than ever before, but fewer couples are getting divorced than ever before. This would indicate that the problem may not be with marriage itself, but with couples who shouldn’t be getting married doing it anyway. Marriage is for some people but not others, and that’s fine.
Another statistical argument in favor of marriage looks at age-adjusted death rates. Widowed people have the highest mortality rate, followed by people who have never been married, then divorced people and then finally, married people. It does propose a sort of chicken-or-the-egg question. Do married people tend to live longer because of marriage itself, or is it just that healthier people are more likely to live longer?
While the correlation here isn’t exactly undeniable proof, it makes sense that married people tend to live longer. Couples are there to support each other financially, and living with another person means medical emergencies are easier to deal with than living alone. Marriage is the original Life Alert.
Death And Taxes (But Mostly Taxes)
Filing jointly with a spouse means many things, some good and some bad. For example, tax brackets can go either way. If there is a large disparity in income between spouses, a couple may still find themselves in the bracket of the lower earner, which means a lower tax rate. At the same time, couples who make around the same amount may end up in a higher bracket than they would if they were single.
Is your spouse an idiot? Or maybe a criminal? Filing jointly also means that both of you are responsible for all the numbers submitted. If your spouse commits tax fraud, you can be liable too.
In other words, marriage can be a boon from a tax perspective, but it can also be a hinderance. It all just depends on your situation.
Insurance And Credit
This area is one of the more persuasive arguments in favor of marriage for me. Married couples can, of course, use their spouse’s insurance if applicable. This could mean better insurance at a discounted rate. Considering how expensive and predatory health insurance tends to be, this is a huge pro. The same applies to auto and home insurance, but let’s be honest. Who owns a home?
When you consider credit, it’s very much a double-edged sword. If you and your spouse have very different credit scores, one will drag down the other. Credit score checks should be required in any prenup.
Impact On Society
It’s time for a personal story. In an ethics class I took with the impeccably named Dr. Wisdom (no really, that was his actual name), one of the big projects was a partner debate. We signed up for a topic, but didn’t get to choose which side of the argument we were on. I chose same-sex marriage, actually hoping I’d be assigned to argue against it because I wanted a reason to try to wrap my head around why anyone would actually oppose it. I thought that if I had to compose an argument against it that I’d find some sort of nugget of truth, that that point of view isn’t 100% pure bigotry.
It is, and I was assigned to it. Trying to craft an argument against same-sex marriage was one of the most abhorrent and impossible things I’ve ever done. My partner and I strained so hard to find anything at all to cling to. Our argument was essentially that traditional marriage is a societal good, and that changing a societal good in any way could be harmful to society, so it shouldn’t be done. I’d never wanted to punch myself more than during that debate.
It brings me to a point that I feel deep within me. Marriage on a micro level may be fine for individual couples, but it is a detriment to society on a macro level. It is one of the last bastions of “traditional values,” the kinds of values that get propped up any time racists and homophobes want an excuse to oppress anyone with divergent lifestyles.
Marriage has enforced the patriarchal structure of human society for centuries and has been used as another way to discriminate against anyone who isn’t straight. The historical perspective shows women as property and as bargaining chips.
It is an example of how people misappropriate things for nefarious purposes. Organized religion is the same way, where differing beliefs have been used as an excuse for war since the beginning. Does that make participating in religion as an individual wrong? Absolutely not, and the same applies to marriage.