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Provocative post at the site Philosophy Talk. There will be a podcast discussion on it to, if you're interested. The fact that gay people are not allowed to marry in most places in the world (including in most states in the US) got me thinking about this. It occurred to me that if we simply had civil unions for everybody (everybody who can consent to a union, of course), this problem of unequal rights would go away, plus we would strip all religious meaning from the institutional of marriage, that is, religious people could still marry acceding to their own religion but to have government rights, such as insurance, inheritance, custody of children, etc., you would just need a civil union, and EVERYONE should have one. Read the post and tell me what you guys think.


May 01, 2011

Should Marriage Be Abolished?

posted by KT


Our topics this week: Should Marriage Be Abolished?   That’s a pretty punchy and provocative way to ask the question, we’re trying to get at, but we need to be careful.  Asking whether marriage should be “abolished” isn’t like asking whether slavery should be abolished.  We don’t want to suggest that people should be forbidden from marrying.

Of course,  some people are forbidden from marrying.  In most places in the United States, gay couples are not legally allowed to marry.  Once upon a time, interracial couples were not legally permitted to marry.   So one question that we could be asking is whether the legal inequality between those who are permitted to marry and those who aren't, is morally and/or politically defensible.

Of course, that’s not at all the same as asking whether marriage should be totally abolished.   So let’s try again to say just what the question is.

Now there are places where marriage is actually disappearing, on its own accord, without anybody actively trying to abolish it.  In Sweden, for example, more and more couples simply cohabitate without bothering to get married, even when they have children.  But our issue isn’t really whether Americans ought to become more like the Swedes – though if marriage were indeed “abolished”  in the sense that we will be discussing,  that might be one result of the abolition of marriage.

But let’s go back a step.  Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the inequality between people who are allowed to marry and people who aren't is NOT morally… politically… or rationally defensible.  What then?   Now I grant that that is a contentious assumption.  Many people are willing to go to the barricades to “defend” marriage as we currently know it, especially against the encroachment by gays and lesbians into that cherished institution.  But humor me for moment.  For the sake of argument, suppose we reject all the arguments offered up by people massing at the barricades to defend marriage.  What then?

Well, I suggest that on that assumption – which I’m just entertaining for the sake of argument -- there’s no good reason why any two consenting adults -- regardless of their race or gender or whatever – should be legally forbidden from marrying.  But, of course, our society, as currently constituted, is very far from agreeing with this quite obvious conclusion.  Which raises a prior question:  Why is marriage such a hot button issue in the first place?  Why are so many people who were previously excluded from it, clamoring for the right to marry, while so many others are determined to deny them that right?

One response might be that marriage is a good thing.   But apparently the Swedes don’t think so.  And if you consider our rising divorce rates, apparently a lot of people who have experienced it don’t think so either.

But perhaps what is meant by calling marriage a good thing is that being married, legally married, married in the eyes of the state, brings in its wake all sorts of social benefits.  Access to health insurance, hospital visitation rights, the right to file joint tax returns, property rights, inheritance rights, social status.  Stuff like that.    The state showers those who marry with benefits that it doesn’t extend to those who don’t or can’t marry.  But then it’s fair to ask why the state should be in the business of favoring the married over the non-married, in the first place?

One response might be that marriage is a good thing – this time in the sense that marriage makes for stable families and stable families make for stable communities and stable communities make for …  You get the idea.  Isn’t it just obvious that the state has an interest in promoting such stability?

That may well be true. But think of marriage as just one form of "intimate entanglement," to coin a phrase.  There's also cohabitation, and deep, long-lasting, non-sexual friendships.  Indeed, if you let your imagination run wild, I’m sure you can imagine many possible forms of intimate entanglement among consenting adults.    What I’m suggesting is that it’s not marriage as such, but intimate entanglements, in a possibly wide variety of forms, that promote the kind of stability that the state has reason to favor.   And if that’s right, then it’s far from clear why the state should single out marriage as a favored and privileged form of intimate entanglement.  Why should it bother endowing this one particular form of entanglement with a special legal status?   Which is another way of asking: Should marriage be abolished?

So now that we’re clear about the question,  tune into the program this week to see if we achieve any clarity about the answer.   Trying to help us achieve that clarity, will be Tamara Metz, author of Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State and the Case for Their Divorce.   

May 1, 2011 in Ethics and Values, Religion, Sex and Romance, Upcoming shows | Permalink

Views: 322

Replies to This Discussion

Two elderly sisters who are in their 80's  who've lived together for the past twenty or so years after their husbands died should have the same rights as a married couple.

Do you mean in terms of health insurance? Definitively, great idea!

Should marriage be abolished?

No! Because when you look at the semantics of the word marriage

from Wikitionary! 


From Old French mariage, from marier (to marry), from Latin maritare (to marry", literally “give in marriage), from maritus (lover", "nuptial), from mas (male", "masculine", "of the male sex) [1]


Proto-Germanic *wadjananProto-Germanic *wadjōn, whence also Old High German wettōn, Old Norse veðja.


weddian (weak class 2)

  1. to pledge, to promise
  2. to betroth
  3. to wed, to marry



  1. Present participle of wed


Wedding would be a better term use than marriage  as can be seen by the etymology of the words.

The first meaning of wed means to pledge or promise! 

The other reason for why it should not be abolished is that when two people arrange their lives to live together they also make an unsworn pledge to each other!

Marriage is a societal affair and has been with us for a very long time and I dare hazard a calculated guess that it has been with us since we found that we could communicate with words and not just with guttural noises and signs!

Personally I have no qualms about who weds who. It is not my affair because what right do I have to disapprove of other peoples life choices. Should it offend me then that is my problem not theirs!

The origin of wedlock/marriage was more to maintain the stability of the tribe and also to help ensure the survival of the tribe by allowing the offspring a better survival rate than other would have survived had the parents not sworn an oath to each other.

The ceremony that accompanies the taking of the oaths of the couple arose because ttheir family wanted friends to witness their pledges to each other! that was then but now it is the couple themselves that want their family and friends to witness their swearing of oaths to each other and can share their happiness and joy they feel about their union! 

I have been wedded three times and all three times both my future wife and I wanted our friends and relations to celebrate our wedding with us! 

Where I live now they separated the church and state quite well because should you desire to marry in the church you also have to have a civil ceremony as well so that you can sign the paper work to legalise the marriage! I had two marriages one in the church then a year later we had the legalising ceremony! 

For marriages of differing pairings other than the bog standard pairing then you have to change society's ideas about pairings because it is the laws that you have to change to have an  equitable society!


So no abolishing of marriage!


With as many divorces as there are between one woman and one man marriage has lost it's meaning. Over population and the need to breed is a thing of the past. Perhaps marriage should be expanded to include people who take care of each other.

I'd just as soon see the institution of Marriage abolished, but maybe it could be redefined.

In away I agree with you Chris about divorces the devaluing the meaning of marriage but we cannot get away from the fact that besides being a gregarious animal and gather together in groups still individuals within a group desire to have close personal companionship with another individual! normally male/female pairing at that!

The stress that modern societies create also put stresses on couples and that it does not matter whether they married or not! Therefore with these stresses in their relationship erodes the relationship thus is one of the reason for the collapse of the relationship. 

The individuals within the relationship grow as they live their lives and how they both handle this personal growth determines the strength of the bonds of the relationship.

A redefinition of the marriage act as it is known in Australia is a good starting point! Not all relationships are sexually based either but they must declare they are in a relationship!



Stresses put on couples cause a lot of anxiety and resultant divorces. I don't know how it is in Australia, but in the U.S. job instability often requires relocation. Unfortunately some people can't adjust to change. My wife didn't cope with the move away from her family and city life into a small town resulting in divorce. I think that kind of thing happens a lot.

I know many couples that disintegrated after a move to a place where one of them was unhappy (sometimes both of them were unhappy). I'm pretty sure this is fairly common.

Why not give them the same tax benefit of a married couple?

Bottom line is the tax code is set up to encourage having a ton of children, rather than taking care of family members. 

I agree that marriage is some kind of institution of the state with all the benefits it allow;

Though the divorce rate is alarming and indicates surely there is something wrong with this institution.   If we view marriage from the educational point of view of children education and nursering, we are less and less in the time when the parents were the focal points in a child development, that if in bisesxual marriage, or for adopted children in a gay/lesbian marriage.

I agree that gay and lesbian marriage (well, I must admit the institution exists whether by the state or by religion) should be allowed.

But, I also think this institution should be put in question ?

But, supposately it's a lifelong commitment , with these days, fewer peple are ready to realize... !!!!

Marraige needs to be supported for the future - the trend line is bad but hopefully it will flatten out eventually

The End of Marriage

Post image for The End of Marriage


The marriage rate is declining in the USA and other Western countries. You knew that. But what exactly does that mean? Men and women are still marrying. Marriage will continue, won’t it? Let’s take a look at the data for the USA.

The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia publishes an annual report titled The State Of Our Unions which includes data on US marriage rates since 1960. From 1970 through 2008, the US marriage rate has declined from 76.5 to 37.4 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women — see the chart below:

It’s immediately obvious that the decline of marriage can be divided into two distinct periods. From 1968 through 1977, as the seismic shocks of the sexual revolution and the Vietnam war rolled through our society, the marriage rate tumbled from 79.1 to 63.6. Then from 1980 on, the marriage rate settled into a steady decline to arrive at 37.4 in 2008.

Let’s take another look at the later period of the data set:

Michael Mann, Phil Jones and the Hockey Team would have to do some serious adjustments on a data set like this. Not only is the marriage rate declining, but the rate of decline is accelerating. Let’s fit a trend line. The best fit trend lines are second and third order polynomials with R-squared of 0.9868 and 0.9871 respectively:

So there it is. If the current trend continues, sometime between 2028 and 2034 the US marriage rate will reach zero. What will America look like in year one AM?

Maybe waiting until the late 30's, 40's, or beyond to get married will ultimately saves the institution of marriage. It isn't for having children and longevity anymore (statistically).


Who is the State?

You hit the nail on the head! Wedlock is a life long COMMITMENT and as you rightly point out very few people do not really want to commit themselves for such a long time because they only want short term pleasures. 

My own marriages ended  not because of the lack of commitment by either of us but because the first one was a mistake and the second one just did not have the depth of love to cope with a depressive husband. I still talk to my two ex's as we parted on friendly terms and we consider each to be friends!

Number three! I love with a passion and yes we have our differences of opinions but we both have learnt that through our love for each other that we belong to each other and are committed to each other for the long term not the short term. 


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