Spout Off: Marriage/Divorce
All right, here goes the dry run.
A veritable ton of food for thought here. I'm going the let them just go to. Fallout should take place in the comments field.
If you don't have anything to add to the discourse, please feel free to leave simply your thoughts on everything in the commentary.
Should It Be Harder To Marry/Easier To Divorce?
I'd like to say, first off, that my general feeling on the matter of government and marriage is that there should be far less involvement on the part of the former in the latter. It seems to me that if we could end the debate on, say, gay marriage by eliminating the civic institution of marriage altogether, creating civil unions that could apply to any consenting adults engaged in committed, interdependent relationships--straight, gay, polygamist, what-have-you--and leaving the question of "marriage" to churches and other non-governmental entitities, so much the better.
I'd even support a COMPLETE elimination of marriage on a civic level, to be replaced by nothing, provided that people could still get all the tax benefits for having children, and that cities and municipalities could still vote, of their own accord, to compel businesses that provide insurance to recognize certain kinds of unions and cover employees and their families accordingly.
But as it stands, we DO have the civic institution of marriage, and this institution is apparently plagued with higher divorce rates than ever (though, being most emphatically not a statistician, I can neither affirm nor contradict this).
Recent demagoguery on the matter seems to have posited that making divorce more difficult is a reasonable solution. I call hogwash. If regulation is to play a successful role in stemming the tide of divorce and dysfunction (a dubious proposition), making marriage harder and divorce easier is both more pragmatically viable (or viably pragmatic) and more morally defensible.
One presumes that the logic of making divorce more costly and difficult is that faced with such hurdles, people will simply stay in unhappy marriages. To the degree that this is correct, the results could be disastrous, particularly if, by "unhappy", we mean violent or abusive, deceitful, harmful to any children involved, patently or potently unequal with regards to economic or domestic power. The idea, of course, is that difficult hurdles for the would be divorcee would limit divorce to the extreme sorts of cases cited ever-so-vaguely above.
I find this thinking entirely counterintuitive; indeed, I may suggest that the most desperate situations are those most prohibitive to indulgence in bourgeois niceties of protracted court procedure. It seems to me that an abused woman facing a longer process to leave her situation is increasing her risk of being assaulted during the course of separation.
More difficult divorce proceedings also tend to mean more lawyers and more fees, which means that class--the true seat of all true inequity, IMO--will play a large part in determining whose divorce can actually happen. Basically, I don't think it strictly ethical to make it harder for someone to leave a legitimately bad situation just because the process has been abused by a few.
On a less dramatic note, we have to imagine that "frivolous" divorce is often the result of marriage entered into lightly; and even fully justified divorce--as in some of the examples above--could well be the result of character traits, or characteristics of the mutual dynamic, that didn't have time to emerge prior to making such a commitment.
While I wouldn't support making marriage any more expensive--I reject, summarily, all obstacles that turn participation in common social institutions into a class privelige--taking steps to ensure that people DON'T enter such a contract without a full understanding of its seriousness would seem to present the seed of a solution to the current divorce rate. It sort of pains me to imagine it, because it already seemed at the time like there were a lot of hoops to jump through (granting that I consider SHAVING to be a vast imposition on my time and energy, making me . . .well, not the best person to ask), and my marriage certainly doesn't seem like one that should have been prevented.
But, I've also witnessed a number of weddings that seemed to happen so quickly, so easily, that ended more or less the same way, with the outcome something of a foregone conclusion. Making divorce harder wouldn't have helped these people; it just would've busted their bank accounts. They DIDN'T BELONG TOGETHER, and if they'd had to confront that before walking down the aisle, a lot of heartache could have been spared.
So sure: Make marriage harder, keep divorce relatively easy (or make it even easier), if we're to rely on our governing bodies to solve this problem for us. It's probably the best they can be expected to do.
[To the proposition of making marriage harder and divorce easier, jjisafool replies:]
Uh, yeah, okay, but… why? What exactly is the suggestion addressing? Is there a problem with marriage beyond the fact that some people don’t want queers doing it? Because this suggestion would seem to address the gay marriage issue about as well as private accounts address solvency.
But, okay, what about it? First of all, as the Hound alluded to, there are some distinctions to be made. Marriage isn’t just one thing; it is at least two. I think willful confusing of the two is what feeds much of the rhetoric of the debate, making sure it never veers too close to common sense.
There is, and this was most closely outlined by His Houndness, the civic marriage. All of the benefits conferred by government recognition of a union. We’ll call this the source of spousal benefits, child tax benefits, all that good stuff. It amounts to the signing of a contract.
Then there is social marriage. The public covenant, presided over by whatever structures the couple chooses to recognize. This is the marriage that really matters, that is created by the couple.
The two are not necessarily connected, at least by little more than the rhetoric. One does not necessitate the other. A church can choose to marry same-sex couples or polygamous unions, and the state is not compelled to recognize it. Likewise, the state can marry two people legally with no more public covenant than is required for most contracts, and cannot compel any church to recognize the union. A social marriage can end while it lives on in civic status, and a church can tell followers that regardless of a civic divorce, they will be married forever in the eyes of God.
In terms of social marriage, there is little to debate. I doubt anyone (in the present audience, anyway) is interested in telling a church who it can and cannot marry, or to outlaw commitment ceremonies. Social marriage, the real joining of two people of their own accord and in honor of their own beliefs, is essentially a private affair, between the to-be-marrieds and their powers that be.
We can really only concern ourselves in any kind of “should” way with civic marriage, with recognition of a union by the state. I bristled somewhat with Houndster’s support for complete elimination of civic marriage, mainly because he would immediately replace it with a civil union system, which is merely renaming the system and therefore, to my mind, foolish and a capitulation to the lack of rigor in the rhetoric. This is one place where I agree with part of gay marriage opponents’ argument; I agree that civil union is simply marriage by another name. We just disagree in that I feel civic marriage should be available to everyone.
Because, really, that aspect of it is really about the benefits – insurance, tax breaks, survivor benefits. I enjoy the benefits of marriage that were conferred the moment the signed license was filed, but that act didn’t make me feel married in the way the ceremony did. The only reason I feel any need to have the state involved in my marriage is because of the power to confer those benefits.
So, do I want access to those benefits to be more difficult? Hell, no. I want as many people as possible to have access to them. I want to encourage people to form family units of their own design, to work together and be rewarded for doing so. I don’t think making it harder will necessarily show much difference in divorce rates. People don’t divorce just because they didn’t give it enough thought before. Sure, some do, but I’ve seen a lot of divorce up close and most often it has a lot more to do with things that happen after the marriage than it does with things that could have been foreseen with a few more months of hoops to jump through.
Make civic divorce easier? Maybe it automatically holds that you don’t encourage this without the corresponding increase in difficulty of marriage. But, I don’t see any reason why not. Why make the demands from the state any more difficult at a difficult time. Maybe there should be more encouragement from the people or entities involved in the social marriage to prevent divorce in cases where it is preventable (excluding the type of cases Houndy pointed out, such as spousal abuse).
I told a friend of mine, who eventually cast me from his life for my fealty to the concept of marriage, that I feel as though those people that attend a marriage make an investment in that marriage, have joined in the covenant. I said I think this entails recognizing the union as a thing that has worth, and which they should endeavor to help preserve. I think that promise should make divorce difficult, social divorce, but that civic divorce should be a rubberstamp, that the state has no place in demanding preservation of a union.
So, to review:
Social marriage nobody’s beeswax but involved parties.
Civic marriage essentially civil union with unfortunate rhetorical tie to social marriage, and should be treated as such – a contractual arrangement open to all, even the impestuous.
Social divorce bad, and should be discouraged if it is our beeswax.
Civic divorce should be a rubber stamp.