With all the talk that’s been going around about gay marriage and the benefits of marriage (and in some academic circles, the idea of abolishing marriage or using alternatives to marriage), I thought I’d try just for fun to brainstorm a list of reasons why people marry. I’m not pro- or anti-marriage; I actually think that everyone, gay and straight, should have the option to marry but should also have another option that allows for certain benefits and obligations without the label or the full legal package of marriage. This is just sort of an interesting thought experiment. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
- Economic/social status conferred by marrying a particular person. This might take the form of a bump up in an individual’s class in some societies, money or property passing through the marital relationship (whether by virtue of laws that dictate how property can be owned by a married person or through a gift like a dowry), social connections based on the spouse’s personal and business relationships, family connections that lead to a step up in business or otherwise, etc. Also falling under this category would be unique benefits that come from the spouse’s abilities: example, marrying a woman who’s great at hosting parties gives a man a business advantage.
- Economic/social status conferred by virtue of the institution of marriage. These are benefits that accrue by virtue of simply being married, regardless of the individual spouse. Being married in some societies is/was a symbol of adulthood. There might be tax benefits due to marriage, or other tangible economic benefits. In the modern U.S., for example, there are plenty of people who marry because of health insurance benefits or tax situation.
- Legitimacy of/benefits for children. In many societies, marriage was/is the only acceptable environment for child-rearing, so getting married would benefit the child as well as the parents. If divorce is acceptable, this is also a common reason not to get a divorce. Benefits range from economic incentives to avoiding social stigma for the child.
- Legitimating sex. Marriage is often the only social acceptable relationship in which sex can take place, and also once a couple is married, they tend to escape sexual scrutiny. Whatever your kinky sexual preferences, the law and society are likely to ignore them within the “sanctity” of the marital bed.
- Avoiding suspicion. A related reason to marry is that a particular culture may look at young single individuals with suspicion. If marriage is the social norm, then there is a lot of pressure to marry, and to do what’s expected. This may include family pressure, peer pressure, etc. I’m also thinking of those who do have something to hide, like gay men and lesbians who would marry one another in the 1950s and continue to have sex with other people, or gay individuals throughout history who married someone of the opposite sex in order to keep others’ eyes away from their sexual encounters with the same sex.
- Love/companionship. Especially in modern times, it seems like love is a big reason to get married. Society tells us that once you find that “one true person,” the logical next step is to propose. It makes sense to mark companionship with a legal relationship, and this also ties in with some of the benefits – for example, if you love someone you may want to be sure they are taken care of when you die through the inheritance laws. Marriage also shows others that you’re serious, and serves as a sign of long-term commitment.
Others? I’m sure there must be many more; this is just off the top of my head.