Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Forget marriage - let's try schmarriage

Jill at Feministe linked approvingly to Stephanie Coontz' recent NYT editorial proposing the "privatization" of marriage, but I'm stuck at bafflement. Things all make sense as Coontz decries the state's limiting the right to marry to only certain classes, as she says that actual marital status doesn't very well reflect a couple's living situation, and when she points out that unmarried couples could use the same protections that married couples enjoy.

But I'm not clear on what good "privatizing" marriage would do. In fact, as far as I can tell, Coontz is making an argument for the wider use of common law marriage, so that people who don't have the ability or even people who don't have the inclination to actually marry their partners can see the legal benefits that married couples do.

And as far as I know, many of these benefits cannot be privately contracted. The state is not going to extend benefits of the Family Medical Leave Act to a person's unrecognized-by-the-state partner. You cannot agree with another party to compel the state to do something it doesn't want to do.

So either privatized marriage would have no relationship with the state - this cutting out all the benefits that married couples enjoy and domestic partners do not - or it would be the same thing as marriage, but extended to unions beyond that of a man and a woman. Like, you know, gay marriage.

And I guess we could call extended marriage rights something else - let's say "schmarriage," - if people really want to, but I hardly see the point. Maybe I'm underestimating the confusion that arises from the fact that being married in the church is not the same thing as being married in the state (I could draw you a Venn diagram if you like).

But even so, I'm not sure why heterosexual feminists who shy away from marriage would be much more interested in schmarriage than marriage, given that it would be for them the exact same thing. Me, I'd be interested in the symbolic bucking of the patriarchal marital tradition, but I'm not sure what benefits would be had further than that.
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