Featured Article: Definition of Freedom - What Freedom Means to Me
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It all culminated in Obergefell v. Hodges.
But no matter what hair was being split, what angle was the perspective, what ideological or policy position was the inspiration, a common denominator in the thoughts of nearly every contributor to all of that possibly unprecedented hype over, and expenditure of political and other capital on, marriage was this: society needs marriage.
Maybe some individuals felt unjustly excluded from it. Maybe the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that individuals have a legal right to it. Maybe other individuals say that it oppresses them as individuals. Maybe some groups say that it oppresses them as a group. But the fact that it, in the various forms it has appeared in pre-historically and historically (polygamy, polyandry, monogamy, opposite-sex, same-sex, interracial, racially segregated, etc.), benefits society as a whole is something that nearly everybody referred to and nobody openly questioned.
The fact that marriage exists not for the benefit of individual people who enter it but to maintain society; that marriage is not natural and that society must employ one or more of many kinds of incentives, sanctions, etc. to get people to enter it; and that marriage is a cultural universal were taken for granted the whole time.
Some people said that government should get out of the marriage business. But they were not saying that marriage should be eradicated. Whether their motivation was saving tradition from government intervention or expanding liberty by privatizing marriage, the essential role of marriage in society was not being questioned.
Therefore, we demarcate certain arrangements as marriage and other arrangements as non-marriage. The words assigned to non-marriage arrangements have a negative connotation. Cohabiting is the non-marriage arrangement that gets the most attention. And everything said about cohabiting is negative, it seems.
But can't a case be made that cohabiting benefits society? Can't the relationship between a cohabiting couple be stronger and healthier than the relationships many who consider themselves married have? Why is cohabiting not considered marriage?
I think the bottom line is that while people past and present in various places have had problems with various manifestations of marriage, the need for something recognized as marriage is never questioned. What then is and is not this element called marriage?
I would argue that in any society marriage falls under economics and is the most basic element around which production and distribution are organized. A person who does not need marriage is a person who can function fully as an economic actor by him/herself. The biggest reason single mothers say they don't need marriage is that they alone can support themselves and their children, is it not? The biggest reason why social and political observers consider households without fathers to be a problem is that many of those households are not self-supporting and need public assistance, is it not?