Marriage is an Outdated Institution

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We are looking for Speakers and Moderator for this event. If you are interested, contact Roy Ferreira through Meetup.

The vow “until death do us part” is an indelible part of the marriage ritual in our society. The notion of two people falling in love, raising a family in a sacred lifetime bond “for better or for worse”, seems timeless. In reality, romantic matrimony really first formed around the late 18th, early 19th century. For much of human civilization, marriage was a social contract, an alliance between two families to advance their mutual interests, to retain property and social status and to ensure the legitimacy and protection of their progeny. Marrying for love was considered anti-social, even subversive. To be sure, modern marriage still involves financial and similar banal considerations, but love now reigns supreme as the primary motivator.

But this view of “traditional" marriage has recently become frayed. Around 40-50% of marriages in the US end in divorce as per statistics. On an annual basis, the divorce rate in 2017 was 2.9/1,000 people. Perhaps surprisingly, the rate has fallen steadily from a high of 4.8 in 1992. But that’s largely due to an accompanied fall in marriage rates. Millennials in particular are increasingly delaying marriage, partly due to economic concerns and career decisions. Once unthinkable, the percentage of never-married people has steadily increased to around 25% today as per Pew Research.

The ugly business of divorce is often cited as the biggest reason to disparage marriage. The Oscar-nominated movie Marriage Story portrays the excruciatingly painful downfall of a marriage. A young couple, passionately pursuing careers in New York’s theater scene, fall in love and raise a young child in seemly matrimonial bliss. But interpersonal tensions and divergent career objectives begin driving the couple apart. Throw in a couple of high-priced divorce lawyers, and the relationship plunges into an acrimonious cross-country child-custody divorce battle, straining financial resources. Whereas entering a marriage takes only minutes at City Hall, exiting it may take years of litigious contests and emotional upheaval. No wonder that in some Western countries, cohabitating outside of marriage is increasingly becoming the norm. In Sweden, there is even a term for it: “sambo” means a person who lives with their romantic partner without marriage. Although cohabitating couples do not enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, these can be specified in a sambo agreement, which is common practice in the country. Seems like a reasonable – and sane – alternative to “traditional” marriage.

On the other hand, many still view marriage as a valuable institution, all its flaws notwithstanding. Research shows that married people are generally happier than single folks. Marriage offers psychological and other health benefits, such as reduced stress and lower rates of depression. There are tax and health insurance benefits. Children growing up in a married environment are generally better adjusted, happier and healthier. Marriage gives couples a legal and social recognition that no other legal framework does. Spouses cannot be forced to testify against one another in court. They are assured of survivor benefits if one dies. Familial relationships are recognized and protected. Few other institutions offer the benefits that marriage does.

So what do you think of marriage coming up on Valentines Day? Is it still a viable and valuable institution, or outdated and outmoded? Join SFDebate at the Mechanics Institute Library to share your opinions and hear those of others. There is a $5 charge at the door.