Relationships define a culture. There is nowhere this is more apparent than right now in America where marriage is changing as a concept. We understand marriage to be a union recognized by law. However, culture has the ability to define law. And if we learn anything from the prohibition era, any law we create we can also eradicate. American culture consistently changes over time. Marriage in America is being redefined so that commitment transcends established gender boundaries.
Early Americans saw marriage as a contract. The man would take on the woman as a good. He would need to care for her as the father would age and later be unable to provide for her. Marrying off the daughter was the only recourse. The father provided a sufficient dowry, which included goods or money or an estate for future generations. The man could then use these goods in sustaining the relationship. Marriage used to be a contract that maintained a relationship between individuals for the purpose of survival.
The marriage contract and dowry had disappeared entirely from American culture except among the rich by the end of the 20th century. The state of marriage itself is declining in value. Divorce rates are increasing. And most couples simply elect to 'shack up' rather than take the plunge and stand at the alter together. In most states, after seven years together couples are considered informally married by the government. In states like Florida, however, where cohabitation is still on the books as illegal, the law doesn't recognize haphazard long-term unions.
The battle is raging now in America to protect marriage since gays have been pushing aside unions and been asking for the legal right to marry. What is it we are protecting here? Some are trying to protect the contract of marriage. Some are trying to protect the definition of family. And some are fighting a religious battle that the government can't recognize considering the nation was founded on a separation of church and state.
Basic human rights
Couples are looking to have their relationships recognized by the law. They feel marriage and not union registry is the right course of action for their lives no matter their sexual orientation. Allowing people to marry has it's perks like giving them access to full health benefits without having to identify differently, access to accounts and estates, access to rights of the body at death, and access to make decisions even though the person is not a blood relative. Even better, people maintaining long-term relationships should be filing taxes together instead of separately and collecting checks back into one household. The odds of improving the tax system and retaining more funds improves when you recognize established relationships.
Giving basic human rights to same-sex couples stops violations during sickness and death. If you live with your spouse, don't speak to your family, and you die, your family has more rights to your body and goods than the person who has lived with you 10-15 years by law. Legal recognition can stop these violations at death by family members and pass estates on to people who have contributed to building them up.
Marriage is a word with a changing dynamic. The definition of marriage is a union that's legally recognized. It doesn't require that it be a union between man and woman for it to be valid. Marriages should be extended to all who seek to provide legal validity to their committed relationship. And this basic right should not be denied to couples based on composition and how they sexually identify. Traditional marriages are declining because of values, finances, morals, and other reasons. If there are people in solid relationships, no Americans should want to deny them the opportunity to have these relationships recognized.
Angelic Jones is a freelance writer and book reviewer for Austin Weekly News.