Printer friendly version

January 22, 2005

Those Forbidden by Something Other than Law

In addressing David Fried's couching of the same-sex marriage debate in terms of employment benefits, I focused on the perceived "unfairness" to other relationship types that would still be barred from marriage (e.g., son and mother). But what about relationship types that aren't barred from marriage by law? Keep this sentence from Fried in mind for what follows:

If marriage is available to all, then it is perfectly permissible to discriminate against those who choose not to formalize their relationships.

So, in a land of pre-nups and no-fault divorce, what keeps couples who can legally marry — roommates, friends, business partners — from doing so to procure benefits? I suppose some do (the storyline is particularly prominent in the context of immigration), but it certainly isn't common. Why? Because our culture still holds the male-female relationship in suspicion of romance. One wouldn't have to look long within the pop culture for evidence that this is true, but the evidence probably lies even more handily among the things we all just know.

Opposite-sex marital fraud lies behind high cultural barriers. Thousands of years of social development just tell us that it's wrong. Consequently, even if such marriages of convenience are entered, only with difficulty will the couple's acquaintances construct an impression of the marriage that doesn't align it as much as possible with what marriage simply means beyond its definition.

Approaching from another angle, non-romantic opposite-sex relationships are already suspect. Male-female roommates live under the expectation of "sexual tension," and even where it is truly absent, the presumption of it requires them to be deliberate in the way in which they present themselves. Entering into fraudulent marriage purely for benefits would surely overwhelm all assurances that the marriage doesn't mean anything.

With the introduction of same-sex marriage, however, only two apparent possibilities exist: either the marriages will not have the cultural barriers to fraud, or all same-sex relationships must become held in suspicion of romance. With the first possibility, marriage would become merely a way to extend to a roommate or friend benefits that otherwise would seem to go to waste. The second possibility involves nothing less than the deterioration of deep friendship as a relationship type.

Given the disproportion of heterosexuals to homosexuals, I suspect that the former would prevail. And as I suggested in the comment section the last time I wrote along these lines, I just don't see any stigma sticking to buddy marriages and divorces. Their meaning and purpose would be clear: to formalize non-romantic relationships for material gain.

Posted by Justin Katz at January 22, 2005 2:17 AM
Marriage & Family
Comments

"With the introduction of same-sex marriage, however, only two apparent possibilities exist: either the marriages will not have the cultural barriers to fraud, or all same-sex relationships must become held in suspicion of romance. With the first possibility, marriage would become merely a way to extend to a roommate or friend benefits that otherwise would seem to go to waste. The second possibility involves nothing less than the deterioration of deep friendship as a relationship type."

I've been arguing about the dangers of the second possibility for years, but I think it's likely that both the first and second will occur.

And after the distinction between friendship and romantic love has been blurred, the next essential distinction to fall will be that between attraction and pleasure.

In other words, once it has been ingrained in the culture that marriage---and hence love and sex---is between any two persons, we are going to see a slow but sure tendency for mere friends who don't even feel sexual attraction to engage in sex for the momentary physical pleasure. This already occurs to some extent in Hollywood and on the campuses.

Posted by: R.K. Becker at January 23, 2005 11:10 AM