There is a lot of discussion around the issue of marriage at the moment. Let’s get one SotBO said at the start: there should be no difference between same-sex and not-the-same-sex marriage or civil unions or registrations in any way at all.
One solution that has been proposed to The Problem Of Marriage is abolishing the concept of marriage or domestic partnership altogether.
This sounds superficially attractive, to me – why do we have the legal concept of marriage at all, except for historical reasons to do with women and children as property? Why do we need it now? So long as countries like the USA fix their schemozzle of a health insurance system, and everyone else makes sure there’s a structure in place for people to allocate legal and medical powers of attorney and inheritance, we could just get rid of it.
Separating religious from civil partnerships? Opening civil partnership to any adults who want to connect themselves? Ensuring there’s no legal difference between post-wedding marriage and de facto marriage? I’m on board with all of that.
But there’s a catch to abolishing domestic partnerships altogether, and I’m not sure how to solve it. One thing that marriage and de facto laws still do is go a little way to ensuring that a partner who has earned less income, because she has contributed more to household and family maintenance, has a legal option to access some of what she has missed out on should the partnership dissolve.
Yep, I said “she”. No matter how much we talk about the at-home-dad boom, no matter how many fabulous work at home or part-WAH dads I have on my flist (Hi, you two!). Here and now, the people who miss out on income and superannuation and career-building because they are child-bearing and family-raising are overwhelmingly women. So the people left financially high and dry if domestic partnership laws evaporated overnight? Women. Specifically, mothers.
While we’re still living in a capitalist patriarchy, while domestic work is undervalued and underpaid, while the mummy-track and the glass ceiling are entrenched: where would suddenly abolishing domestic partnership laws leave mothers? It’s just not that simple.
Marriage is a feminist issue, but the answer isn’t as clear-cut as it looks.
This is also when I get stuck when I try to outright reject the idea of polygamous marriage laws. Yes, polygamy as practised is usually one powerful men with several less powerful women – not at all surprising in the patriarchy. However, not every poly relationship is like that, and polygamy laws themselves aren’t the cause of that power structure. I worry about financial protections for second, third, fourth wives, when polygyny is practised underground, and don’t have a good solution for that either, except the knowledge that we as a society need to go further and deeper, not just fiddle about the edges. Legal reform is only one tiny part of the puzzle.
 I confess that I’m picturing mainly women in het partnerships here, and I’m aware that my heterocentrism is showing. However, a similar inequity can take place in lesbian partnerships where one partner bears and breastfeeds children, or in any relationship where one person takes the majority share of other domestic work.
 And a few dads – though that doesn’t actually alter the thrust of my argument. I totally agree that if you’ve missed out on a lot of income and superannuation and career advancement while you’ve been doing family work, no matter what genitals or chromosomes you’ve got, you deserve exactly the same protections accorded to other people who are in that situation.