With apologies to my friends who are, or are planning to, get married.
One of the most reprehensible lies we still tell children is that marriage is what you do with someone that you love. You marry them because you love them. You marry them to show your love. And to demonstrate that love publicly.
Love does not require anything like that. And marriage does not accomplish it. You stay with someone and live your life together because you love them. You support and care for each other to show love. You demonstrate that love every single day with your actions–publicly when you are in public.
Marriage is none of those things. Marriage is a legal contract, with terms that most of the people entering into it are completely unfamiliar with. If they were familiar with them, and they weren’t fed lies all their lives about how marriage shows love, they would be aghast at what this contract entails, because it is morally repugnant.
The marriage contract is a claim on resources. And an unconscionable one at that.
It is a claim on past resources. If either party owned assets prior to the marriage, 50% of any increase in that assets’ value from the time of marriage goes to the other party. Say (to use a personal example) you own a small two-bedroom townhome that you rent out on the side. You do all the required maintenance, you pay for the upkeep and the taxes, you incur any losses while it is vacant, and you do the labor of renting out and managing the place. Should it increase in value from $120,000 to $140,000 in one year, you better set aside $10,000 to give to your spouse.
If you owned 100 shares of stock you bought before the marriage, forgot about it, and after a year those 100 shares could be sold for $20 more per share than you bought them for, be ready to pay out $1000 for the privileged of holding onto those stocks. If you don’t, you are denying your partner their rightful share of the marital assets.
It is a claim on present resources. Everything earned by either party is considered joint property of both. In practice, this means that the person who earns more is effectively transferring any income earned to the person who earns less until the two of them are at parity, automatically at all times. This is perhaps the best-known and therefore least-offensive aspect of the marriage contract. Most people are fine with it. But be aware of what this entails:
* You cannot hold property separately. Even holding separate bank accounts is merely childish play-acting — both parties have full rights to all accounts. A pre-nup *might* allow you to divide up some income the way you wish to, in *some* states. Check your local laws. But for the most part, your wishes don’t matter. The state has declared that all your assets and incomes count as one, and trying to keep them separate is a foolish game.
* All debts accrue to both of you. You may think you have an agreement to split the rent. But what happens when your partner simply doesn’t pay their half? It’s your debt. The court will be confused as to why this is even an issue. You never had separate incomes or accounts, regardless of what you thought! There is only marital income and marital assets and marital debts.
** All this time you’ve been paying marital debts with marital income. Your marital assets might be in multiple bank accounts, but they all belong to the marriage, and they will be seized to pay marital debts. There is no You, there is only the Marital Income, and the court looks very disfavorably on some individual human trying to withhold some of the Marital Income because of something as non-nonsensical as which individual name is tagged to which portion of the Marital Income stream.
**** this is the most important thing to remember about marriage, and the most morally repugnant. There is NO INDIVIDUAL PERSONHOOD anymore. There is only this Frankenstein Abomination called The Marriage. I hope you weren’t too attached to that bodily autonomy thing you had going.
****** I mean that “bodily autonomy” crack literally. You can be forced into labor against your will, for the marriage. Up until a few decades ago, if you were a woman you were required to perform sexual services to the man in the marriage, and failure to do so often enough (as decided by the courts) was cause for at-fault termination of marriage. You did not get to decide what to do with your body, sexually or otherwise, if The Marriage disagreed.
(as an aside, spouses can’t testify against each other in court. There’s some rational justifications that can be made for this, but the simpler and oft-used excuse is that The Marriage is a single mashed-up person, and a person cannot be compelled to testify against themselves in a court. You are not individual people anymore.)
* You cannot loan money to each other. There are no individuals in a marriage. There is only The Marriage, and The Marriage cannot loan money to itself. That’s just as nonsensical as someone moving cash from one pocket to the other and claiming it’s changed ownership. Don’t even bother trying to help your partner out by covering their car repairs or helping with their studio rent for a few months while they get back on their feet. They already have full claim to any assets you have. You aren’t helping them at all, any more than “allowing” someone to take vegetables from their own garden is “helping” them. Their thanks, and assurances that they’ll pay you back as soon as possible, are just as incoherent.
It is a claim on future resources. Once you decide to go your separate ways you aren’t done yet. The Marriage continues into a zombie afterlife. Did you think you were doing a nice thing for your spouse, in supporting them after they got laid off while they pursued their dream job? I hope you like doing nice things, because you’ll continue to do that one well into the future regardless of your wishes.
This is the really insidious aspect of Marriage. It incentivizes being callous. From a stand point of personal fiscal responsibility, you should never allow this sort of income disparity to occur. You should demand your spouse gets another job as quickly as possible, making as much as they made previously, regardless of how miserable it makes them. Regardless of the potential for future joy and earnings if their dream-job idea works out. Because the courts will look at the years that you supported your spouse and say “They have grown accustomed to being kept in that lifestyle during The Marriage. The Marriage Zombie will be kept up to similar standards for the next X years.” Whereas if you had both kept steady, middle-income jobs the courts will say “Yup, all fair here, go about your business.” You can’t even loan your spouse money for a few years while they pursue their dreams, due to the inability for The Marriage to loan money to itself, discussed above.
This grows worse if the party that earns more ever pays for greater than 50% of anything. You may have thought it was only fair that, as the person who earns more, you pay for insurance for both of you, and cover all the costs of going out whenever you go out. That is again used to penalize you at the dissolution of The Marriage.
Every Single Kind Act You Ever Did Will Be Used As A Weapon Against You.
Without fail. So don’t be kind to your spouse. (Or just don’t get married, and feel free to continue being kind instead!)
But What About The Benefits?
Like what? Tax benefits? If you both draw any sort of income, there’s no real benefit there. If one of you doesn’t draw income, the one who does can claim a non-spousal dependent on their taxes. Marriage is not a requirement. (Although be wary about doing so, it could be used against you in the future as a claim on resources, and very likely is NOT worth the $4000 credit). And the spouse who makes little/nothing loses access to all sorts of benefits that are only available to people with limited income.
Are you worried about the children? That’s sillier than trying to loan money to each other. The courts will enforce child support regardless of whether you married or not. In fact, don’t bother putting anything about children in any pre-nup (be it about child support, child custody, or otherwise). Courts immediately discard all such provisions and make their decisions independently, regardless of what you agreed to. Such things are too important to be left to individual agreements, they are matters of public policy.
Visitation rights at a hospital? Just lie. I’ve never had to produce a marriage certificate when visiting a spouse in a hospital, nor have my spouses.
End-of-life planning and estate decisions? Write a will. Give your partner power of attorney. (actually important for everyone, especially as they get older)
Health insurance? Most workplaces now cover domestic partners, and marriage is not required. However this may set up the same sort of precedent as joint-filing taxes, so should also be avoided if possible. It’s probably the most legitimate reason for actually getting married in the USA. Which is an indictment of our fucked-up healthcare system. Our method of rationing healthcare is so awful that we use threats against the life and health of someone’s lover to force them into the outrageously immoral marriage contract.
What Is It Good For?
If you want to conspire to commit a crime, and not have to worry about testifying against each other, maybe marriage will be useful. Aside from that – Absolutely Nothing. Every thing you may want to do as a loving couple (or triad, or more) you can do via personal agreement, without marriage.
One might say “But marriages don’t have to be like this! The couple can agree to keep separate accounts! The couple can voluntarily give up all rights on the assets of the other when they dissolve the marriage! They can voluntarily decline maintenance. They can split the debts in an equitable way, and keep track of loans on their own, and pay each other back.”
Yes, they can. But they can do all that without getting married as well. That’s the real kicker. Everything you want to do to make a marriage fair and equitable and not a moral abomination, you can do without getting married in the first place. If you do get married, you have to take extra steps to do the things you agreed are fair, to prevent marriage law from perverting them.
BUT! But if you DID get married, now a spouse has the option to defect and make a resource grab against the other. That option was made possible by signing the marriage contract.
That option was the only thing that the marriage contract brought to the relationship.
In short, marriage doesn’t promote any public good for any honest person. It incentivizes callousness, and strips humans of individual personhood and bodily autonomy. It served a purpose in the vile dystopia that is our past, when half the population had no property rights or any legal way to make an income. In the present, its only purpose is to enable fraud that the courts will uphold. If someone loves you they will want to spend their life with you, at least for a while. But if they want to take advantage of you, they will seek the aegis of the marriage contract. Proposing marriage is a hostile act.
Small Concession – Due to the mythology we’ve built around marriage, and the extreme ignorance most people have as to the reality of marriage, they may not realize what it is they are asking for when they hint at marriage. It might be an innocent mistake. But every such proposal should be viewed with extreme prejudice, and anyone who suggests marriage to you should be flagged as a potential enemy.
added: a reader pointed out another potential good reason to get married: visas. If you want to get someone from Country A to Country B, and let them stay in country B, a marriage visa can be, depending on the country, one of the more effective ways of accomplishing this.