Social Question

liminal's avatar

Is marriage a necessary social institution?

Asked by liminal (7712 points ) May 10th, 2010

Traditionally, marriage is the socially preferred institution for sexual activity and child raising in many human societies. Most of us probably know examples that stand outside such tradition. Probably all of us know of examples that follow tradition. When you ponder these examples does the necessity of marriage become evident to you? Is there something about society in the USA and globally that evidences the necessity of marriage?

Here I am not asking if marriage is a right. I am not wondering about the distinction between religious and civil unions. I am wondering about the efficacy and need for having the social institution of marriage.

I am tempted to say more and offer my opinion, but I am not really interested in hearing people affirm or argue against my thoughts. Besides, I am not fully certain what I think.

I want to know what others are thinking and why they are thinking it.

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23 Answers

lilikoi's avatar

No, I do not think it is necessary.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I don’t think that marriage is necessary. The only distinction between a religious union and civil union is the ceremony and beliefs the couple has.

lilikoi's avatar

@Seaofclouds I thought that marriage is recognized throughout the nation while civil unions are only recognized by states that choose to legislate them and that legal rights in marriage vs civil unions differ.

Qingu's avatar

I think it’s “necessary” in the sense of “two consenting adults should have the right to form a legal bond.”

This is largely because humans appear to have a strong proclivity to pair-bond. Why shouldn’t society recognize and evolve around that tendency?

kevbo's avatar

I think (modern day, consensual) weddings are possibly the most sublime and most wonderful ceremonies humanity has created. I think it is powerful and life affirming to publicly pledge yourself to a life partner, both for the couple and for everyone in attendance. Without them, the quality of my life would be diminshed, and it’s difficult to imagine wedding ceremonies without marriage.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@lilikoi You could be right, I’ve never looked into how other states viewed civil unions. Going to look now.

lilikoi's avatar

@Qingu Yes but one could presumably achieve this with a legal contract. Marriage seems to be a a kind of standardized blanket contract (that comes with a stacked religious history, a lot of Hollywood glamor baggage, and negative implications should you decide to terminate the contract), and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to either invoke this standard contract or choose to draw up our own. Yet as some people point out, one who is “married” will be quickly reunited with an ill spouse in a hospital while one who has a legal contract that provides the same right will be stuck at the check-in counter talking with a confused receptionist.

Trillian's avatar

From a psychological standpoint a child has a better chance in life and learns better social skills when raised in a two parent home where the parents are in a loving, financially stable relationship. Other factors that contribute to a healthy, well rounded child is being part of a “community” and a strong religious institution of some kind. There are numerous studies that support this. Now, whether the parents need to be actually “married” as opposed to living together in a committed relationship is not addressed.
I think the legal level of commitment is comforting to many as it states that you are in the relationship for the long haul. I personally plan to marry rather than live with someone if I ever do become entangled again. I want someone who is willing to tell the world; “I love this woman so much that I want to legally as well as spiritually tie myself to her.” I want the outward symbol of the ring, the name change, the ceremony.
I think that for many it will remain a necessity, and hopefully our society will collectively grow up and realize that a marriage is more than a ceremony and a party. Marriage is a lifetime commitment to each other and a common goal.

Qingu's avatar

Also, I’m an atheist, but I think marriage is “sacred” in the sense that pair-bonding appears to be a deep and significant pattern in not just “nature” but universal laws. I mean, lots of particles pair-bond too.

It’s also numinous, like how most people think sacred things are. I couldn’t explain to you what true love feels like beyond weird, reaching metaphors. Oh man, that old lady from the Matrix was right

lilikoi's avatar

@Seaofclouds I know that not all states recognize civil unions. Our state leg just passed a law to recognize them and it is on the Gov’s desk awaiting veto (she’s an R).

Qingu's avatar

@lilikoi, I’m not so willing to give up the use of the term “marriage” to Christianity or its otherwise institutional meanings.

Marriage, the word, has evolved. It used to be, simply, an economic contract. You paid a girl’s dad for her hand in marriage, like buying property. Women were conceived of as the property of men; the “brideprice” was a little more than the cost of a slave. In the Bible, there’s a law where if you rape an unbetrothed virgin, you have to marry her after paying her father the brideprice: “you break it you buy it.”

Since then, a bunch of new cultural traditions have grafted on to the term “marriage,” and a bunch of creepy stuff has sloughed off it. (You can’t “marry” prepubescent girls sold to you by their parents, that’s actually illegal today in fact, despite being explicitly allowed in the holy text of the people whining about the sanctity of marriage)

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Trillian A couple does not have to be married to have the level of commitment though and there are a lot of people that don’t take their vows completely seriously.

I wanted to get married and I am very honored and blessed to have a wonderful husband. I just don’t believe that because it was the right thing for us that it is a necessity for others.

@lilikoi You are very correct. Just read up on them some more. I think civil unions should be recognized throughout all the states. Interestingly enough, in my reading I found that because civil unions aren’t recognized in every state, it is much harder for people to end a civil union if they have moved out of the state they got it in. So, civil unions are harder to get out of than a marriage is.

Trillian's avatar

@Seaofclouds I make it a point to never state that something is the same way for everyone. Or to imply such a thing. Did you infer that from something that I wrote? I quote myself here; “I think the legal level of commitment is comforting to many…”

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Trillian I was mainly responding to “Marriage is a lifetime commitment to each other and a common goal.” Yes marriage is that, but you don’t have to have marriage to have that lifetime commitment. I wasn’t going against what you said, just adding on that you don’t have to be married to have that.

The part about me not thinking everyone else has to get married as well was in general (that’s why I skipped a space after the part to you) sorry if you thought that was to you.

lillycoyote's avatar

Well, in a “social structure,” anthropological sense it’s certainly an extremely useful and stabilizing institution. Marriage has a number of functions traditionally. Exogamous marriage institutionalizes the process of outbreeding and bonds different groups together, it creates social ties between disparate groups. It also increases the stability and organization of a society by making sure that no one “falls through the cracks.” Marriage assures that everyone in a particular social group is responsible to or for someone else. What ever the biology, it has given human beings a way to determine who is responsible to take care of children and the elderly. In modern societies, and I am not making a value judgement, just making an argument for my “functional” case, when the family breaks down, for better or worse, you have a situation where the greater society, the courts, other social institutions have to intervene in order to make someone responsible for the children, or for the elders. I am not making a case for or against marriage. Just trying to make a case for it having, throughout history, a very important function. If humans want to dispense with marriage than we will need to find some other way do what marriage does in terms of creating stable societies.

Trillian's avatar

@Seaofclouds Ah. I see. Actually, the skipped space didn’t register, but then I’ve never been too bright. Thank you! ;-)
I hope you got that I was making the point about what a marriage is as opposed to what so many seem to get into marriage for. I think that it is taken far too lightly by far too many, and they then bail when it doesn’t work the way they thought it would. That isn’t marriage, that’s a slumber party that ended badly.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Trillian I completely agree with you there. I know so many people that get married for what seems to be just to do it and then end up divorcing soon after.

zophu's avatar

Nature encourages a man and woman to stay together because it increases the chance of survival for their offspring. This bond exists in other animals as well, but with human intelligence involved, our bonds are much more complex and don’t follow just the simple rules concerning reproduction and gender. This complexity makes any arbitrary system of regulation for marriage a ridiculous oppression on people’s lives. Marriage, like any other close relationship, is between the partners; outside society shouldn’t be involved in any definitive way. Every relationship is as unique as the people involved.

perspicacious's avatar

Yes. I agree with Trillian and lillycoyote.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Marriage is an invention of partirarchal capitalist society to limit sexual access to the female.

It’s simple to know who someone’s mother is since the birth can be seen, but knowing the father is trickier. Knowing who impregnated the female is not as clear cut. Some societies have bypassed this problem by bestowing certain privileges based on maternity. For example, a person is considered Jewish if their mother was Jewish.

Certainty in determining the father becomes important only when he has property to pass on. In the absence of ownership, particularly land ownership, paternity loses its power.

Haleth's avatar

@hawaii_jake Awesome answer!

Maybe it’s not just marriage that’s the problem, but the nuclear family. Our conventional view of marriage is that we expect a whole lot out of it. We’re supposed to marry our true love, spend the rest of our lives with them, have sex with only them, share financial responsibilities, and raise children together. Up until the last century, we had extended families to help with a lot of the financial and child-rearing stuff, and we didn’t always have such a romantic view of marriage and love.

It’s a lot more realistic for all these needs to be met by different people. Someone who’s financially responsible might not be good with children, and maybe neither of these people are great in romantic love. My dad and stepmom have a pretty successful marriage, but it’s run a lot more like a business. My stepmom keeps track of the family’s finances, and they ferry the kids around to lessons, plays, and soccer practice. It’s pretty efficient, but cold. My mom and dad were more affectionate, but they didn’t make a very responsible team, so they were always broke and their parenting style was very laid-back. I don’t most two people have everything it takes to make a successful marriage and family.

My ideal situation would be a life partner and/or an extended family. I support the extended family financially, and they help out with a lot of the logistics like guidance, raising kids and taking care of the house. Then I’m open to be in whatever personal relationships I want, apart from the family structure. Or I have a partner- we like and respect each other and decide to share responsibilities for finances, children, etc. because it’s way too much for one person to do on their own. But we might turn to other people for emotional support or romantic relationships. I don’t know, I’m just throwing stuff out there. I would go freaking crazy in a traditional marriage, but I don’t want to grow old alone, either.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I think the commitment traditionally associated with marriage is a social good. It benefits the partners and any children they produce or raise. My wife and I could have chosen to just continue to live as married and we would still be committed to each other. We chose to marry even though no family attended the wedding – it was for us, mainly.

If marriage is meaningful to you, go for it. If you are not very committed to each other, please don’t produce or raise children, whether you marry or not.

That’s my view.

wonderingwhy's avatar

I don’t really see it as necessary in theory, but in practical terms to be rid of it would be potentially very difficult. In order to do so, one must eliminate the jealous and perhaps greedy nature of mankind and address several issues stemming from problems with our impaired sense of self, all while cultivating a greater sense of responsibility in individuals and a more societal based child rearing practices. Of course it could be argued that, without the institution of marriage, those conditions would be more likely to have developed. But now that it is entrenched, even if it is salving the symptoms it causes, dissolving it would have to be done with great care. So as a direct answer to whether marriage is a necessary social institution, yes it is, at least until as a society and individuals we are ready accept a greater responsibility, and solely in my opinion a greater good, and move beyond it.

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