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It’s been a monumental week. If you have one of the masses who welcomed allowing same-sex couples to marry, then the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday was a blessed decision. Coming right before Pride celebrations across the country, it made the yearly event even that much more proud and colorful.  happily unmarried

So it was hard for heteros who welcomed our LGBTQ friends and family into this new era of marriage equality to even think about raining on their long-awaited and well-deserved parade. But as we read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writings, it was equally hard for some of us — the unmarried — to ignore the thick lump that grew in our throats. According to Kennedy:

“No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. … Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness.” tweet

Whoa. Where do we even begin with that?

It once again speaks to the incredible matrimania — a great word coined by social psychologist, author and tireless singles advocate Bella DePaulo — that’s prevalent in this country. And it also speaks to what society tends to think about the unmarried — we’re somewhat less than. Unmarried because you’re divorced? You have issues and don’t know what commitment means. Unmarried because you haven’t found your “soul mate”? You’re too picky,  damaged, high-maintenance or needy, or you’re too obsessed with FOMO (fear of missing out), or you were too selfish focusing on your own needs and career. The only unmarrieds who seem to escape much of society’s wrath are the widowed, but even they are not above judgment — “It’s been two years; shouldn’t she move on already?” “Well, he sure didn’t wait to partner again; his poor wife’s body is still warm!”

But the worrisome part of Kennedy’s wording is the belief that those who are unmarried, by choice or chance, don’t have much going on — we’re just “condemned to live in loneliness.” Never mind that we — and that includes me — have full lives that involve family, friends, neighbors and community, and that involve activities, passions, sex and love. Aren’t we done seeing singles as people to be pitied?

Evidently not.

Just as disturbing is Kennedy’s lofty version of marriage. While marriage may — may — hold the promise of “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” it often falls woefully short, especially in fidelity (Ashley Madison anyone?) and, let’s face it, even love. Given the distressing comments by people who are in frustratingly sexless marriages, many marriages may indeed be less about love than sacrifice — sacrifice of one’s sexual needs. I don’t think that’s what Kennedy meant but still …

And then, despite however well-meaning he may be, Kennedy slams single parenthood:

“Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children’s best interests … Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life.” tweet

Yes, recognition. That’s huge. And while marriage often offers “stability and predictability,” it most certainly does not guarantee that children within those unions will have the kind of environment that is indeed in their best interests. Many kids are raised in emotionally, physically or verbally abusive households, and let’s not forget that numerous studies indicate that kids who grow up in a high-conflict family suffer as much as those whose parents are divorced, and that they do often better if their parents split.

But being a single mom is no bed of roses either — 69 percent say single moms are bad for society (no word on how bad single dads are despite the rise in single fatherhood, but don’t hold your breath).

And what about kids being raised in unmarried but happily cohabiting partnerships, like Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson? They are very clear, as is Goldie Hawn, who has been living with Kurt Russell for 32 years and raised four children together — it’s intention, not marriage per se. Kids don’t need their parents to love each other, nor do they need their parents to be married.

Rebecca Traister wrote an insightful article in New York magazine’s The Cut in response to Kennedy’s writings, with the unfortunate headline Marriage Equality is Also a Win for Single People, which clearly it is not. While much of what she says is true, it is not same-sex couples who have turned traditional marriage on its head. As sociologist Stephanie Coontz beautifully explains, heteros have. In fact, same-sex spouses may get sucked into the specialization that marital laws tend to encourage. And while she writes that, it’s revolutionary to be “fighting for marriage to be about love and companionship — and not about a strictly gendered economic or social power construct,” she misses the point that same-sex couples already had love and companionship — what they wanted, and needed, were the legal and financial perks and protections marriage grants them.

It’s true when she says the numerous social movements have allowed us to “live these full, varied lives without being anyone’s wife or husband.” But, it isn’t about that; we’ve had freedom since the women’s movement.

What the unmarried don’t have, however, are the legal and financial perks and protections married couples, hetero and now same-sex, get — even if we are rising kids, too, or caring for elderly parents or a disabled sibling or lover (and the best person to follow and read on this is Bella DePaulo).

Is that right?

Interested in creating a specific kind of marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

2 Responses to “SCOTUS, marriage and all the lonely people”

  1. Robert Cohen says:

    The supposed legal “perks” of marriage are a poison pill. Do you agree to support your spouse for life if they happen to be earning less than you are at the time of divorce? Do you agree to pay all their legal expenses for divorcing you and taking away your income? Do you agree to make all their debts your own, no matter what they spend your money on, and how foolishly the debt was incurred? My girlfriend, who is divorced herself, and I agree that we better off without involving the State of Ohio in our relationship.

  2. Mari Gallion says:

    Hear hear! As a counselor for single mothers-to-be, one of the most difficult things to demonstrate to some of my counselees is that marriage is not an accomplishment, and that any home being, even a mother, is better off without a marriage than they are in a marriage to the wrong person. Our society seems to honor every form of partnership diversity while single people remain pitied or ignored.

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