Monday, June 26, 2006

Marriage and other Partnerships

Today I was watching Dr. Phil, and the guest was claiming that polyfidelity is his preferred lifestyle. Now I disagree with the guest in that he is trying to force this lifestyle on his wife and his family. But I do have remarks to make on the issue.

I am aware of the rationale behind marriage:
(1) historically, as a means of formalizing the care of the young, ensuring inheritance of property and authority,and defining ownership of property;
(2) hopefully, today, binding two committed people in a caring relationship over long periods of time;
(3) practically regulating the responsibilities inherent in childcare, healthcare, and other family responsibilitie;
and (4) practically regulating the responsibilities for finances, taxes, and property ownership.

According to historians, the role of love in marriage is a concept that was not always important to the success or requirements of marriage. The term "traditional marriage" has so many different meanings that anyone using the term should really specify for which ethnic group and during which historical era the term applies.
I assume that when an American mentions the term today, the reference is to The Donna Reed Show and The Dick van Dyke Show. The Jeffersons, Good Times and The Cosby Show also present this view of a traditional marriage. It would be wonderful if all of us came from such backgrounds of strong family commitments. Unfortunately, many do not.

In America today, the range of living arrangements is diverse. Widows and other women left behind to care for children, and men in the same boat have found that alternate living arrangements have enabled them to raise the children. People who have not found the "love of their lives" have found alternate living arrangements to enable them to handle the stresses of living. Sometimes partnership arrangements enable these people to get the emotional, physical, and financial help needed. By physical, I refer to the means to get done all the work that needs to be done in the time allowable: watch the kids, cut the grass, fix the roof, help out when one is ill,etc.

In America, the live-and-let-live ethic prevents us from closely examining the lifestyles of those with whom one's has no real personal involvement. If the person is not a member of one's church, an influence over one's children, and not a noticible cause of decreasing neighborhood property values, then we Amearicans tend to let be. That is, unless there is a religious mandate to change the lives of others to fit the definitions of one's own religion.

The problem that I see with the current American life-styles is that there are no legal protections for partners in households that are not married, but that share responsibilities and expenses, to obtain health care and property protections that only married couples enjoy. The other problem is that when partnerships break-up, there is no financial protection as in divorce. It would seem that partners that would share the expenses of a home--property, food, insurance, taxes, maintenance--should enter into the relationship with an agreement similar to a prenup. The need is possibly greater than it would be for marriage since there are no laws of protection as there are in divorce. There should be legal protections of the members of such a partnership during the partnership to cover the difficult times of when one member is unable to contribute equally for a time. Also, the common ownership should be protected when one member of the partnership is mentally incapacitated or dies.

Currently, our marriage laws provide these protections--althought not always fairly. But what about those who choose to travel the rodes of live with a partner outside of marriage. What about those who find that a partnership that works in one stage of life doesn't work for another stage of life? I say that partners in home-building relationships that provide stable environments for children, emotional support for all in the home, and maintenance care for property and personal environment should be nurtured and sustained. These partnerships should have social and legal support.

It is for these reasons that I cannot support a movement for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union for life between one man and one woman, or as just a union between a man and a woman. There are many ways to build a nurturing home and many ways to define family and friends. Literature, movies and TV through soaps, science fiction, situational comedies, and the examples of numerous celebrities have examined the ins-and-outs of diverse family and partnership relationships. Let's accept the solutions that work to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids with strong ethical values and needed competencies. Let's accept the partnerships that allow members to find healthy emotional, financial, and physical support without trampling the rights and needs of any member of the partnership. These homes will help maintain a stable society if protected.