Does Marriage Equal Commitment?

As of 1985, all fifty states have enacted unilateral no fault divorce laws. The effect of this is to render the dissolution of a marriage automatic upon the filing by one of the parties; the ensuing trial is only to resolve property division and child custody disputes.

Since this is the case, why is marriage still equated with committment? Or is it? If one party can end a marriage simply by filing the papers and paying the fee, what is it about the state of legal matrimony that creates the perception of a greater commitment than long term cohabitation? Or is it just the threat of the financial expense and property wrangling that is sure to come if the marriage is dissolved? Is such a “commitment” any way to enter into a holy union?


“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
–James Thurber

-What is marriage, legally?
It’s a contract which is binding while in force, but can be cancelled by either party. However, this cancellation is not immediate (it takes a while for the divorce to go through), and it does not eliminate all responsibilities, there is still child support, alimony, etc.

-What is marriage, religiously?
Depends on the religion, but generally speaking it’s a life-long commitment. The fact that the state recognizes a divorce does not force a church to do so, although today they often do.

-What is marriage, morally?
Depends on the couple, but generally speaking it’s an agreement to take care of each other, and divorce does not erase that commitment.

Ultimately, marriage is what you make of it, not what the government makes of it.

In the eyes of the law, I suppose marriage is no longer expected to translate into commitment.

To the individual… well, it depends on the individual. I know several people who get married with their cohabitation partner because that’s what they are “supposed” to do. They have no intention of being faithful, or even trying to spend the rest of their lives with their spouse. They do it for social reasons. To some others it is a commitment in the truest sense of the word.

Shall I post some musing on how hysterically funny it is to read heterosexuals pondering whether marriage means anything anymore when gay people all across the country are battling for the right to make that commitment?


I think all of our problems can be solved with the legalization of polygamy.

There’s always another beer.

Otto I’m sure there are lots of homosexuals who couldn’t care less about marriage itself - though they may be peeved that they cannot get the employment benefits that a spouse would. My company has ‘domestic partner’ benefits - regardless of the person’s sex if they have been living with you for six months, and you have not had another partner in the last six months, they get benefits. I imagine more and more companies will adopt policies like this, and the legal institution of marriage will slowly die out. There really isn’t much point to it.

In religious terms, a marriage is whatever the religious defines it to be. Our secular government, according to the first amendment, should be forbidden from recognizing or enforcing the terms of religious marriage.

In secular terms, a marriage forms a civil contract between two people for (generally):
[ul][li]The joint ownership of property.[/li][li]The provision for the care and protection of children.[/li][li]The entitlement of inheritance.[/li][li]The granting of certain powers of attorney.[/li][li]The regulation of sexual conduct.[/li][li]Other benefits?[/ul][/li]
However, two people can enter into a prenuptual agreement, enlarging or restricting any or all of the traditional terms of civil marriage. Therefore, in that circumstance, the marriage itself implies no additional agreement; legally, it has no relevance.

Therefore marriage specifically entails a commitment equivalent to that a civil contract and may indeed be specifically expressed as such.

The implications regarding the differential permission/prohibition to enter into civil contracts, and the ability to and implication of the attachment of a specific label to that contract probably is a topic for another thread.

He’s the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armor, shouting ‘All Gods are Bastards!’

That’s a really telling fact, except that it’s inaccurate.

New York, for example, does not have a no-fault divorce proceeding in the sense that you describe it. In New York, the party seeking a divorce must establish one of (for all practical purposes) two grounds: cruel and inhuman treatment by the other party, or the fact that the parties have lived apart for at least a year pursuant to a written separation agreement. Only the latter can be conceivably termed “no fault,” and that requires a prior written agreement by the parties to separate. The written agreement must also address any property distribution and custody issues, so it’s not necessarily the breezy kind of proceeding you are talking about. Despite what you imply, a person cannot obtain a no-fault divorce against his or her spouse without that spouse’s consent in New York State.

Sorry, the premise of that question is invalid. In New York State, one party can only end the marriage with the consent of the other or upon proving fault.

There are any number of rights and privileges associated with civil marriage which may not be conferred by any other type of civil contract. Additionally, pre-nuptual agreements may be challenged if they conflict too greatly with existing law or public policy. For many people the issue is getting to the point where there are legal nuptuals for which to sign a “pre-” agreement.

Societally, civil and religious marriages are supported more than less formal relationships as well. You don’t have to file papers to dump someone, for example.

Someone mentioned DP policies. Problems there include an unfair waiting period to access them (why should “partners” have to wait six months when spouses are eligible the date of marriage?) and they can be taken away with the stroke of a pen. Witness what Exxon-Mobil did after the merger. I suppose spousal benefits can be taken away too, but no employer in his right mind would even seriously contemplate it.

I, personally, have never equated marriage laws that don’t allow either party to back out of it with “commitment”.

If it’s really a commitment, you shouldn’t need somebody sticking a gun to your head to enforce it.

Hymen, the patron saint of marriage…

Tsk, tsk, tsk! handy, don’t you know your classical mythology? Hymen is the god of marriage!

In our culture, marriage has been no more significant than a fiscal merger for some time. Of course, there are occasions where people were married for personal reasons, but by and large, esp. in the middle and upper classes, the entire arrangement was based on social, political and monetary motives. This makes it hard to define marriage today, seeing as we are more free to marry for our own reasons, but we are also more free to disregard the obligation.

If you go back one or two hundred years, most people involved in a ‘marriage of convenience’ were expected to have affairs. They didn’t talk about it, but it was expected. You can’t expect someone to keep having sex with someone they don’t like all that much. In today’s world, because you’re not really forced into marriage, it really is considered BAD to cheat.

It’s changed a lot over the years. Now it’s a commitment (maybe), it’s religious (well, not often) and it matters (sort of).

There are statistics that point to the fading significance of marriage in general. More divorces, less marriages. People are disillusioned by the whole idea.

That’s enough pointless rambling for now


that’s what I think anyway.


Examples? I’m not challenging you, I’m just curious.

Are you suggesting that marriage (as an insitution) is the same as being committed (to an institution)?

Marriage is marriage. Commitment is commitment. It is possible to have one without the other.

In a secular sense, a marriage, as has been previously stated, is a contract between two parties (as it now stands, of opposite genders), that defines them as a partnership with certain rights, obligations, and benefits. This partnership can usually be dissolved unilaterally or bilaterally. It is a function of the state. All the state cares about is seeing that these rights are respected, these obligations fulfilled, and these benefits assured. What the couple does in their personal lives is none of the state’s business. The religious definition is similar, but this time it is more of a covenant before God. This amounts to the same thing in practice: whatever they do is between them and God. The couple can be committed to each other, or not, it doesn’t affect the marriage itself until one of the partners grows dissatisfied with the arrangement.

In short, marriage is a public agreement, commitment is a personal decision. Any other definition would lead to state or religious interference in people’s personal lives, and that’s a can of worms that few would open.

Heck is where you go when you don’t believe in Gosh.


One of the reasons this thread is open is that some state legislators and many religious fundamentalists are indeed opening this can of worms, with predictable results.

I’ll see if I can dig up a post from another thread that goes into this in more detail, but some examples off the top of my head include state and federal tax issues, immigration, hospital visitation, child custody and adoption, immunity from testifying against a spouse, marital property, access to a partner’s insurance and other employment benefits, bereavement leave, survivorship in the event of a partner’s dying intestate. There are according to the GAO over 1000 federal rights and responsibilities conferred by legal marriage. Here in Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin (then a state assemblywoman, now the first openly lesbian member of Congress) and her staff identified over 300 “marital rights” and responsibilities in the state.

Well proposition 22 didn’t make it after all, what does this say about the institution of marriage, not that I like institutional food.

Marriage is a piece of paper that can’t protect you from disease, unwanted pregnancy or heart break.

Only commitment and common sense have any hope of that.

(please note the following is based only on california law, I dont know the other 49)

Marriage is somewhat of a commitment from a man to a woman, but not visa versa. Not nessesarily because its written that way, but because judges interpret it that way. A pre-nup is a must for a man to have any hope of eqaulity later on when it falls apart, which it most likely will. Of course a judge can still say the poor woman didn’t know what she was signing and declare it invalid, But luckily That doesnt happen alot. So if you ask your honey to sign a pre-nup, and she says “dont you trust me?” You say, “why are we getting married , dont you trust me?”

I dont think marriage should be iron clad. Its just that its a little too loose and lopsided.

BTW, there should be no economic “benifits” for being married, or having children. I’ve taken advantage of both, but there is no good reason to provide it.

I find it interesting that there are alot of religious types complaining about what the state has done to their institution!
Oddly enough this is an interesting example of what happens when the lines between religion and state blur, things get weird. At most, there should have always remained a clear distiction between a state marriage and a church marriage. And if the church wants to have the state do their job and promote the 10 comandments, they shouldn’t be disapointed when the state votes to change them a little.

ok … thats another topic