As marriage boycotters for equality, it is important to be mindful of other issues that come into play in the marriage debate. One side of the issue that is receiving some attention, in liberal and conservative circles alike, is that of government benefits to married couples. This is an issue that spans across orientation, gender, class, and race. Why does the federal government bestow special benefits to the inherently personal decision of marriage? Some would argue that the government is promoting healthy, functional American families, however, most people can see that marriage is not necessarily healthy or functional. These days, more than half of marriages end in divorce and it is not unusual to see committed couples live together before marriage.
That is why Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP), a grassroots non-profit organization, is committed to achieving equality for all unmarried people, including those who choose to be single, those with partners who choose not to marry, and those who cannot marry. By providing support to those families and partners who partake in alternative forms of relationships, AtMP recognizes and celebrates the validity and significance of the diversity of the American family.
The fact is that marriage should be a personal choice, but it receives preferential treatment by the government. In effect, the government is basically dictating what forms of relationships it sees as worthy of certain benefits. But for decades now, the image of the American family has been evolving beyond marriage. According to the Statistics page on the AtMP website
, one-third of American children are born to unmarried parents. Approximately 40% of these parents are living together as couples, but legally classified as “single parents”. The data regarding marriage and race are even more interesting, personally: in 2006, for example, only 35 percent of black children were living with two parents, as compared to 76 percent for non-Hispanic white children and 84 percent of Asian children. Thinking about what that means in terms of who receives benefits and who doesn’t, strictly on a racial basis, is quite revealing.
Reading “The Experts Speak” page is also illuminating. David Popenoe, Co-Director of the National Marriage Project noted in 2001 that, “as an adult stage in the life course, marriage is shrinking. Americans are living longer, marrying later, exiting marriage more quickly, and choosing to live together before marriage, after marriage, in-between marriages, and as an alternative to marriage. A small but growing percentage of American adults will never marry." And it’s true. These days, marriage just doesn’t cut it for some people, and that’s ok. The federal government should recognize this shift in cultural beliefs and adapt to that. AtMP thus makes it point to educate policy makers on the social and economic issues involved in providing benefits to married couples and leaving others out of the equation.
Since AtMP is a grassroots organization, it lists “ways to be unmarried” on their site, including commitment ceremonies, cohabitating, and boycotting marriage, something familiar to all of us. And a final point to hone in: Alternatives to Marriage Project is not against marriage. They simply realize that there are other healthy forms of relationships and families that deserve recognition and support.
So, if you believe in equality for all and promoting cultural change in federal legislation, I strongly urge you to check out Alternatives to Marriage Project at www.unmarried.org