In the United States, when a couple decides to marry, there are many different ways said couple can choose to pursue their union. While some may choose to unite through holy matrimony and others may choose the secular route of marriage by a justice of the peace, documentation of said marriage, while elective, is an important legal step in sanctifying a union in the eyes of any governing body. In effect, obtaining a marriage license is far and away more beneficial than simply remaining married under common or religious law.
The greater goal of any marriage is, in retrospect, relatively noble. One individual marries another in order to foster a child or children with their significant other, to produce a family. There are many benefits to this, physical, psychological and economical. The economic benefits of obtaining a marriage license are the extended provisions afforded the newly-wed couple when it comes to combination of assets; when a marriage takes place, under the law, both persons involved cede their individual right to any and all of their assets. This means that your potential husband’s debt is now yours, your potential wife’s income now compliments your own and any purchases you make, financial agreements you sign or children you conceive are given equal parts ownership between the two of you. This is imposed by the terms of the marriage license, and is not something that would be anywhere near as widely practiced if not for said imposition of the law, specifically because it means sharing your property and assets, liquid or not, with another person, indefinitely. While this may seem like something that would be a foregone conclusion when two individuals decide to share their lives together, imagine what it would take to not renege on these particular provisions were they not imposed by the law and you were significantly angry at your spouse, either for economic incompetence, infidelity or other issues that may crop up over the course of a marriage. Most individuals, independent of some sort of government oversight, would revoke this type of benefit from their spouse, and their spouse may do the same, effectively cancelling the marriage and creating a hostile environment for any children involved. It would also create an issue for divorce proceedings, as any previous record of whose assets were whose would officially place the economically weaker spouse at a disadvantage. The imposition of a combination of assets ensures that all shared assets combined by the marriage, are divided equally among the spouses in the event of a termination of said marriage.
The physical benefits of obtaining a marriage license extend to the healthcare decisions a spouse is given the legal right to make for their significant other upon entry into this legal contract. Whereas two individuals who are together by choice, such as a girlfriend and a boyfriend may not be able to make decisions regarding the care and possible end of life scenarios affecting their significant other, two married individuals can. In fact, if you are not married to, or a part of someone’s immediate, nuclear family, in the United States, you do not have the right to make hospital visits to your significant other. This particularly affects same-sex couples in the U.S. currently (Parker-Pope), as their status as mutually “together,” while perhaps spanning many years, lacks the legal reinforcement of a marriage license, thus they cannot make any decisions or be legally involved in the healthcare of their significant other.
The psychological benefits of a marriage license extend to the deterrent a marriage license might serve to rampant and spontaneous divorce. Where one might be apt to break off a relationship on a moment’s notice in a fit of rage, the legal barrier to doing so provides people with the needed time to think it through and the potential motivation to seek counseling, in order to try and salvage the relationship. This is important not only for the psychological health of those involved in the relationship, but is also paramount to the continued partnership of the individuals in question if there are children involved. It is no secret that homes with happily married couples tend to produce happier and more productive children (“ASPE”) and, as such, it becomes a matter of maintaining the psychological well-being of multiple generations under one roof when discussing the efficacy of a marriage license as it pertains to the rate of divorce.
While the benefits of obtaining a marriage license are many, detractors of the practice may point to a myriad of reasons why the necessity of obtaining a marriage license is arbitrary in nature. For example, the combination of assets through the obtainment of a marriage license is something that can be achieved independent of said license. Nearly all major financial institutions will allow the combination of liquid assets with another consenting individual, and the titles of houses, cars or any other potentially large purpose requiring official documentation can be signed off on by two persons, giving them both equal shares of the asset. Another example of the arbitrary nature of marriage licenses, is the fact that government oversight of two consenting individuals decisions regarding one another’s well-being and healthcare is not indicative of the fact that marriage licenses are beneficial; rather, it is indicative of local, state and federal government intrusion into the private lives of individuals who wish to cede their healthcare decisions, should they be incapacitated, to one another. There is no reason one person cannot legally sign these rights over to a person of their choice, and no reason that person cannot visit their significant other in either hospitals or prisons, independent of any official documentation regarding their personal union. Finally, the notion that a marriage license is in any way a deterrent for divorce or in any way positive for the mental state of everyone in the household, including any potential children, is false. Look no further than the rising divorce rates over the last few decades: The current divorce rate is nearly 53%, compared with only 20% in 1955 (“FastStats…”). Statistics such as these, which highlight the negative trends experienced by marriage in the United States not only call into question the supposed positive psychological effects associated with obtaining a marriage license, but with the importance of marriage as an institution in itself.
Obtaining a marriage license in America today allows spouses to combine their assets in a more convenient manner, gives them the right to make decisions in the care of one another and contributes to the happiness and well-being of themselves and their potential children. While the arguments made to the contrary seek to advance a line of thinking that is consistent with the notion that the government has no place in keeping people together, the fact remains that obtaining a marriage license is nothing but beneficial to the recipients.
"ASPE." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/MEFLAD-Roundtable/.
"FastStats: Marriage and Divorce." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Apr. 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm.
Parker-Pope, Tara. "New York Times- Well." How Hospitals Treat SameSex Couples. 12 May 2009. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/12/how-hospitals-treat-same-sex-couples/?_r=0