A room of two’s own -wmd -dlh

Megan Unger

Throughout the last three weeks, we have seen that some of the policies associated with Lawrence, regarding issues like off-campus housing and faculty and staff partner benefits, require either marriage or a domestic partnership in order to receive privileges. These requirements, however old-fashioned they may seem, are not uncommon within greater society, where they are necessary in order to receive benefits that range from social security and tax breaks to gifts from gift registries. Why is marriage *******– or domestic partnership ********– necessary for a couple to receive benefits, and why are these benefits usually only available to heterosexual couples?
The history of the institution of marriage itself is rather sordid. Typically, marriage occurred as a kind of property transfer from a bride’s father to her future husband. This exchange of “property” typically took place through material transfers like dowries and bride prices; the woman exchanged in the transaction rarely had input in selecting her husband. After marriage, she was almost always financially dependent on him. When one delves for deeper meaning in the actual transaction, the main function of marriage was to actively reinforce the existing household patriarchal structure, where a man was the head of a household, and his wife and children acted as he desired.
Admittedly, most modern marriages do not involve the transfer of women as property. Instead, marriage has come to be viewed as a coming-of-age activity. At some point both males and females are expected to “mature” and moves from their “immature” living arrangements to a “mature,” married arrangement with a person of the opposite sex, in a union that has been recognized and certified by the state. For a marriageable adult to live in any other kind of living arrangement is usually considered strange. Generally, it is viewed by society as pathetic for an adult to live with parents or friends for an extended period of time.
These other kinds of living arrangements for adults are often labeled “abnormal.” These individuals are not only considered to be abnormal or even pathetic, they also fail to receive the benefits to which married couples have access. What if, instead, people were allowed by the rest of society to make their own choices about whom they do or do not live with? What if society assigned maturity to individuals for being responsible enough to make such a choice, and furthermore, didn’t penalize people whose priorities weren’t the norm? It is, after all, rather presumptuous to assume that everyone’s priorities in life are, or should be, exactly the same. Then societal recognition of other kinds of living arrangements ********– people who live with their siblings or heterosexual cohabitation or two close friends living together *******– would not penalize these other arrangements through loss of benefits.
Marriage should be a choice that individuals make if they truly desire to marry, not a choice that is made because of the potential benefits that can be received. Perhaps if people were not being denied certain benefits, they would be able to live in the arrangements that suit them and give them the most personal satisfaction. Lawrence prides itself on the diversity of its campus; maybe by examining some of our community practices that restrict particular benefits on the basis of marital status, we can further diversify by not penalizing ways of living that are outside of the norm.