Marriage Today: Why Get Married?
By: Joanna Smykowski
Updated February 25, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn
Marriage is an institution that has been around for centuries. It has evolved and changed over time and still holds differently in various states and countries around the world. Let's delve a little more into it.
Marriage: What Does It Mean?
In the most basic of terms, in the simplest definitions, the dictionary defines marriage as, "the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship," or "the state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law."
Within the legal definition of marriage in the United States, it must satisfy three requirements:
- The parties must legally have the ability to marry each other. This covers a few things, such as they cannot be married to someone else and they must be of age.
- Mutual consent of the parties, meaning that no one can be forced to marry against their will.
- A marriage contract as required by law. This differs amongst the states, as some places you need to have a signed marriage certificate, while in others, holding yourself out as husband and wife for ten years satisfies common law marriage. Religious ceremonies are a recognized matrimonial ceremony as well.
Beyond that, it can differ in its nuances.
Marriage: What Is Its History?
How it began: The Patriarchy
When the institution of marriage first came about in the United States, it was almost a transfer of property. Women had few rights in the United States. The right to vote for women has only been around for about 100 years. Even today, aspects such as the gender pay gap is still a struggle that is being fought to rectify. They belonged to their fathers until they were given away, and then became the property of their husbands. Women could not hold jobs, have property, or hold any of their assets. Anything that was theirs was their husband's. For this reason, marriage existed as a way to give a woman a new identity; that of her husband's. This is where the tradition of changing your last name to that of the man you married came from.
Marriage: One Race Only
In the beginning, only men and women of the same race could get married in the United States. In a country that is deep-seated in the roots of slavery and racism, interracial marriages were not only prohibited but illegal. If caught, you could be punished with jail time, especially if you were a black woman. This held even after the dissemination of slavery and blacks began fighting against the Jim Crowe laws and to get rid of racial inequality.
It was not until 1967 when interracial marriage was made legal in the United States. This came about because of a Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, decided on June 12, 1967. In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the freedom to marry was a constitutionally protected fundamental liberty, and therefore the government's deprivation of it on an arbitrary basis such as race was a violation of the Due Process Clause. Through the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, interracial marriage was now legal across the country.
Marriage: Heterosexual Only
The fight for marriage equality was unable to stop there. While interracial marriages were now legal, only heterosexual marriages were recognized in the United States. This meant that same-sex couples were not recognized under the law. The fight continued, as laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act, were passed. The Defense of Marriage Act, otherwise known as DOMA, was a United States federal law that defined marriage for federal purposes as "the union of one man and one woman." The law meant that states were allowed to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states. This law was ruled unconstitutional. States, one by one, began legalizing same-sex marriage until the Supreme Court finally stepped in in 2015. The Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a fundamental right, one that is guaranteed to not only heterosexual couples but same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Using a similar legal argument that was in Loving v. Virginia, Chief Justice Roberts stated:
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were ... marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right… It is so ordered." Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
Finally, after decades of various civil rights movements and making strides towards equality for every kind of love, everyone under the law could get married and be recognized as such.
Marriage: Why Do It?
Now that we have talked about the definition and history of marriage, let's talk about why people usually get married. In a single word: love. When you are in love with someone and want to spend the rest of your life with them, marriage tends to be the next logical step.
Of course, there are times when people get married when they should not, and for this reason, the divorce rate in the United States is at about fifty percent. There is a myriad of reasons why people get married when they should not. It can range from familial pressures, rash decisions, or life changes that push people to get married when they should not. And sometimes, people change differently, and their paths in life are no longer meant to intertwine as a wedded couple. But the hope is usually that when you do get married, it lasts a lifetime.
So, what are the benefits of getting married? On a romantic note, it is a way to declare your love and commitment to each other to the world. Weddings can range from large to small, extravagant to rustic. The planning of a wedding, getting your friends and family together, and celebrating a new chapter is a great way to start a new chapter of your life. Then, you have the rest of your lives together.
Legally, there are benefits to getting married as well. You can now file taxes jointly and get benefits such as getting to deduct two exemption amounts from your income. It also helps you qualify for various tax credits. Also, there are unlimited marital tax deductions. You can transfer an unlimited amount of assets to your spouse at any time. While doing this to a non-spouse would equate to taxes, it is tax-free if it goes to the person you are married to.
There are also other financial benefits to being married. Marriage is a contractual agreement that equates to an economic partnership. If you are married for at least ten years, even if your marriage ends in divorce, you could be entitled to your spouse's Social Security benefits when you are older. You can also benefit from their IRA (Individual Retirement Account) by contributing to your spouse's account or rolling over a deceased spouse's IRA into your own.
Legally binding yourself to another person gives you legal benefits as well. This applies most importantly to legal decision-making benefits. As the spouse, you can make medical decisions for your spouse if they, unfortunately, become disabled or sick. You also can be there for hospital visits in which family only is allowed. If something happens to your spouse, you have the decision-making power on their funeral arrangements. While the death of your spouse is not the most pleasant thing to think of, you also have inheritance rights to your spouse's estate if they do not have a will.
While you are living, you also have health and employment benefits. Being married means that you can put your spouse on your health insurance, which gives more options in choosing a plan that works best for both of you. You can also take leave and bereavement if needed. Finally, it makes it easier when having a child, because you don't have to do any paternity questioning.
With all of the legal and reality out of the way, being married has emotional benefits. Having a spouse who gives you emotional and physical support can help you live a longer, happier life. And if you ever have any issues working through the marriage, the folks at BetterHelp are here for you.
 Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/marriage