Law in Contemporary Society

The Institution of Monogamous Marriage and Alternatives

-- Original paper by Yinan Zhang - 18 Apr 2009


The institution of monogamous marriage has a significant impact on our society. A lot of people undergo through the process at one point or another. But do they really consider the full consequences of a legal union? I believe that people, to a certain extent, marry also because society hold them to an expectation and subconsciously instills the ideal of marriage into their minds. Such a concept is so ingrained into our view on the pursuit of happiness (nicely illustrated by the fact how fiercely a big part of the LGBT community fights for the right to marry) that we often fail to think beyond the boundaries of societal restraints and consider other alternatives.

Benefits of Marriage

As mentioned in the introduction, Western societies tend to regard marriage as the nuclear point of life where children should be born into and raised. To make sure people seek marriage as one of the major goals in life, society applies a wide range of means. Society expects us to go through certain essential stages of life, of which marriage is one, to attain maturity and responsibility. Society promotes the image that a life spent with our spouses until death serves as the only way to reach emotional happiness and to provide children with a safe and cozy environment. Society confers status: married couples are deemed to have reached a higher stage of life, usually expressed by a little golden ring. Furthermore, under our monogamy-oriented society, married couples enjoy unique legal advantages such as tax reduction and unique property status. All of this happens because marriage seems to confer benefits upon members of society. This is unsurprising due to the fact that our society purposely promotes legal union to further order. Monogamous marriage caters to certain aspects of human nature because we are all social beings that desire feelings of stability and security. We want to acquire the peace of mind that when we go home from a long day of hard work, someone will be there to comfort and take care of us.

Risks of Marriage

However, we often fail to consider the disadvantages of marriage. Not only hardcore feminists see marriage as an institution through which male dominance is perpetuated and women are systematically oppressed. Another risk is divorce. In the U.S., approximately 40% to 50% of couples divorce. Divorce proceedings are expensive and often lead to inequitable division of assets between divorcees. Divorced couples feel betrayed, confused, and lost after they lose the other’s companionship. Among the still-married couples who experienced infidelity but for some reason decided against separation, unfaithfulness results in long-term emotional pain and distrust. But since we are supposed to marry, the government does not undertake any steps to deter couples who are willing to marry. In many Western countries women need to go through mandatory counseling before a legal abortion is available. There is no such mandatory (legal) counseling before people inter into marriage. Instead, many US states allow people to marry before they are allowed to drink.

Potential Alternatives to Marriage

Perhaps other channels for emotional happiness exist. And more and more people are willing to explore these and other alternatives.

Prenuptial Agreements

One remedy for reducing the risks of marriage entails the prenuptial agreement. However, this pre-arrangement merely serves as a minor provision addressing the monetary issue within the overreaching contract of marriage, which involves emotional, physical, and financial commitments. Moreover, for a majority of the population, this remedy arguably carries the stigma that a couple already plans for future disintegration, thus undermining the major element of dedication in marriage.


Another alternative is singlehood. This path contains its own inherent pros and cons. A truly single person frees himself from the obligations of marriage. The most obvious advantage of singlehood grants full sexual freedom. From an evolutionary perspective, human biology inclines toward embracing several sexual partners simultaneously. Most straight males desire to pass on their genes by impregnating as many desirable females as possible. Most Females strive to guarantee the survival fitness of her children by receiving the genes from the most sexually desirable males while simultaneously looking to secure a safe nurturing atmosphere from less sexually appealing, but dependable and caring males. Unfortunately, the male predilection to spread his genes and dependability often conflict against each other. Singlehood avoids the gap between evolutionary needs and the social realities of marriage. Moreover, two relatively-unbound individuals reduce the impact that jealousy has on their well-being. On the other hand, singlehood seems to retain its own set of flaws. Without a long term partner, one would not acquire emotional stability and an emotional connection. One would also face immense difficulty in raising children. These difficulties however also result from the fact that our society relies on the assumption that two parents will take care of the children.


On the other end of the spectrum, we may reconcile our biological needs through the acceptance of a polygamous reform movement, in which individuals engage in more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. A handful of people in our society embrace this legally unrecognized lifestyle.


In the end, whether we choose to maintain a complete sense of “self” through one of the alternatives to marriage or strive to merge our identity with that of a life partner through marital union depends on a balancing of the benefits and risks of each lifestyle. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to our own happiness to ponder the full extent of each choice’s consequences, instead of blindly following the orders of society.


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r2 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:27:57 - IanSullivan
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