Originally Posted by hyperskeptic
Well, it's not just about what laws and institutions will let us get away with. It's also about what we really ought to be doing, what responsibilities we have.
My responsibilities as a single woman are not much different from my responsibilities as a married one would be. About the only one I can think of is the "responsibility" to limit my sexual partners to one person, and I am trying to see how that's a social responsibility given the ways multiple partners can be had in ways that do no harm.
That's the "ethical" part: who am I hurting? Is everyone aware and okay with this? Am I, in fact, destabilizing the lives of the people involved? Because from where I sit, permitting marriage to take the form that best suits the lives of the individuals involved can only have a stabilizing effect. Say four people marry in order to form a four-income household (or a three-income household allowing for one partner to pursue an artistic career, another degree, stay-at-home parenthood... you get the idea). How is that unstable? How is that unethical? If one household for four people suits those four people, why not let the law acknowledge them as a household?
I use the word "household" on purpose because I have got more intimate than I'd like to be with the restrictions the government places on aid to the indigent. The law counts me, one unmarried woman living at home, as a household of one. As such, though in practice I'm one of three living on roughly $60K a year, legally I am my parents' boarder making $0 a year. What this means is that I could collect any number of benefits -- but the way the law works, I end up needing them! If my parents suddenly asked me for rent, I'd need HUD or welfare to help me pay them. Since I am not part of that household, insurance companies don't recognize me as entitled to my parents' health care. Since I cannot, at this time, work for a living wage, I must instead look to the government for that health care. If I were part of their household, I'd be one less Medicaid applicant.
I'd also get a lot less in student loans. There are trade-offs. But I wouldn't have to worry about health care any longer, and I might even get the kind of care that allowed me to recover to the point of working through college or taking up a trade.
Legally, for the rearing of children, a household of four is more ideal than a household of two and two, assuming these four people will be parenting together anyway. Four parents with equal legal standing means four people to advocate for the children, four to sign permission slips, go on school trips, be with the children in hospital, provide the children health care, provide them food -- and the level below which those four would have to fall in order to qualify for help increases from where it sits for two and two. They will have the right to ask for help funding appropriate housing, should housing become an issue. They will not hear, "Technically, you're two and two, so go get two apartments." They will hear, "You are four, and you need housing for four." (Plus dependents. You get the idea.)
So to me, the "contract" view of marriage actually does contribute more to society than it takes away. If we mean to have our freedoms regardless, better for the government to recognize that, better because it will be saying, "Make your home. Be a family. If you can get it to work, you've earned your protections the same as anyone else who's gotten it to work."