CIVILesbianIZATION :: It’s time for real marriage, nationwide

by Julie R. Enszer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 30, 2008

It is time for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to speak out with some policy options for the next administration- and all Americans- to consider. There are a host of interesting policy changes that we might hope for from a more GLBT-supportive federal government, from ending don't ask, don't tell to a transgender-inclusive ENDA and a repeal of the tax on domestic partner benefits. One policy that isn't currently being discussed, and that I'd like to propose, is "real marriage."

"Real marriage" is the term I use for a new form of marriage that could be adopted by our federal government or by individual states. "Real marriage" is a progressive alternative to marriage.

The Christian right has proposed - and passed in a few states - the so-called "covenant marriage." The "covenant" marriage is a marriage which it is more difficult for a couple to terminate. I think it's time for progressives to propose some alternatives for marriage. One might be "real marriage."

"Real marriage" as I envision it is a type of marriage that reflects the material realities of people's lives. "Real marriage" is a form of marriage. In a "real marriage," the marriage license is time-bound. That is "real marriage" is limited, contractually, for two, five, seven, or ten years. Under the "real marriage" scenarios, newly-weds could opt for a traditional marriage, that is a marriage without an end point articulated, a covenant marriage, a marriage that is more difficult to terminate, or a "real marriage." The real marriage would be a contract that would expire within a particular time-frame.

No one need know which marriage the happy couple selects. The wedding invitations, newspaper announcements, family celebration would all be the same, but if the marriage ends, the consequences would be different.

"Real marriage" is an opportunity for progressive people to talk about marriage and alternatives to marriage that reflect how people are really living their lives today.

The "real marriage" would dissolve in the time-frame specified when the marriage license is secured, unless it is renewed. I imagine that most couples would choose typically a five-year license. Around year four and three months, the couple would receive a renewal application in the mail - much like a driver's license renewal application. The renewal could be filed via mail with a modest fee to renew the marriage for an additional five years. If couples elect to renew the marriage, so be it. The renewal range would be for an addition two, five, or seven years.

If the couple decides not to renew the marriage, the dissolution would be immediate after the five-year anniversary mark with a fifty-fifty distribution of marital property acquired in the marriage. There would be no additional paperwork. The dissolution will be assumed to be amicable, but if not, after a minimum of seven years, both parties would submit to binding arbitration to resolve it.

This process would continue each time the license came up for renewal until, say twenty-one years. After that point, the marriage would be permanent. Dissolution thereafter would be subject to the divorce laws of the state.

Some people may spend their marital lives together in real marriages - renewing them every ten years, until the twenty-one year default. Some people may opt for a traditional marriage after seven or seventeen years, saving themselves the time and the hassle of license renewal. A variety of options would be available to people to reflect the variety of ways that we organize our relationships.

"Real marriage" is an opportunity for progressives to talk about marriage and alternatives to marriage that reflect how people are really living their lives today. We renew our driver's licenses, why shouldn't we renew our marriages? Why should divorce be a system that allows lawyers and others to make money off the dissolution of marriages? Why shouldn't the end of marriage be as easy as the beginning of marriage? And why should the only legislative changes to marriage be suggested by the religious right? As progressives, we get married-and are just as invested in marriage as the extreme right. We have a lot to say about marriage. Let's start a dialogue about the structure of marriage in a way that is meaningful and realistic to us-and to thousands of other couples in the United States today.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer based in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.