Tuesday, October 17, 2006

No Longer the Majority

Religious fundamentalists and other ultraconservatives oppose gay marriage and other sexual minority relationship types for a variety of reasons. One reason sometimes cited, along with many others is that the one man/one woman, legally married couple is the majority form of relationship in the US, and that the majority should rule. It's "traditional", ergo desirable, in their viewpoint.

But that is no longer true. The Census Bureau has recently announced that families organized around a monogamous, heterosexual, legally married couple is no longer the majority. Legally unmarried households of various types now constitute 50.2% (55.8 million HHs) of all family households, with the "traditional" married household now coming in with 49.8%(55.2 HHs). This is a fairly significant shift from six years ago, when households headed by "traditional" married couples were at 52 percent. All present indications are that this trend will continue.

The unmarried family HHs consisted of 14 million single mother HHs and 5 million single father HHs. 36.7% were considered "nonfamily"! households, which were mostly of legally unmarried gay and straight marriage-clone relationships.

There are also 30 million households of people of both sexes living alone, which are not counted as families.

These statistics indicate that conservatives attempting to impose a single tyoe of relationship form for all households is maladaptive and short sighted. It's also a wakeup call to legislators to rethink many of our country's laws, which assume families will be headed by legally married couples.

Presently, marriage brings with it a host of legal perks and benefits: tax breaks, sharing health insurance which gives lower rates to married people, next of kin status, inheritance rights, and so on.

Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the California-based group Unmarried America, which disseminates information on singles trends, agrees that society and government need to rethink the system in which legally married couples receive a larger share of benefits..

“It made sense to have employment benefits geared toward married couples with children when, in the 1950s, 75 percent of American households consisted of married couples with children at home,” Coleman said. Taxes, employment benefits and even working hours should be reconsidered now that 42 percent of the workforce is single.

“Marriage is a very highly personal matter,” he said. “The government needs to tread very lightly with how it uses marital status to reward or punish people, so to speak. People should be treated more as individuals."

I agree with Coleman, and think this is a further indication that marriage should be discontinued as a legal status and that households of all types should turn the the LLC model to negotiate the various legal perks that now come only with marriage on a case-by-case basis, picking such benefits as needed from a master legal menu. In this way, different kinds of relationships could tailor their benefits to their needs, instead of either being totally excluded or being obliged to enter into an ill-fitting "one size fits all" relationship.

Our government can respond by allowing law to evolve to recognize reality or it can doggedly cling to now increasingly maladaptive laws reflecting a reality that no longer exists, thus eventually imploding the entire system.
We can lament that "traditional" marriage is dying or we can celebrate diversity.


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