Marriage equality? All you get is a bit of cake and a hole in your wallet
Published 03/04/2015 | 02:30
It is heartening to see the waves of support for gay marriage. It shows an Irish society that is growing up. It seems obviously fair and right that if straight people can get married, why not gay people? But nobody cool seems to be getting married anymore. We're copping on to the fact that marriage is a rip-off. The number of nuptials is sliding and now marriage seems to be only for the desperate, religious or sad.
The notion that unmarried women are obsessed hellhags who'd boil countless bunnies in pursuit of the diamond is dead. Latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show 19,855 marriages were registered in 2011 - its lowest level for 13 years. In fact, the marriage rate has plummeted by more than 40pc since 1973 and is now well below the EU average. If divorce rates have fallen slightly, it is largely because there are fewer marriages to untangle.
Because of social change and transformed values, wedlock has become irrelevant. It's too old-fashioned an institution, a meaningless piece of paper, or as Oscar Wilde said, the triumph of "imagination over intelligence". Ours is a Tinder society, of quick-fix sex and impermanent relationships. We can live together, or hook up, or be friends with benefits, or simply boyfriend and girlfriend, and nobody minds.
Marriage is more like a form of temporary concubinage, lightly entered into, easily ended and so it's conspicuously unnecessary.
There are couples who start off married but split; people who marry later on. There are cohabiting couples who decide to share the same surname. And all of which seems to have happened in a strangely seamless, unofficial way, without anybody really thinking about it.
We need a fresh way of looking at marriage if it is to survive at all. It needs to be privatised (like a lot of things), taken out of the sullying hands of the State and given back to the people. Grown-up individuals can be trusted to make with their partners the bargains which suit them. They can record them privately in secular contracts, or solemnise or sacralise them, if they want, according to the rites of whatever religions they believe in.
Ever since I got engaged, the "when are you getting married?" question peppers every conversation. Despite the fact that they know the answer will be, at best, a suitably summery date, at worst a lengthy debate through concerns about cash, cutlery, feminist politics and disturbing the flow of a happy relationship. I live with Tim and we have bought lots of things to cement our domestic togetherness: a dryer, fancy ice-cream bowls and an axe. We don't need a marriage licence to give our co-dependency any further credibility.
What, after all, does marriage ever add to a relationship? Does it add honesty? Does it add stability? No and no. And we've mostly all moved on from sugary pretences at morality. Why do we think that more weddings will help anything - whether that's the pursuit of individual happiness or the pursuit of stable families?
Although married relationships overall tend to last longer than unmarried ones, that does not mean all unmarried relationships are inferior, but only that statistics are necessarily too blunt to distinguish between the casual and the committed unmarried couple.
Unmarried couples who really believe in their partnership surely have no greater break-up rates than married ones.
According to recent studies, more than a third of children are now being born to co-habiting parents. Some 34pc of births in 2011 were to parents who were not married to each other. These are the people trying to forge new ways of living with each other and with their children, of bringing men more firmly into home life and protecting children from the effects of family break-ups.
I don't dread commitment. But I don't want the months of manic preparation, as if the wedding itself was were basically an exam on dress sense, flower arranging and throwing a very expensive dinner party for aunts you haven't seen in more than a decade.
Then there's the small but little known fact that unmarried women outlive married ones by a bit of a margin but married men live far longer than unmarried lads.
You see, the woman gets what she wanted the day she whisks her groom up the aisle and the happy-ever-after is just hell and Ikea.
And all you're really left with is a hunk of wedding cake and a great big hole in your house deposit.