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Recently I was chatting with a friend and the conversation turned to her boyfriend and their relationship.
“We’ve been together for a while, but I don’t know if we’ll ever get married,” she said. “But that’s fine with me. Marriage is just a piece of paper, right?”
I was kind of taken aback, because as a Catholic, I believe that marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. A sacramental wedding comes with real graces that affect and strengthen your marriage for the long haul.
Now, I understand that people who aren’t Catholic and don’t have a church wedding would feel differently. But even from a totally secular perspective, with zero religion involved at all, marriage is so much more important than just “a piece of paper.”
We had some time on our hands, so we launched into a discussion about what marriage actually means. She was surprised to hear some of the things I pointed out, so I thought I would share them with you too.
Marriage has important legal benefits
“Marriage makes you a family in the eyes of the law,” I explained to her. One of the first things I pointed out is how important marriage becomes in a medical emergency.
“What would you do if your boyfriend is sick or injured and in the hospital?” I asked. Without marriage, you don’t have the legal right to stay with your spouse in the hospital, to make medical decisions if they are incapacitated, or to participate in burial and funeral arrangements.
From a legal perspective, without marriage, you’re no different than any other person who walks in off the street. While there is such a thing as a common law marriage, only seven states recognize these, and their legal status is often unclear.
There are many, many other legal benefits to marriage: There are employment benefits such as family leave and health insurance, government benefits, and tax and estate planning benefits such as the marital tax deduction and the option to file joint tax returns.
But the scenario of your spouse being incapacitated in the hospital and you having no legal recourse to make decisions or even be there with them is the situation that my friend found the most compelling.
Marriage has important social and emotional benefits
Many more knowledgeable authors have written reams on the social and other benefits of marriage, and I strongly recommend The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision for an inspiring perspective on why the family’s vital work should be at the very center of personal and political self-government.
I recently had the chance to speak with its author, Erika Bachiochi, about her research. She shared the fascinating statistic that college-educated women are more likely to marry than those who don’t have bachelor’s degrees. In fact, college-educated women are as likely to be married today as they were in the 1950s, even as overall marriage rates have dived downward.
What do these college-educated women know that others don’t? Well, where do I even start? The benefits of marriage could (and do) fill books. One that Bachiochi highlighted is that marriage positively affects children, in part thanks to what she calls “paternal parental benefits.”
Children raised by married parents do better at school, develop stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills, are more likely to go to college, earn more, and are more likely to go on to form stable marriages themselves.
Rather than go on endlessly about how great marriage is, I want to point you to Fairer Disputations, a new project from Bachiochi and a formidable team of talented women. They aggregate and publish articles dedicated to defending a vision of female and male as embodied expressions of human personhood, and many of their articles explain and defend the goods of marriage.
If you’ve been wondering if marriage is worth it, maybe this is the little nudge you’re looking for. Marriage is so much more than “just a piece of paper,” and it’s honestly pretty amazing when you stop to consider all the benefits it brings.