What is the Purpose of Marriage?

by Niema Jordan

The day President Obama announced his belief in same-sex marriage, I participated in a Twitter chat called #WhyGetMarried. The discussion was hosted by Chris ‘Kazi’ Rolle and featured relationship editor and family life coach, Charreah Jackson and was a jumping off point for their upcoming panel Why Get Married: The Challenges, The Benefits & Happily Ever After. The week before, I joined a discussion hosted by relationship editor and marriage blogger, Charli Penn. Whether marriage was a necessity or an option came up. While some folks were fighting for the right to be married, others were trying to convince people it was an institution they should believe in.

Then there was the email from the Obama administration that included the following statement:

I’ve always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. I was reluctant to use the term marriage because of the very powerful traditions it evokes. And I thought civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution.

The language struck me. Is marriage about the “powerful traditions,” or is it about “legal rights?”  Where does love fit in? We all know that marriage rates are on the decline in the U.S. The rates have been on the decline in other Western countries for years, in some ways you can say that the states are just catching up to the trend. We know that divorce rates are high.

So, what is the purpose of marriage?

  • apple

    to present a false sense of security that will make the other person less likely to break it off, because of the b.s it would come along with a divorce? or security incase one dies you can inherit your part of the will without some sort of tax? or to protect the kid if you die or you divorce? or to protect yourself in case it ends in alimony or prenup winnings? or religious reason, so you can have sex without feeling like a sinner?most are reasons other then actual love.

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    If by the age 26 you haven’t figured out the benefits of marriage something is WRONG with you. You’re either living out of your parents basement with no major responsibilities or you’ve knocked yourself out the dating pool by procreating/carrying too much baggage for any sensible marriage minded person to take you seriously–but you try to save face by asking dumbarse questions like, “What is the big deal about marriage?” These folks are not to be confused with the few people in this world who truly do NOT want to get married.

    It hit me at 26 that I needed to STRONGLY consider getting married. Two things happened: I moved into my first place WITHOUT any roommates. All the bills were in my name and I alone were responsible for them. Next, I got sick and ended up in the hospital. My parents, lived 130 miles away. I started thinking, unless my parents made the trip to the hospital, I could die on the table and no one would know it. Who would be there to make the decision to keep me alive? Who would inherit any assets I had at that point in time? All kinds of questions were going through my head.

    Marriage is a wealth building institution that offers SECURITY. You cannot get this security from co-habitating. I believe gays and lesbians understand this better than most straight people who simply take their right to marry for granted.

  • Sue

    The word “marriage” does hold a lot of tradition, in the old days it meant a man and a woman from different families were coming together to start a new family. Usually the union would be marked by some kind of agreement between the families involved. It was more about ensuring wealth and security especially for women. Wealthy men could afford to have multiple wives. I think the issue of romantic love was emphasised as it today.
    The whole idea of monogamy came about as a result of christianity. Polygamy is not allowed in the U.S. for example but it’s still practised in other parts of the world. The idea that the government needs to sanction the union is because of property rights, taxes etc.This is especially important because in some societies widows can be disinherited by inlaws and in polygamous families, who gets to decide who decides who get what?

    In my view Pres. Obama was alluding to the fact that proponents of gay marriage were partly facing opposition because they were challenging long held social conventions.That’s why some people will support a civil union but would not agree to call the union between a same-sex couple marriage.

  • Sue

    Meant to say, that romantic love was not as emphasised as it is today.

  • caramelgirl

    Before getting married, I did some research on the history of marriage, it’s traditions throughout the world and how it was done in the bible. What I found uncovered in most of my research that in past times love was never a factor in marriage, in fact marriage was just often used as a way to gain wealth or a sense of financial security, join powerful families together and to produce children. Love was never mentioned in the bible as important in the rituals and traditions of marriage and a few stories included men having more than one wife or one wife and another woman on the side, like how Abraham had sarah and the other woman too (forgot her name). And it was rare to find cases in which a woman initiated the courtship and then marriage.

    Personally, I believe that the purpose of marriage is to make a public, official and definite commitment to another person whom you love. Children does not have to be apart of the equation but I think that healthy marriages are the best foundations for children to grow into. I think that the reason why there’s a rise in divorce is that many people are failing to believe in maintaining fulfilling long term committed relationships.

  • rosey

    Marriage seems like an unspoken social obligation. Its what “normal” people do.

  • B

    Well, I 100% agree with everything apple wrote.

    As someone who has studied family law, believe me I know that marriage ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are benefits, of course, but there are LOADS of negatives. In the end, I say that if you have children or intend to have children with a person, then marry that person. Otherwise, do a cost-benefit analysis and think long and hard about the consequences. Also, I think anyone who doesn’t draft and discuss a prenup (i.e. a premarital agreement), even if neither person ends up signing it, is a complete fool in this day and age. I don’t care if all you own is a car and $2,000 in a checking account. I’m just saying. A couple that drafts a prenup and discusses it, whether or not they never sign it, demonstrates that they are not short-sighted, that they are thinking about the future and all possible contingencies to their marriage. Yes, it sounds more like a contract than a marriage. But, believe me, from a legal standpoint you’d be unwise, very unwise to not view marriage as a legal contract – that’s how folks get royally SCREWED.

  • angela

    i have been in a relationship for almost 10 years and we have been fine with not being married. we have lived together for 2 years and have talked about marriage a few times. It never seemed like a big deal to us until we where doing our taxes this past year (lol) I know right! we talked about how much ez’er it would be if we where married and how we could both have health insurance, vision, and dental :) “benefits”for being married. since we had already be together so long and our ” Parents” ( who are both divorced!!!!!) wanted us to be married, so we can have grandkids for them, we decided one day we would do it, we set a date and told them. as the days come closer it doesn’t seem like a big deal to us but its a VERY big deal to everyone around us. everyone says you get married for LOVE and to be with that person for life, that is some what true but i also think you do it for the SECURITY of knowing you will be taken care of and have the BENEFITS that come along with it.

  • Keep it Real

    Blacks need to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. lol There are some societal traditions and demands that our ancestors knew and had a better understanding of than we currently do. First of all, marriage has existed BEFORE recorded history. This is a fact. What do you all think white people came along and then blacks started getting married? It might not have been a Christian or Muslim marriage but they were differently getting married before these two current dominate religions were introduced. Secondly, everything is not about you or individuals. Yes, marriage enabled the clear transfer of wealth and rights to the wife and legitimate kids but the facts are historically many, almost all, didn’t have wealth. Marriage was and is needed to ensure a productive society. IMO our ancestors understood without marriage a society can become patristic. It’s as simple as that.

    Yes, the divorce rate is high but what is the black baby mamma separation rate from her baby daddy? It’s got to be over 90%. Marriage is a necessity to ensure fathers will at least attempt to live with, provide for and raise his kids. Unfortunately, many black women think that once the child is born the father will automatically love and want to be a part of the child life. IMO our ancestors knew that this is not the case. We now know, after 4 generations, that this is not the truth nor case. The truth is that if the man loves and makes a commitment to the woman he will love to make a commitment to the child. If he does not love the woman, there’s a 50/50 chance that he will not love that child. This is why so many kids have fathers who are not involved in his kids life. He does not love them. We’re then left with those kids running wild terrorizing the community and having more kids repeat the same dysfunction. Without men in the home you’re left with dysfunctional homes, schools and communities and ultimately an unproductive dysfunctional nation. As I said earlier, blacks are trying to reinvent the wheel and accomplish something that has never been done in the history of civilization. Have a productive community with 72% illegitimacy and no men in the home. History tells us IT CANNOT BE DONE.

  • Buttons

    All I can say is that the devil is a liar and a mighty deceiver. The fact that we are having a discussion about marriage, its purpose, and what it represents, in relation to homosexuality, is testament to this fact. This great deception has led people to question their very own natural intelligence. I am not confused about the purpose of marriage in the least. Family is the rock of any society and the union between a man and a woman is the very essence of family and it’s existence. Every living being came into existence from the sperm of a man and through the womb of a woman. How in the world do you begin to question that union.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    To have lots and lots and lots of sex!!!

  • Insight

    I agree 100% with your comment.

  • Keep it Real

    ……. our ancestors understood without marriage a society can become PARASITIC.

  • grateful



  • grateful

    i remember at my last job i used to work with one chick who didn’t believe in marriage and made the mistake of shacking up with some dude who never divorced his wife. they started a business together and were able to make a really good life for themselves before he died. and wouldn’t you know it the bitter wife came for the house she (my coworker) had been living in and everything in it. and the judge awarded her (the wife) all of it! even after showing that the girlfriend had worked for everyhting with dude it all went to the wife because they were still married…the girlfriend didn’t know he was still married.

    so be careful of these liars out here…

  • grateful

    i have to agree big time with this!

  • Pat

    Marriage is a business. Love joins two individuals, but its a business deal between the two to secure what they have invested in their relationship. See the above comment for an example :-D.

  • Pat

    The above comment made by grateful.

  • Pat

    Sad. Have she tried to appeal the judges decision?

  • luckygirl

    A similar thing happened to someone I knew. Except the girlfriend knew that her boyfriend never divorced. She also believed marriage was just a ”paper that didnt mean anything.” Well, she moved into the boyfriend’s house and 25 years later he died and his wife took the house. Mind you, the girlfriend’s work, seat, and tears went into paying mortgages, maintaining the house.

  • http://www.bougiestateofmind.com BourgieGeek

    There are ways to address the issues you pointed out, without getting married. They’re called living wills, last will and testaments, ICE tags in the cellphone, and living within one’s means.

    Could a person have “more” if there were two incomes? Sure. But, they’re also having to deal with double the moods, baggage, personality changes/issues, etc. For some people, it’s just not worth it. I’m one of those people. I prefer to have my freedom, my space, and my peace of mind.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/clnmike Tonton Michel

    Sweetie you no longer to get married to do that, the proof is in the OOW rug rats running around, lol. I will say this after reading these ideas why you get married I am not surprised that men treat marriage like the plague.

  • Emme


    I couldn’t agree with you more. However, I would add my own answer to the question at hand… People define the purpose of marriage for themselves. I wouldn’t dare define it for someone else. My marriage is somewhat of a team building effort. My husband is a witness to my life and the most ardent supporter of my life’s milestones. And vice versa. Thats what we signed up for. We are both products of two great, lasting marriages. For us, well… We wanted to keep the party going!

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami


    WWWWWWWassssssssssssssssssuppppppppppppp girlfriend. Nice to see you hear, after 10 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ Tonton,

    Me too I’m avoiding it like the plague that beset the children of Israel. You and me are right <<<>>>>>, lool

    Wsup Tonton!!!!

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)


    And more power to you.

    I personally would rather have the love and support of an individual…not a document.

    I’m getting hitched in September and I think it’s one of the best decisions I ever made for myself.

  • sunganani

    You are on point….I also think a lot of straight people take the right to get married for granted.

  • Alexandra

    Hey B. Welcome back :-) I agree with your comment. Notice how hardly anyone mentioned Love? It has always been about money.

  • B

    @African Mami: Thanks, girl! Law school is rough – it usurps all of a person’s time. But I couldn’t resist commenting on this article. @Alexandra: Love. Yeah, while I would hope there’s some love in any marriage, I’m more of a fan of viewing it as a legal contract. I see other people are as well, although some people are less willing to admit it so bluntly. :)

  • http://www.bougiestateofmind.com BourgieGeek

    @Toppin – I never suggested or inferred that a document could replace the love and support of an individual, so I don’t know where you got that from. You gave some reasons for getting married – none of which mentioned the “love and support of an individual” by the way – and I simply gave some alternatives. Nothing more and nothing less. Congrats on your upcoming nuptials.

  • Lattelicious

    I agree with you Toppin 100%!!!!!! Who in their right mind cannot understand the importance of marriage??? Wealth-building is a big plus of marriage. Together two people can build more of a secure and financially stable life than just one person. Two people together as a married couple can do far more and leave more to their children when they expire (die). That alone is a good reason to get married, which is why marriage came about in the first place. In the beginning, it was not abut romantic love, but a way for a man to make sure that his daughter would be taken care of once she left his house.

  • Anon

    I can’t believe you literally asked grown women what is the purpose of marriage.

    Walk through the ‘hood and you’ll see what society is like without it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/naturalisme natural.is.me

    I agree with BourgieGeek. There are ways to get around what Toppin originally posted without getting married. Getting married solves those issues but as BG pointed out there are other options too.

  • quez

    As a married man, i agree with both of you. Marriage is full of rude awakenings, where your fears of being “alone” can surface while BEING married and you will see that simply being married “didn’t fix” that fear. YOU NEED BOTH (spoken like a true man, right, we need it all) A man loves to protect, provide and be a sense of security, BUT we still want a woman who can hold her own. A woman should do both, expect her man to be there for her, but also create wills and ICE (In Case of Emergency) #’s in her phone. Its a tough balance and that balancing act or lack there of is marriage.
    A man doesn’t want to be seen as a paycheck, blankcheck, in case of emergency spider killer, ect. We men have feelings, baggage, fears and dreams too and if women don’t understand, marriage is full of rude awakenings.

    I can speak personally about mine, my fears and feelings were about having childeren until i finished college. My wife wants a gang of kids because she feels motherhood is where “she shines.” We still have disagreements about having more children because of dreams deferred. Sometimes marriage can feel like it isn’t worth it because not only are you fighting for yourself, you have to fight someone, who should “help” you… I feel like marriage will be like voting, we fought for it, people lost lives over the right to vote, Now we have to remind people to vote because its worth it. Convinced to get married, yet?…

  • TheTuth

    I really have no idea why any man would want to get married. I just can’t see any benefits in it for men. Especially getting married to women nowadays.

    Women want to get married mainly to improve their financial/social status. Look at all the reasons women gave to get married in this thread. They were all about financial security. You hardly hear women say they want to get married because they want to be a good mate to their husband. The husband is just a vehicle to increase her wealth.

  • http://www.bougiestateofmind.com BourgieGeek

    Actually, I can’t see why a WOMAN would want to get married. Women always get the short end of the stick in marriage. Study after study has backed up what many women have seen for themselves – that marriage is good for men, but not so good for women. Women do much more of the work in a marriage than men, and most still have to work a 9-5 on top of everything else.

    The expectations are unrealistic and many women are simply choosing not to marry, or making sure the men they marry have the financial means to hire help. Too many men (I didn’t say “all”) expect women, especially black women, to be “Superwoman” and we try hard to please. That’s why many married black women are some of the sickest people, with all kinds of life-threatening, stress-induced ailments. The “Superwoman Syndrome” of trying to be all things to everybody, and putting ourselves and our well-being last is literally killing us. Many women – and I think the number is growing – are choosing to opt-out and stay single. They feel it’s just not worth it.

  • R

    I agree….That is why Black women need to abandon the Black community and give themselves and their future children different options and a new way of seeing and relating to the world. I dont think they can do this fully with black men(even if black men were willing, many are not). They really have nothing to lose and much to gain.

  • http://www.trainingdoulas.com Rachel

    I think cultural now, people are deciding to define the purpose of marriage to be showing commitment to someone you love and to get the benefits that come from that union. I honestly don’t think I would’ve gotten married for those reasons because like many people have said, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I happen to see marriage as more of a societal structure for taking care of and raising a family. It makes more sense that way. People married in ancient times to provide a structure that would ensure a stable structure for children to be raised in. It provided an obligation and attachment to the familial unit. Is this necessary today…I think that’s what is being debated when we talk about gay marriages. What we are discussing is not necessarily whether we think being gay is right or wrong, but whether the traditional family structure is really the best unit to base a society. I don’t know if we are going to know that answer until after we see what happens as more and more gay people get married and continue to change the societal definition and structure of marriage.

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