What discrimination are we fighting?

It is fairly easy to claim that we’re fighting singlism and matrimania. Yet, what does that exactly mean? And what would a world without it look like? These questions come up when we start digging into this a bit deeper. Would we really want a society where no relationship has any protection unless the parties involved got a legal contract? I’d like to start a conversation about what we’d like society to look like. Let’s start with some definitions. (There are some good documents that do this from a legal perspective: Nancy Polikoff’s book and the Canadian Law Commission’s work “Beyond Conjugality”).

The very first definition we need is for relationship – a word that has undergone a dramatic meaning change: From describing people who relate to each other to The Couple. One of the definitions presented by a dictionary at Princeton defines relationship as:

A relation between people; a state of connectedness between people (especially an emotional connection)

Let’s keep this definition in mind as we dig deeper into the discrimination faced by singles and other unmarried folks.

Types of Discrimination

Here are types of discrimination adults can face depending on the type of relationship they are involved.
Marital Status Discrimination (MSD): Treating married people differently than people who are not currently married.

Conjugal Status Discrimination (CSD): Treating people who are in a conjugal relationship differently than people who are not in conjugal relationships.

Relationship Status Discrimination (RSD): Treating people in any kind of relationship differently than people who are not in a relationship.

These status discrimination are strongly interrelated: MSD is a subset of CSD is a subset of RSD. Single people might face RSD if they have no relationship ties with other people; they definitely face CSD even if they are in relation with their siblings (for example); all unmarried couples do not face RSD nor CSD but they do face MSD; married couples don’t face any of these discrimination.

I suggest that

  • We fight Relationship Status Discrimination by preventing that any relationships carry special benefits.
  • We support offering automatic legal protection to relationships when they dissolve whether through break-up or death.

I think this is a middle ground between fighting CSD and RSD by recognizing that relationships meet special needs and deserve protection by society. But these relationships are not limited to conjugal relationships nor are they limited to two people, really. I also think that there are hardly any people who are not in any kind of relationship, so RSD likely does not effect many people, as long as we stick to the broad definition of relationship!

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What discrimination are we fighting? — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Rachel’s Musings » Envisioning a different world

  2. Thanks, Christina! The second bullet covers some of the idea you suggest but I am struggling with that. I have trouble with allowing people to just roll over the social security benefits to someone (including a widow, of course!). I think these benefits should go to the person who paid in and when they die, the left over money goes back into the pot to pay for cost-overruns. But what about the woman who never worked and took care of her husband? That’s when I get stuck and realize that some sort of benefit is needed. Maybe stepping back some, the real need here is a minimum income that everybody is guarantee, maybe over a certain age or something like that. And then I realize that this requires a whole different way of thinking about these things…

    I think there is some middle ground between CSD and RSD that is fair to all.

  3. Well done, Rachel–I agree that it would be a good idea to have some specific examples to fall back on when we advocate removing the privileges from marriage. It’s easy to see that matrimania is stupid, but hard to imagine life without it!

    I do want to talk about “We fight Relationship Status Discrimination by preventing that any relationships carry special benefits.” What about allowing anyone to choose another person who can receive their social security or make medical decisions for them (as Colorado recently decreed)? That would be a special benefit relationships carry. The difference would be that the individual can *choose* which of their relationships carries those special benefits. I think this might be a better solution than denying all relationships any benefits.

    I like your CSD, MSD, RSD terms.

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