Unjust Marriages

In most societies, marriage is regarded as a sacred institution because it is here that the family, the most basic unit of society, is created.  Ideally, marriage is about husband and wife, working together as partners in raising a family besides loving one another.  The question now is Could the institution of marriage be considered unjust  There are times when marriages can be unjust, e.g., when there appears to be inequality in the relationship between spouses where one of the spouses would be put in a vulnerable position.  In this particular case, it would be the woman in her role as wife and mother.   In answering the question on what social structures makes marriages unjust,  Susan Okin (2007), in her article,  Vulnerability by Marriage,   points out that the womans vulnerability is attributed to the patriarchal social structure which is predominant in (modern) societies where roles are defined by gender.  Despite the emergence of liberal ideas in the 17th and 18th centuries that helped create modern society, one must take into account that these ideas were formed by men and since women were not involved, or their involvement was not taken into account, it was men who defined society and the roles of people by gender.  This in turn is greatly manifested in the family system of society with regard to the hierarchy and role of its members which also according to gender (pp.600-601).

In the  traditional  family, the husband is often the one who works in order to provide for the household while the wife stays at home to manage the household which includes caring for the children.  In a study made by Blumstein and Schwartz, majority of heterosexual couples still favor the  traditional  roles of husband and wife (cited in Okin, 2007).  However, as feminists  point out, this arrangement puts women in a vulnerable position despite the apparent stability and efficiency it seems to offer because of the defined roles.  When a woman leaves her work to be a housewife, she becomes financially dependent on her husband since she no longer has the luxury of earning income.  This puts her in a much greater risk if she is not in good terms with her husband. Because of the multitude of tasks she performs at home, the wife no longer has the luxury to support the family or have time for herself, and worst of all, she is not paid for it.  This is what makes marriages unjust because of the inequality of the roles of marriage partners where it is the woman who is marginalized and is often the source of conflict leading to eventual separation which makes it doubly harder for a woman to get by especially if the children are left in her care (Okin, 2007, p.608).

With regards to unjust marriages among same-sex couples, using the same study of Blumstein and Schwartz, respondents also included same-sex couples.  Based on these findings, same-sex couples appear to refuse assigning either partner the role of homemaker (cited in Okin, 2007).  Housework is the least desirable of all jobs for both male and female because it is boring and unpleasant most of the time. It can be inferred here that they see each other as equals and because of this, either partner in a same-sex marriage does not want to make each other inferior or vulnerable to the other for this could upset the relationship.  While it does recognize equality of partners, thereby ensuring a just marriage, the disadvantage here is the lack of definition of roles which could be in a way make this type of marriage unjust because of the reluctance to assume the responsibility in the household.  Furthermore, it would be unjust since it would adversely affect any children in their care because of the unwillingness to assume those responsibilities unless the couple arrive at some mutual agreement that would be beneficial for them without the need of adhering to  traditional gender-based roles to ensure a just marriage.

In searching for the ideal social structure that would promote just marriage, most social theories define a just structure as anything that promotes equality and where one would not violate or abuse the rights of another and is consistent to higher morals (religion).  These theories suggest that the ideal social structure is an egalitarian society where individuals regard each other as equals yet interdependent upon each other and where roles in society and family are not determined by gender but rather by arriving at a mutual agreement especially in marriage where husband and wife truly regard each other as partners and would not be bound by  tradition  thereby promoting stability and efficiency.  All in all, this social structure promises a just marriage if couples adhere to this arrangement.


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