Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

SCOTUS Unwittingly Makes the Case for Singles’ Rights

Why do we have to be any kind of couple to qualify?

At the Supreme Court, attorneys are hard at work arguing over same-sex marriage. Yesterday (March 26, 2013) the topic was California’s Prop 8, which proclaimed that marriage was for heterosexual couples. The proposition was struck down in California, and now the Supremes get to weigh in. Today, the Big Nine take on DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. In states where same-sex marriage is legal, the gay and lesbian couples believe they are entitled to the same federal benefits that heterosexual married people get. Will the Supreme Court agree?

Ted Olson, in making the case yesterday against Prop 8 and for same-sex marriage, said that in banning gays and lesbians from marriage, the Court was:

“stigmatizing a class of Californians based on their status and labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal, and not okay.”

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Single people – regardless of sexual orientation – have cherished relationships, too. They may be with friends, family, and others. None of those relationships get to qualify for the 1,000+ federal benefits and protections that are the privilege solely of those who are officially, legally married.

By telling single people that they don’t qualify, the Court is “labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal, and not okay.” And that, in my opinion, is not okay at all.

Listen closely to the arguments to be made later today (March 27, 2013) and I bet you will hear even more instances of attorneys unwitting making the case for singles’ rights.

In 2010, I read carefully the ruling that overturned Prop 8 in California, and wrote, “Does the Prop 8 Ruling Make the Case for Ending Marital Privilege?” The specific points I made were:

  1. The Ruling Extends Marital Privilege to Same-Sex Couples, But It Allows Discrimination Against Single People to Continue
  2. The Ruling Condemns Legislation Based on Stereotypes and Private Moral Views, But Perpetuates Stereotypes and Private Moral Views in which Married People are Regarded as Superior to Single People
  3. Really? Science Shows that Married People Are Healthier and Happier, and their Kids Are Better Off? There's Truthiness in those Claims

I bet we will hear many of the same points now, in 2013. In all of the many opinion pieces that will be written, though, it is unlikely that this more fundamental reading of the arguments – that they are making the case for singles’ rights – will be recognized.

It is not that my position is unique. Back in 2010, when Prop 8 was getting so much attention, Rachel Buddeberg and I collected excerpts from a variety of people who questioned whether official marriage should be the basis on which fundamental benefits and protections are accorded. You can peruse what we found in “Should marriage be a ticket to privilege? Several dozen skeptics weigh in.” There are lots of voices challenging the role of marriage as the entrée to what I consider full citizenship – they just aren’t being heard.

I wrote more about what it might mean for all of our relationships to abolish marriage as the basis for privilege in “Same-sex couples? Why should you have to be any kind of couple to qualify for benefits and protections?” Also relevant is “Marriage wars: The real fight is over moral superiority.”

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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