Mo Eyanet 

The exasperated pursuit for marriage has overshadowed the cruel aftermath of the dissolution of marriage. Institutional reform is imminent and may call for new models of domestic architecture that might future-proof domesticity and accommodate reservations for possible eventualities, while respecting all parties involved without any favouritism.  

There is inadequate and sparse documentation on the origins of marriage since it has evolved through different places in time cross-culturally, having different definitions along the away. But to understand the origins of marriage, one has to recognise that as an institution, marriage is not as old as families but that is where its foundation lies. Marriage is, according to Edward Westermarck1, “[...] more or less durable connection between male and female, lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring. It is found among many of the lower animals, it occurs as a rule among the anthropomorphous apes. It is closely connected with parental duties: the immediate care of the children belongs chiefly to the mother, whilst the father is the protector and guardian of the family.” While Westermarck’s attempt at defining the origins of marriage is mainly based on a basic primal social construct of parenthood, the ever-changing values of marriage have become far more complex since. 

In the Time article Who Needs Marriage? 2, 21st century marriage is summed up to be an institution for the elite. Marriages today are found on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum. While couples on the lower end of the spectrum tend to hold off getting married due to financial constraints, evidences also show that during the recession, there has been a decrease in the number of divorces amidst people who are less well off because of the cost of getting a divorce and everything that comes afterwards. Therefore, what we see now is a system dictated by this socioeconomic pattern rather than our willingness to get married or divorced. And so, is this a valid notion of marriage? Or is it simply that as a population we have been cornered to abide by the rules and regulation of economics? This is of course not the only contributing factor for marrying or not marrying. Marriage brings forth its heavy historical presence and has defaulted itself as being the norm. It has found acceptance and recognition from other institutions of governance, power and religion and has since been seen as a highly respected institution with access to benefits and legal rights to own, divide, decide and inherit - most of which are not readily available for citizens who cohabit (Common Law Marriage).

Aside from religious dogma, marriage is mainly respected because it is a legal recognition of commitment between two parties and it reaffirms the seriousness of their affection for one another. So when a cohabitating couple is unable to gain access to this institution for whatever reasons, it may be unfair to disassociate them from such feelings of commitment. Cohabitation and alternative family arrangements are not given the same respect as the institution of marriage and Stephane Coontz 3, author of Marriage, a History, proposes the idea of changing these assumptions and thus allowing the law to recognise the validity of alternative companionship.

“It should not be that within marriage you owe everything and without marriage you don’t owe anything. When we expect responsible behaviour outside as well as inside marriage, we actually reduce the temptation to evade or escape marriage.”

One size fits all marriage 

Apart from the traditional marriage vs cohabitation argument, many critics of marriage have suggested that there is a major shift in the definition of marriage. This shift can be compared to the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s in the same way as boundaries, traditional values were challenged.

The traditional definition of marriage has so far been defined by the following things: married to one person; marriage is between a man and a woman; marriage meant that you were partners for a lifetime; marriage was a promise based on integrity as well as a legal contract; marriage meant sexual fidelity to one person forever. These rules however are no longer constricted to the emerging definitions of marriage and companionship 2. Marriage is no longer defined by gender or that it guarantees a lifetime partnership or sexual fidelity and there is also an increase in cases of open marriages and polyamorous relationships.

There has been a greater media coverage of the importance in the pursuit of marriage equality from the LGBT community 5. Although we are witnessing a greater approval for the LGBT community to get married, with the legalisation of gay marriages in both the UK and US, this image of equality may be flawed. This may not be a quest for equality at all, but instead an attempt to gain membership to the traditional ideals of marriage and thus being accepted as being part of the norm. To fully allow equality to flourish in an egalitarian society, governments and organisations have to address that there is a greater need for the acknowledgement of a much more diverse set of kinship. Because it may very well be that marriage is an institution that is ill suited for many other groups.For example, polyamorous relationships may demand the same benefits and legal rights as of a married couple, to be divided amongst the partners without ever having to enter the formal arrangement of marriage. Or is it that to be truely equal, might the abolition of marriage be the best solution? And therefore, should there be a newly reformed set of relationship regulators that address its diverse citizens?

Ownership, Domesticity and Divorce 

The sentiment behind the inclusion of new sexual citizens into the institution of marriage is surely both positive, progressive and inevitable. Consequently, any such reform to the institution of marriage will also have to accommodate new scenarios of divorce. Ownership today, comes in the form of material goods and objects. Although we do not own our partners in the direct sense, but upon the dissolution of marriage the currency of this institution is valued by our belongings. Most often a divorcing couple will contest over most of their shared possessions over a long period of time, usually long after their divorce law decree nisi 7 has been granted. Here begins the negotiation of domesticity and gender roles.

Traditional gendered roles, as prescribed by 19th Century domesticity of husband and wife remains active within marriage today, particularly the divide between the breadwinner and the caretaker. Whilst it is no longer the case that it is only the man who is identified as the breadwinner, it is still common for women to assume a greater role as caretakers of their home and offspring. As a consequence, the trend remains for the courts to decide in favour of the caretaker, regardless of the reason behind the end of the marriage and eventually the house belongs to them. It is because of this that some critics have claimed that the institution of marriage belongs to women. But, as a result of newly reformed ideas of marriage, the outcome of such legal battles may be vastly different and amicable. It may be that the power of architecture responds to every eventuality in the case that a marriage ends.


1.    Polysingleish, Mel Mariposa, 2015.
2.    Chana Taub, Key Magazine, The New York Times, 2008
3.     The History of Human Marriage, Edward Westermarck,1891.
4.    Time Magazine , Who needs Marriage?, 2010 cover.
5.    The Phnom Penh Post, 2008
6.    Der Juli, ebay, 2015


1.    Edward Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage (London: Forgotten Books,2013)
2.    Belinda Luscombe, Time Magazine,
article/0,9171,2032116,00.html (2010), Accessed Nov 2015
3.    Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered
4.    Tammy Nelson, Future of Marriage, http://www.huffingtonpost. com/tammy-nelson-phd/the-future-of-marriage_b_6265428. html, Accessed Nov 2015
5.    Lisa Duggan, Beyond Marriage: Democracy, Equality, and Kinship for a New Century (S & F Online, 2012)
6.    First stage of divorce when the divorce petition is accepted.