(Photo Credit: In the Driver's Seat with Ozzie)

August 8, 2013

The Newest in Marriage Degeneration: Wedleases

Washington Post readers got quite an opinion in Sunday’s editorial section. Estate lawyer Paul Rampell recommended the creation of “wedleases.” He argues that, these days, marriages are perceived resemble lifetime estates—they are expected to last until death or else through a messy divorce. As an economical sort of chap, Rampell suggests, “Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes.”

Political theorists may see this as classical liberalism in full bloom: human relations have been reduced to the contractual. Nothing binds that is not consented to. For concerned social thinkers, wedleases would spell certain doom for the family in the political sphere, starting with the institution of marriage. This suggestion soars to the same radical levels as redefining marriage to allow for LGBT couples or polygamy.

Of course, for Rampell and his ilk idolize usefulness. “[W]hy doesn’t society make the legal structure of marriage more congruent to our behavior?” he wonders. While some would quibble about the didactic nature of jurisprudence, it would be better to focus on what the attorney hopes to avoid.

“People, circumstances and all sorts of other things change. The compatibility of any two people over decades may decline with these changes to the point of extinction,” Rampell concludes, “But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.” First of all, these statements show the rampant harm of American divorce culture. More importantly, they express a tremendous selfishness which shrinks from virtue. A “bad” relationship and “messy” divorce point to the great fear that spurs the wedlease idea. Marriage carries inconvenience and dissatisfaction. People get hurt, make mistakes, and inflict harm. The modern West has stripped away safeguards against the all-consuming self. Easy divorce, lax cultural expectations, and enshrined fulfillment pave the way for social disassociation. It is easier to run from discomfort than to endure it.

Contemporary man has developed a craven fear of pain and suffering, and thus of love.

For to love this side of heaven means sacrifice, self-giving, discipline, and a host of other uncomfortable ideals. When humans love each other in wedlock, they open themselves up—in body (especially in sex) and soul—to another in trust. To enter holy matrimony requires loyalty, perseverance, and fidelity. As one writer put it, “Loving another person is a high risk, high reward endeavor.”

Notice an early casualty of virtue failure: children. The article muses, “If the couple has a child, there could be an option to have the lease automatically continue until the child reaches the age of majority. Of course, relationships change with family additions and an extended term may not be feasible.” One cannot help sensing the attorney throwing leftover scraps to the kids to assuage the conscience. They are an afterthought for the sake of the parents’ whims and contractual obligations.

For Rampell and any other wedlease advocates, the good life looks a lot like pain-avoidance. On the other hand, there is not a lot of living in it. The wedlease way is anti-child, anti-character formation, and cut off from any sort of bond (felicitous or otherwise) that may claim the name of marriage. But, by golly, it looks a whole lot more comfy and convenient!

If the wedlease becomes standard practice, at least we can say ours was the generation that showed less commitment to a human being than to a used car.


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  • Holgrave

    Allow me to observe that this is a logical, if not natural, derivation from the Lockean philosophy of the marriage contract upon which our society’s view of marriage is partly based.

  • Jubal Biggs

    I would like to disagree with you from a social-conservative standpoint. You seem to be assuming that the kind of people who would actually use a wedlease would otherwise have married if it were not available. That is an assumption that could potentially hold up if we were living in the 19th century, but today, I am almost certain that people who would engage in a wedlease would otherwise be living together unmarried.
    You have some underlying assumptions running through your article I find problematic. First; it seems that you assume that if people are left with fewer choices (outright virtue or outright evil) they will be better off. This seems to imply that you think that people can be FORCED to be virtuous. I would very strongly argue that they cannot. In fact, Biblically-speaking, virtue that one is forced into is not really virtue at all, because it was not done of free-will. Therefore, we gain nothing but resentment as social conservatives by trying to shotgun-wedding people who have radically different worldveiws. If you want a good example of this, look at Israel. The state of Israel long ago placed marriage in the hands of religious authorities (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) who are empowered by the state to carry out legal marriages. Prima-facie, with no civil-marriage option at all, according to your “forced virtue” assumptions, Israel should have a far more healthy moral social fabric than the USA. The opposite is true. Like the USA, most people aren’t particularly religious and don’t follow the direction of established religious authorities. Like the USA, many of these people actively resent religious authorities and perceive them to be oppressive. Unlike the USA, where these people have OPTIONS, in Israel, the secular majority typically live with boyfriends/girlfriends for years or decades, unmarried, raise children out of wedlock, and have basically abandoned the institution of marriage altogether. Infidelity is an epidemic. Families have become so atomized that it is sometimes hard to figure out who is raising a child and why. Like every nation where marriage has mostly died, the birth rate has also plummeted below replacement level. Only the Orthodox Jews’ birth rates keep Israel demographically healthy.
    I think wedleases are a good idea. This is because I cannot imagine a conservative woman actually agreeing to a wedlease as an alternative to a marriage contract. That would be like her agreeing to a piece of copper wire for a ring. Sure, in an emergency, if that is all you have, ok… No the people who would actually DO this would be socially liberal people in Manhattan who otherwise would simply have co-habited. This would be a step-up for them. It would be an improvement because they would have to be grown-up enough to actually commit to one another (even if for limited time). Because the time limit is there, they would be less scared to do it, and would go in with less pressure. This would be similar to “training wheels”, because after a few years together, and having already committed to a real legal contract with one another, they would be far more likely to actually wed for real. I think this could actually popularize marriage again with people who have been living as total bohemians for two generations now.
    You also belittle the idea of marriage as a contract. You sneer that it is similar to a used-car lease. In fact, marriage has ALWAYS been first and foremost a legal, contractual obligation between two people. It was held in front of witnesses so there would be legal witnesses to the agreement. A ring was involved because that was symbolic of an exchange of something of monetary value. Read the Biblical chapters that talk a lot about marriage again. They are dry, legalistic, and get into a lot of boring details… kind of like a …legal contract. That is because that is what marriage always was. We are expected to be adults, to take responsibility for ourselves, and voluntarily entering into a binding legal contract with another individual is a statement of our sovereignty as human beings created in the image of the Divine. There is a reason totalitarian regimes have often sought to destroy marriage. It is all about our own choices as individuals and taking responsibility for them. It is not about lots of fluffy and sweet feelings and happy thoughts, and it isn’t about being marched down the aisle with a shotgun at your back.

  • Bob Emery

    Interesting phrase: “human relations have been reduced to the contractual.” What’s new? In civil law, from Roman times on, marriage has been regarded as a contractual arrangement. See, eg, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/marriage