Weddings back in style

The U.S. military has been struggling with its policy on dependent benefits.  On the one hand, any large, complex organization would like to have a simple rule for who qualifies as a dependent, so it can exert some predictable control over a very large fraction of the cost of its wage packages.  The easiest rule, by far, is to let the bright line of marriage define the family.  On the other hand, the trend also has been to avoid discriminating against gay partners, and requiring marriage is a cruel trick to play if marriage isn't available.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriages must be acknowledged, the military evidently is reverting to the assumption that people who want coverage for their partners had better go ahead and marry them.  It's going to be interesting to see how this trend plays out against the countervailing trend, which is against letting the Man make rules about who's a family and who's not.  Can common-law gay marriages be far away?  Will there be shotgun marriages for gays who want to adopt?


Grim said...


"But, recognizing that same-sex couples are only allowed to marry in a limited number of states, Hagel said the provision allowing service members to travel to states where the unions are legal is a way to help overcome those challenges."

Are service members forbidden from traveling now? One wonders what exactly the SECDEF is thinking of here.

bs king said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had once with a coworker of mine (who I like quite a bit) about her husbands bout with cancer.

Apparently they had been together for 10 years, and had decided never to get married...until he got sick and she found out she couldn't take FMLA to care for him unless she was actually family.

She was so upset that the government made her get married because she didn't believe in marriage.

It was a little weird hearing someone claim quite seriously that they didn't believe in something they wanted the benefits of. It was a sad story though(the cancer part), so I didn't give her a hard time. Always bugged me though.

Eric Blair said...

I have seen similar. A friend and his long (decades long) time girlfriend/cohabitant, who doesn't want to get married, yet got all treacly about the 'anniversary' of their first date.

But it's not only the DOD, the Mayo clinic in MN, apparently also decided that everybody has to be married to get benefits.

bs king said...

Forgot to add my Dad's (longtime family lawyer) response to this:

"Gee, don't you just wish there was some sort of form or paper you could sign that would immediately let all government agencies and everyone else know that your were committed to each other and require them to recognize your relationship? Oh that's right, we already have one of's CALLED MARRIAGE."

Then he forwarded me the case in NH where an unmarried couple got mad because they weren't allowed to get a divorce. True story.

Grim said...


The real problem with all this is that these benefits accrued to marriage for a reason. There was a social reason for us to support marriages in these ways, and it isn't present in the new institution (whatever we end up calling it -- many of us simply won't accept calling it marriage, or pretending it is one just because that's the will of the crowd).

That's going to end up undermining the support that is available to young military families, trying to raise kids on a specialist's salary. Eventually, budgetary reality is going to mean that supporting more means supporting less. That's going to be true across the board -- the more we expand what we call a 'marriage,' the less we'll be able to devote resources to its support as an institution.

So pushing people to marry who don't 'really want to be married, but we need the benefits' is not good policy if you actually care about marriage and family. At least, it is not if you care about social supports for the institution.

If you think the government shouldn't support private social structures, the collapse of the institution of marriage into a kind of welfare scheme for any two (or three, or more) parties is irrelevant. You'd eventually like to eliminate those welfare schemes too.

And if you're really interested in roping ever more people in welfare schemes, well...

Texan99 said...

I opted for plain old legal marriage more than 30 years ago, even though at the time I strenuously objected to the involvement in the ceremony of any church whatsoever, and could not have cared less whether any church considered me married or not. If for some reason marriage had been unthinkable, or unavailable legally, I'd have set to work on legal arrangements to provide for my spouse in all the ways that are automatically available for legally married couples. I couldn't have said quite where I got my convictions about how a marriage should work, but they were ingrained. My approach to marriage is more permanent and uncompromising than that of either the U.S. government or any church that I'm familiar with. On this subject, the Pope's got nothing on me.

Setting up alternative marriage-like legal arrangements is easier these days than it used to be, because there are few remaining restrictions on co-habitation by an unmarried couple. Having lived so long in a commune-like arrangement in my youth, I was always hypersensitive to deed restrictions prohibiting non-nuclear families. It should be nobody's business but my own whom I define as my family.

Where it gets sticky is in claiming married-dependent status for the purpose of glomming onto valuable benefits to be paid for by someone else. The expansion of automatic non-cash benefits from government and employers is confusing things unnecessarily. I shouldn't have to worry whether the government or my employer considers me married, because I should be taking my pay in cash and then buying whatever benefits I choose with it, to benefit whomever I designate. In practice, that's rarely feasible unless you work strictly on a contract basis (as I do now).

Grim said...

Well, the Pope's never been married.

I don't actually have a problem at all with people setting up private associations on whatever terms they want -- communes or gay relationships. As long as they entail absolutely no funding from government sources, they're private concerns that can do what they want.

That's not what we're getting here, of course. If the question was, "Should two or more individuals be free to set up a society in which they share all property in common, and entail each other with certain legal powers over the other(s), with no government support beyond ensuring that the contract is duly executed," I'd be entirely unopposed.

Texan99 said...

Yes, and I think we'd be less likely to see agitation for gay marriage if we hadn't dragged employer benefits so far into our lives that employers had an overwhelming financial interest in figuring out whether we were legally married or not.

Grim said...

I'm not sure if the general point you want to raise about employer benefits readily transfers to the military context. Of course, only a small number of people serve at all in any capacity -- let alone as careerists.

Texan99 said...

How is the military different? Looks like military employees could get paid in cash and buy their own dependent benefits just like anyone else -- ?

Grim said...

Do you think so? Anywhere they may be sent or stationed?

Do you think the composition of a military family is of no interest to the employer -- if 'employer' is the right word -- given the 'employer' interest in deployability of the soldier or Marine or other servicemember?

No, it doesn't work. There's a reason the military is the last Federal agency that gives a damn about adultery, and it's the same reason they can't outsource these issues to the market and just hope soldiers or Marines do it right. It's got to be taken on board as a part of the mission.

Ymar Sakar said...

Better to have gay marriages and support agents like Hasan, than worry about life saving combat training, rape prevention H2H courses for soldiers, or anything else that might be "military" in nature.

Well, at least the majority of the money is being properly laundered into the rightful pockets of Democrats. At least that counts for something.

Texan99 said...

Good point about the families living overseas. What fraction of military families do live overseas? Is it most usual for families to get all their overseas medical care from a military health facility, or is that true only in certain posts? We're not talking about active-duty posts, right? -- in those cases, I assume the family stays behind in the States and has access to the usual U.S. insurance market.

My notion wasn't to outsource the structure of a family to the market but to leave the structure strictly in the hands of the family. The family then buys most of its material needs in the market, unless it's required to live somewhere that lacks any markets. (Which shows what a bad idea it is for countries not to have functioning markets -- when people go there, they have to depend on their employer for everything instead of getting paid in cash and arranging for their own needs.)

Grim said...

Well, many times you'd leave your family behind if you were going somewhere like that (and rightly so -- the JSOTF in the Philippines is chiefly located in an area where your family would mostly provide opportune hostages if they accompanied you).

Which is the other point I was trying to raise: if you've got soldiers who have to deploy, and you don't make arrangements for their families (but leave it to the soldiers to spend their money wisely in this regard), a certain percentage of your 18-24 year olds who make up the bulk of your army will fail to make appropriate arrangements. Heck, they may even try to do it, and just -- by dint of youth and inexperience -- not think of everything they need.

Others won't even try to do it.

So if command doesn't make it a priority, come time to deploy the unit there's going to be all manner of trouble. Desertions will be up, morale will be down as soldiers hear heartbreaking tales from back home about their dearest ones' suffering. And of course it's their own fault, but that just increases the mental pressure to try to fix it (which can mean deserting, or just suffering -- which means you mind is back home, and not in the game where you are, not focused on protecting your buddies and achieving your mission).

So the military is a different case, in that it has to take on things like ensuring that there is punishment for adultery, and ensuring that families back home will always have basic needs met while the soldier is deployed (even if he or she is 18, with a private's pay, and not the first bit of knowledge about what the needs of the family will be).

There's an alternative, which is to do it one of the old ways -- you could structure your army out of small groups of highly-paid mercenaries, instead of the large civilian force we use. Or you could simply conscript people and shoot or hang deserters. Or you could say, "Well, we don't intend to actually deploy this army anywhere -- so settle in, and don't worry about being sent to Afghanistan for a year. You'll always be here to look after your wife and kids." Or we could do what the Romans might have done, and just ship the whole troop to Afghanistan, kids and all, and tell them to make a home there because they'll be living there for twenty years. Etc.

But if you're going to strive for an all-volunteer army that is actually deployable, and chiefly made up of quite young adults, you've got to take on certain logistics associated with the families they'll be trying to form. I don't think any of the historical alternatives is a good bet.

Texan99 said...

That's kind of a disturbing portrait of the average military man.

Cass said...

I don't think the dirtbags are the average. It's just that 5 or 10% can cause quite a lot of problems for everyone else.

Grim's right - we used to get calls from young wives whose light bills hadn't been paid and the power was getting cut off, or the truck was being repossessed because someone "forgot" to pay the bill.

Don't know if this is any excuse, but some of these kids aren't really any more responsible when they're not deployed. It's just that the command is more likely to hear about it when they are bc the wife is left holding the bag and often can't even get information on an account she's not on.

Grim said...

Yeah, I don't mean to say that this is how the average soldier or Marine behaves. I just mean that it's a big enough problem that the NCOs and officers of a deployable unit have to be engaged in making sure their unit is fit to deploy. It can't be delegated to the 'private sector,' pun intended.

And some of it isn't even dirtbaggery, although most every unit has that one guy. Some of it is just the inexperience that comes from the fact that the bulk of the force is quite young, and hasn't necessarily experienced the difficulty of leaving everything in your life on hold for six months (the standard USMC tour, plus sometimes significant pre-deployment training) or a year (Army standard, but sometimes Marines did this as well), or even fifteen months (Army during the Surge in Iraq). Even if you don't have a wife and kids, and you do have the experience to carefully plan, there's a lot that can go wrong in fifteen months!

But you were making a larger point about the general society that might hold. It's just that we started in a military context, so I wanted to clarify that I think there's a necessary distinction here.