Saying 'I don't': The case for not getting married

This time last year my boyfriend Anthony and I had a wedding, but we didn't get married. We had a Love Party.

There was no god, no government, no commitment ceremony. There was no seating plan, no name-changing, no gifts.

There was no dieting, no Spanx, no Botox, no fake tan, no bucks night, no bridesmaids — none of the hallmarks of a typical wedding.

Instead, I was a 47-year-old, 90-kilo bride in a magenta-coloured dress the groom chose and purchased online for $260.

He wore a dinner suit, I wore a veil and carried a bouquet and rode to the party on bikes. We walked up the aisle, behind our flower girls and boys, to our ceremony under a floral arch where we made vows, exchanged rings and signed a certificate.

We walked from the park ceremony with our friends and family to a magical sit-down dinner. There were fairy lights, rose petals, sparklers and speeches. We even had a cutting of the cake.

But when we woke the next day, we were still girlfriend and boyfriend — just two people in a relationship.

According to my mates in the wedding industry, this March Labor Day weekend is one of the most popular weekends for getting married.

Although the number of Australians who tie the knot is in decline, many still consider it a rite of passage, the icing on the cake that is their relationship.

Indeed, we fetishise marriage, we're obsessed with it — consider the popularity of reality TV shows like Married At First Sight.

But I have never bought into the idea marriage is what we should all aspire to. It's an outdated, sexist and unnecessary institution that undermines the love humans have for one another with its insistence that a relationship is only valid if it's authorised by the state.

The modern marriage might appear more progressive — couples today swap stuffy traditional weddings for apparently personalised affairs — but underneath it's still marriage, and nothing has changed.

The most dangerous tools of oppression are ones that are sugar-coated and covered in glitter — which is why it's so important that we question them.

So why do people marry when they can just have a party?

Anthony and I were in love when we were 18 but only got together — via Facebook — in 2010, after careers, kids and other long-term relationships had run their course.

Immediately he asked me if I wanted to get married. Like many men he had no interest in getting married, he just wanted to make it clear to me that he was in for the long haul, and wanted to offer whatever I may like to seal the deal.

Of course I declined. I have never wanted to get married.

(However, I am pro-marriage equality because I believe marriage is a mistake everyone should have the right to make.)

I don't just 'not like it', I strongly believe marriage is a medieval institution that reinforces toxic gender stereotypes and traditional family structures that perpetuate inequality.

Historically marriage further privileged men and oppressed women. Married women were their husband's property; men assumed their legal rights to money, titles and land.

In fact, it was not until 1976 that South Australia became the first jurisdiction in Australia to criminalise rape in marriage.

And until the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1984, women could not open a bank account, apply for a passport or purchase property without their husband's permission.

Today, marriage is still overtly sexist

Men are still expected to propose with giant engagement rings, women are still "given away" by their fathers, brides wear white wedding dresses — traditionally a symbol of virginity — and the majority of wives still, in 2017, take their husband's name.

When people marry they are also more likely to have joint finances, which can create friction and open the door to financial abuse; money is one of the most common things couples fight about.

Further, Australian research has found married women perform the majority of child care and unpaid domestic labour (in contrast to women in de facto relationships, who spend less time doing housework).

Of course, many people argue that marriage has long since shed its patriarchal roots — that their "choice" to legalise their relationship was "empowering" because they made a few tweaks to the event:

"No-one gave me away; my best man was a woman";

"Our celebrant was an Elvis impersonator";

"We were married underwater";

"We we did a magic trick instead of a bridal waltz";

"We had brownies instead of a cake" …

But still they married.

My response is that people make decisions emotionally and back them rationally. People will happily live with cognitive dissonance enabling structural sexism when it suits them.

There is no such thing as a feminist marriage; feminism is not about choice and never has been. It's about equality.

When people question and reject traditional institutions like heterosexual marriage, it inspires others to do the same — to abandon other outdated 'done things'.

Given Australians can have all the wedding bells and whistles without the legal component (a simple will covers any potential issues) and that marriage is no guarantee of commitment or longevity of the relationship, the question remains: why do people continue to marry?

Why is it that otherwise progressive people can "think outside the box" when it comes to the trimmings of a marriage ceremony, but not question the institution itself?

Whenever I have asked, no-one in Australia has been able to list one advantage to being married. And no-one can explain to me how their relationship would look different if they hadn't gotten married.

The power of ritual

Having said all that, since our Love Party, Anthony and I do feel differently — our love seems deeper, which has surprised both of us.

I put this down to the power of ritual.

If you felt 'different' or more connected after getting married, it was most likely the gathering of the people, the planning of the event, the music, readings, communal singing, ceremony and gravity of the event — not the marriage that did it.

Marriage doesn't own these things. Humans do.

My life looks so different to the women in my family who have come before me.

In order to have sex without being shamed or leave their family home, they had to get married.

They were forced to play by rules written by men and enforced by society; their work choices were extremely limited and poorly paid, and there was no possibility of financial independence given men controlled any money they did earn.

I love that I have been able to live a life not needing anyone else's permission or approval. For me, the Love Party was a celebration of that freedom; it was a political statement, a work of art.

It was not about saying 'I do', it was about saying 'I don't, and you don't have to either'.

Yes, you can just have the party. Marriage was invented, love wasn't.

Love conquers all.