Single-Shaming And The Supreme Court

According to Justice Kennedy, folks have two choices: Get married or sentence yourself to a lifetime of wretchedness.

In American politics, the married heterosexual couple with children has been the gold standard of normalcy and virtue. They’re the people politicians address in their speeches, the ones they vow to fight for. If you exist outside this model, the nearly exclusive focus on these particular citizens can be profoundly alienating.

So it was exciting last week to see the Supreme Court recognize marriage equality for all. It seems we’re slowly moving past the one-size-fits-all model of family and adulthood.

But as The Washington Post’s Lisa Bonos and New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister quickly noticed, the language Justice Kennedy used in the majority opinion also reveals that many old stereotypes persist:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” writes Kennedy.

Did you hear that single soldiers and veterans? The court thanks you for your service, but those tours in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t quite measure up to the noble efforts of your neighbors who got hitched in Cancun last year. Unmarried schoolteachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, EMTs, and social workers should also take note. No matter how much devotion and sacrifice you exhibit in your work and personal life, you’ll still fall short of your friends who put a ring on it.

“In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

You have to wonder how Kennedy’s colleague Elena Kagan or former colleague David Souter took the news that while they and other prominent singles—such as Janet Reno, Condoleezza Rice, Janet Napolitano, and Ralph Nader—may have accomplished great things, they could still be … better. After all, have any of these people ever asked their friends to purchase them a $200 casserole dish or wear matching fuchsia dresses? Doubtful.

“[The petitioners’] hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”

Yes, those are the choices. Get married or sentence yourself to a lifetime of wretchedness.

I’m sure Justice Kennedy didn’t intend to insult singles in his praise of marriage.

His remarks reflect a knee-jerk bias that is so steeped in our culture most people don’t even recognize it.

Frankly, it’s exhausting. This attitude puts single people ever on the defensive, having to assure friends and family that they’re happy and capable while their married peers are simply assumed to be. This bias is the reason Lindsey Graham, a man who has been a U.S. senator for more than a decade, must explain to reporters that his unmarried state does not affect his ability to be President.

“Shifts in hearts and minds are possible,” President Obama said after the ruling. “Today we can say in no uncertain terms that we have made our union a little more perfect.”

I agree, but Kennedy’s remarks shows we still have a long way to go.

Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

This originally appeared on Sara Eckel’s blog. Republished here with permission.

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