Since Donald Trump has been elected president, I’ve heard countless cracks about getting married for citizenship or health insurance. “The world is ending,” the sentiment goes, “so we might as well protect each other.” Yet the more I hear these jokes, the more weaponizing marriage to protest Trump starts to sound like a brilliant idea.
Everyone knows marriage will soon be obsolete. The number of couples who are marrying is at an all-time low, with a rate that continues to fall. Traditional marriage is becoming a luxury item, increasingly out of reach for marginalized Americans. And now that the law allows same-sex couples to marry, we can no longer frame it as a civil rights hurdle.
That’s exactly why, in an age of unprecedented resistance, we need to find a new use for this outdated institution.
Not only has the 2016 election brought on a whole host of new problems for America—the Muslim ban, new tensions with Russia, an incompetent cabinet—it’s also made lingering problems worse. Two of those are: a costly, inefficient health care system and the threat of cruel, excessive ICE deportations. Marriage could alleviate them both.
Let’s start with health insurance. We dodged a bullet last week when the GOP failed to drum up enough votes for Trumpcare, but Obamacare is still terrible. Premiums on the exchange are a pretty penny and keep climbing; 19 states rejected the Medicaid expansion; 29 million people remain uninsured. People still regularly drown in medical debt. You best believe the Trump administration plans to chip away at Obamacare to make sure it “explodes”—but not before they give dismantling it one more go. Health care is a mess, with or without the ACA.
So what if 29 million unmarried people in America whose job gives them health insurance tied the knot with an uninsured person? Or a person just scraping by on a shitty Obamacare plan? That mass commitment of insurance fraud would be the biggest act of civil disobedience in U.S. history.
The whole premise of linking employers and health insurance is idiotic; its roots hearken back to an industrial past that, like marriage, is quickly going the way of the dodo. But being part of this system can provide relief that’s hard to imagine unless you’ve gone without. In 2009, when Obamacare was still winding its way through Congress, I married my boyfriend so he could have health insurance for the first time in five years. We’re no longer together, but because my insurance is better than what he could afford as an unmarried freelancer, we don’t plan on getting divorced anytime soon.
This arrangement has at times proven to be culturally weird—confusing for in-laws, awkward for bureaucrats—but for eight years, both of us have been covered by a health plan because one of us had insurance through our job. I’ve had no problem making a mockery of marriage to keep someone I care about safe and healthy.
Granted, getting insurance-married is a lot easier than marrying an undocumented person. To get a green card for a spouse, you have to prove the marriage is bonafide, which could mean opening a joint bank account, documenting phone calls made to each other, and producing life-like wedding photos and love letters. (Do sexts count?) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services considers rooting out sham marriages one of its top priorities. And one can imagine it’ll only get tougher under Trump.
Yet even though green card marriages are harder to pull off, people do it all the time and get away with it. Doing this for one of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants would be a bigger act of love than a garish wedding could ever be. The extra effort would be worth it to the immigrant whose sudden deportation could set off a devastating domino effect for her entire family. It also may very likely kill two birds with one stone; a higher proportion of undocumented people are also uninsured. Besides, the pool of people who could help is even bigger than insured Americans. All you have to be is a U.S. citizen.
Of course, not everyone agrees that marriage needs to be reinvented, even progressives. The reason people joke about this but don’t actually do it is because we’re far less ready to let go of marriage than we’re willing to admit. It’s a status symbol. There are still countless social incentives to getting hitched the old-fashioned way. Marriage may be obsolete, but—like a suburban house with a white picket fence—what’s painfully retro for some can be nostalgic and aspirational for others.
The way I see it, toppling an oppressive political regime should come before such desires, especially since partnership and marriage are no longer synonymous. So have that wedding if you must. Stay with the same person until you die. Just save the state-sanctioned piece of paper for someone who actually needs it. (And yes, committing green card and insurance fraud are serious crimes. So were hiding Jews in your attic or slaves in your basement.)
The one thing that’s not obsolete about matrimony is the public act of professing love and commitment to another human being. Felonious marriages in the age of Trump could be a profound way to show love to the most vulnerable among us by protesting immoral government policies—while also dismantling a patriarchal, classist, exclusionary institution.