Comment: Why is 'marital status' still a question?

(Anthony Devlin/PA Wire) Source: PA Wire

For your records, only one form should be allowed to ask whether somebody has ever put a ring on it, writes Catherine Deveny.

It’s still there, on official forms: "MARITAL STATUS". Why was this ever on forms in the first place? How is whether or not you are handcuffed in love jail relevant to anything?

I’m certain you’ll join me in suggesting it’s time we filed this medieval, homophobic, misogynist, discriminatory unnecessary judgment – posed as information for ‘our records’ – in the WTF file and moved on.

I had an x-ray yesterday. Nothing exciting. Osteoarthritis, if you must know. I was at reception with Rhonda the Receptionist, doing the first name, surname, mobile number, Medicare number, address, any allergies?

And then: “Marital status?”

No form needs to ask marital status. Unless the point is to judge, pigeonhole or casually humiliate people.

“I beg your pardon?” I replied (I didn’t actually say “I beg your pardon”; I just can’t convey my screwed-up face, narrowed eyes, cocked head and bemused demeanour well enough).

“What is your marital status?”

“Are you flirting with me?”

“Sorry?”

“No need to apologise. I'm adorable.”

“I need your marital status.”

“Er, why?”

“For our records.”

“Mm, okay. What are my choices?”

“Married, divorced, separated, de facto, widowed, single...”

“Do you have 'irrelevant'?”

“Erm...”

“How about 'none of your business’?”

“Um. We need it, just in case something happens to you.”

“How about ‘Next Of Kin’? How about 'who do we contact in case of emergency?’”

“Er… I'll put you down as 'unknown'.”

I’ll tell you something for free. No form needs to ask marital status. Unless the point is to judge, pigeonhole or casually humiliate people.

Don’t underestimate society’s desire to overvalue and promote marriage by undermining anyone not conforming to the expected social norm. It’s everywhere you look, people.

Who knew what was possible without a fluffy white dress and permission from God and/or the government?

Everywhere, there are signs, signals, dog whistles and messages encouraging the straight, white, married, mortgaged, breeding, employed lifestyle as the pinnacle of success. Vomit.

Actually, there is one form that needs to record marital status. Only one. The form you fill in BEFORE YOU MARRY SOMEONE.

Recently, my son started treatment with an orthodontist in a leafy eastern suburb. I’m not proud of it. My kid looks like a frog and this was where we were referred.

As I was filling out the forms, one of the questions was ‘which school does he attend?’.

“What the hell does what school he attends have anything to do with his teeth?” I asked the receptionist. She had no idea. Neither did the dentist. I just wrote ‘What difference does it make?’

Let’s take a look at the choices in the ‘marital status’ dropdown menu and what they really mean.

Married? Congratulations! Nailed it, straight person. You’re a success. Single? Don’t give up; for every crooked pot there is a crooked lid. Divorced? Oh dear. I see you failed. Separated? Good luck with that. Widowed? That didn’t end well, did it?

Occasionally, I come across the ‘never married’ option. I LOVE that. I’ve ‘never married’. It’s hilarious! To be defined by something I’ve never done.

Forms should simply ask ‘Who do we call in case of emergency?’.

Yet – and don’t ask me how – I am five years into a relationship. My previous relationship was 17 years and produced three children. Who knew that was possible without a fluffy white dress and permission from God and/or the government?

The marital status options that make me laugh and most succinctly illustrate the pointlessness of the question are ‘divorced’ and ‘widowed’. These are not states you are in. They are states of what you were and are now not.

Why does anyone need to know you used to be married, but you are not now? Or that you used to have a spouse, but they are no longer alive? What’s with separated? Is that ‘waiting to get divorced’? Or is that when you have split up with a long-term partner you have never married. How do you know whether you are single or separated?

My ex and I (who, if you were paying attention, you’ll remember never married each other), split up five years ago, yet I have been in a relationship with my current partner since. Am I separated? Am I never married? If I am separated from my ex, where to from there? Do I have to decide I am single, de facto or married, to move on from being separated?

My friend Michael is a homosexual. Yes. All my best friends are minorities. When he finds himself faced with the ‘marital status’ question Michael pulls a thick black felt tipped marker from his bag and writes in large capital letters ‘GAY’.

Forms should simply ask ‘Who do we call in case of emergency?’. That’s it. And no, you do not need to know what relationship this person has with anyone.

As I was about to take a seat in the waiting room, Rhonda the Receptionist piped up: “Excuse me, are you Mrs, Miss or Ms?”

“What difference does it make?” I responded.

“I can’t get through the computer system without putting something in.”

“Ah. Well, in that case, it’s Doctor. Or Professor. Or Reverend. You choose. Anything that’s gender neutral and does not specify ‘marital status’. Wing Commander, if you’ve got it.”

 

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