Marriage, unions taking many forms

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Marriage, unions taking many forms


When I was learning French a long time ago, I found a cultural difference between Korea and France: marital status. In Korea, a person can label themselves as “single” or “married.” But the French textbook also had “divorced” and “separated.” My impression of France was that it was a liberal society.

Now, a new expression - civil union - has been added. It is a common trend in Western society, in which couples live together without the responsibilities, duties and economic burden of marriage. In France, a 1999 civil law revision gave civil unions similar legal rights and social benefits as married couples. PACS, or a civil solidarity pact, is a contract between two adults of the same or opposite gender. The two individuals have separate ownership of property, so there is no estate or inheritance problem. If they break up, they don’t even need to go through administrative procedures or lawsuits. This system is quickly spreading across Western nations.

Marriage and unions in Korea are taking various forms as well. In 2012, statistics show 78.6 percent of married couples were getting married for the first time. In 11.5 percent of the couples, both brides and grooms were remarried. For 5.5 percent, the marriage was the first for the groom and the second for the bride, and for 4.1 percent, it was the first marriage for the bride and the second for the groom. The forms of families are diversifying as well.

However, Korea still does not consider giving legal rights and offering social benefits to couples who are not legally married. Politicians and social workers often arrange joint weddings for couples who are legally married but did not have a formal ceremony. But they are not interested in couples who live together and do not have a marriage license. Is that because these couples are reluctant to reveal their unions? I know some couples complain about not being able to claim their domestic partner as a dependent for tax exemptions.

Last week, French President Francois Hollande was caught on camera by a tabloid magazine having an affair with an actress. Hollande is the partner of Valerie Trierweiler, without a formal marriage. Some members of the media call her the “first girlfriend,” but she lives with the president in the Elysee Palace and acts as the first lady, with five assistants. Hollande separated from Segolene Royal - his former partner, political ally and mother of his children - to be with Trierweiler. In an interview in 2010, Hollande described Trierweiler as “the woman of my life.” Upon learning of Hollande’s alleged affair, Trierweiler was taken to a hospital, suffering with exhaustion. Would it have been different if they were actually married? What is love, anyway?

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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