It was the late 60s and early 70s, the time of “love and piece,” and especially of love. Couples had openly started living together without being married, and not merely as a temporary arrangement either to test out the relationship or while planning the wedding. I’m talking about the people who had moved in together with absolutely no plan of ever getting married. Their battle cry (or should I say love cry) was “We don’t need no stinkin’ piece of paper,” which was pretty much what Joni Mitchell sang in her 1970 song My Old Man.
That’s right, they didn’t need a piece of paper to validate their love for each other. They didn’t need to get city hall or the county clerk involved in their relationship. Their love would stand the test of time, thank you very much, and so they didn’t need that little piece of paperwork called a marriage license…and a simple civil ceremony in the county clerk’s office.
Delaney and Bonnie famously sang “I’ve got a never-ending love for you” in 1971 and that’s what they believed. Long before Neil Sedaka wrote it and the Captain and Tennille sang it, they believed that love would keep them together.
Frankly, even at age 15, I thought that was kind of naïve, but then what did I know? Maybe the world was changing, and these people were right.
And then it happened. The famous Michelle Triola Marvin “palimony” case of 1976. When it first broke, my reaction was pretty much along the lines of, “Excuse me, but you didn’t need no stinkin’ piece of paper, and now you’re suing for the rights that it would’ve given you? I don’t think so.” I wasn’t vindictive, I was simply a realist. That “little piece of paper” gives each person certain rights and protections in the event of an unfortunate breakup. That “little piece of paper” ideally protects each party from being unfairly taken advantage of by the other. That “little piece of paper” prevents his or her relatives, who never liked you in the first place, from throwing you out on the street in the event of a fatal accident that leaves you alone in the house that you had shared, but that they’re the legal heirs to.
That “little piece of paper” would’ve given Michelle Triola Marvin a legal leg to stand on. But because she joined the throngs of people crying out that they didn’t need it, it made perfect sense to me that she didn’t get the protections that it would’ve given her. The judge apparently felt the same way I did, and denied her the $1.8 million she had asked for.
That “little piece of paper” is not only very important, but it’s a bargain. Right now a marriage license in Syracuse is $40. That’s far less than the hundreds of dollars that I know some people spend to draw up non-marriage contracts that give them the same rights, but without “the interference of the state in their private affairs.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t about “morality.” I really don’t care whether or not two grown people are married when they’re having sex. For me it’s all about practicality and taking care of each other. I feel that if you love each other enough to move in together, then you really oughta spring for that $40 piece of paper. Both to protect yourself and each other.
Amazingly, after the disaster with Lee Marvin, Michelle Triola moved in with actor Dick Van Dyke, without getting married. He says in his autobiography, My Lucky Life, that he asked her to marry him several times, but she just never got around to it. They did, however, have contracts drawn up to avoid what happened to her earlier, but you know…I think the $40 would’ve been cheaper.
Oh, and by the way, despite the sentiment of the song, Delaney and Bonnie got divorced in 1973.