I was reading an article the other day (when will I ever learn?) in defense of traditional marriage. The pundits opined that marriage between a man and a woman goes all the way back to Greek and Roman times. Um, sort of. Let’s not forget that neither Greeks nor Romans had any compunction against the occasional concubine, and that they were not the only people on the planet.
The article writers act as though the institution of marriage came first, to deepen the bond between a man and a woman, and then people came along to populate it. Seems to me that its impossible for any government-sanctioned mechanism like marriage to occur without government of some kind. People do their thing until their society grows enough to support a layer of bureaucracy. Once a government arises, the new rulers merely legitimize whichever of the goings-on that provide the most stability or revenue to the state.
The stability that marriage gives is not the fealty of man to woman and vice versa (far too many people cheat on their spouses for that notion to have any credence). Marriage answers the question of who is going to take care of those dependent people who are the natural response to natural impulses. Marriage protects paternity, for societies that have no other means of determining who sired the little rugrats running around.
You married her? Boom! They’re yours. So what if you’ve been out to sea the past five years, and three of them are under the age of four? They’re still yours, and you get the privilege of providing for them until they’re old enough to provide for themselves. If that upsets you, you’d better pick your spouse a little more carefully in your next life.
This system worked pretty efficiently in the U.S. until President Johnson decided to unveil his Great Society, and make the State the rightful protector of little critters. Once that gate was opened, there was less and less need for an actual human (usually male) provider for a growing family. No dad? No problem! Uncle Sam will take care of you. The incidence of marriage, amazingly enough, crept downward. Divorce rates rose, and single parenthood became possible for the great unwashed. And, with DNA testing, there was no need for the legal pretence that all children born to Mrs. were the offspring of Mr. There is no need now for marriage to determine who is going to pay the bills.
On the other hand, those people who had been kept out of the marriage game due to the moral underpinnings the government ascribed to the institution could now see a way to lever themselves in. If marriage is no longer necessary to the raising of children, why not open it up to anyone who wants to declare a connection to another person? What’s amazing is not that gays want to marry, but that anyone does! When the very government that established the institution has made it irrelevant, why would anyone go to the trouble of ceremonializing a commitment that is not likely to last a lifetime?
If, as the pundits say, the act of marriage in and of itself tends to lend stability to relationships, to the raising of children, and to society in general, then it ought to be open to all who care to participate. And the criterion for raising children ought not to be the sex of the parents, but their ability to endure years without sleep with grace and dignity intact. The goal should not be to limit marriage to those who possess the correct sexual organs, but to ennoble the institution to embody the highest aspirations of humankind: to provide for those we cherish, and to raise the next generation to be productive, content beings. There are plenty of marriages between a man and a woman that don’t come close to that ideal.