It’s super ironic that the wife and I got married in the first place. When she was a blogger and I was a blogger and we met as a result, along the way she wrote a post about marriage. I was the only one who seemed to understand and agree with it. It’s been so long, I don’t remember exactly how she put it. I don’t recall it being all that clear, but I’d had the same thoughts. It’s long gone from the interwebs.
I’ll revisit the topic. I believe I have done so over the years, but it’s been a long time and much has happened over the years.
Marriage as we know it is a legal shortcut that helps you get things that governments can give you, or recognize, or steal from you differently. How rich is it, then, that there was such a push to make same sex marriage legal? You’re petitioning the government to let you have the same tax advantages as traditional marriages. You’re petitioning the government to grant you social security survivor benefits and such. You’re petitioning the government to save you legal costs of making arrangements that would have relatively the same results as automatic inheritance or next of kin rights and duties. You can give anyone your power of attorney, living will, or your possessions in event of your death. Marriage makes it easy. Heck, it even makes adopting a new surname or hyphenated surname easy, without getting a legal name change, which you certainly could do if you were committed and wanted to have the same name and have children with the same name as both parents.
That’s basically it. That’s why people seek it. Anything else is ritual, as I know was explored in Moonrise Kingdom and, less overtly, Melody. Not that the power and emotion of that is to be dismissed lightly, but anyone could “marry” you with no legal weight attached if that were all it was. In fact, if marriage has its origins mainly as a religious ceremony, it has origins as a ritual, a rite that might not have anything to do with government, but gives you the recognition of the church if you or enough others around you care about that. If a religion purports to have power over your reproduction, calling it a sin or an evil if not sanctioned, marriage is a powerful rite indeed. It’s always about power, about control. That’s how some people roll if we let them and don’t teach them well or worse, if they are beyond teaching. Religion and government fit naturally together, when they are not instead competing.
Freedom of association is one of those things that simply exists. Putting marriage in a box of how it must be is a restriction of that freedom.
In reality, there is no reason any person or people cannot form a bond with any one or more others, in something that looks a bit like marriage or like something we might not recognize, to achieve the same things marriage can achieve apart from the legal automation above, in practical and emotional spheres.
My favorite example is Heninlein’s line marriage concept. It’s a form of polygamy, which is not even a little bit wrong. It’s stable, has economic strength, is long lasting, and provides a wonderful framework for raising children.
Sex is just a small part of marriage, and it doesn’t even require sex. It just creates a socially acceptable construct for that to take place, historically. Lots of marriages turn entirely sexless, or mostly sexless, but they don’t end. I might not have gotten married if I’d expected that to happen. On the other hand, my reaction was “that’s it, that’s what all the fuss is about?” Perhaps I should have taken that to mean I was about to marry the wrong person and needed to have gotten around more, rather than being mystified that this was the driving force of civilization and culture. And not that it meant I wanted to sit out the last ten years, either. When it’s bad it’s good or something? But who is to say that you have to restrict yourself to a marital partner for that? The local priest? Please. Maybe one of the other spouses would work out well for that. Heh.
Even without tax benefits, marriage is about economic stability and mutual support. It’s about a stable environment for children. It’s beyond hard to raise children alone. I wanted children and got them, with a partner who is absolutely on the same page when it comes to raising kids. We knew that ahead of time. It might be as important, no more important, to know where you stand on that before marrying. That would be hard for 11 year olds to have a grasp of, even if they knew that eventually their relationship would involve sex. The thing is, if you’re stepping outside the marriage for sex, it potentially puts kids outside the marriage, and you need to be willing to deal with that possibility. They are as much yours as any you had with spouse(s). If nobody minds any of this, that makes it a de facto nontraditional marriage anyway, even if you’re officially in the traditional government construct of two spouses.
When I got married, part of the impetus was that I was having trouble affording the apartment and bills by myself, and maintaining housekeeping by myself, though at least it was just me to pick up after. I was thinking I’d have a partner on the home front, a booster encouraging me to go get ’em at the business, and an economic contributor to help even things and make paying everything easier. Two people cost less than double. The reality was gaining a dependent and then kids when I was barely covering myself, but the concept still stands, and kicked in later. That was almost eleven years ago, less than a year before the ten years ago thing. A group marriage might give more potential dependents, but it also gives more hands. Something of a tribe, more than a traditional man and wife. I’ve known people you could call “heterosexual life mates” who have some of the benefits of a marriage, economically, without there ever being sex or a legal marriage, same sex or not. You can’t always know those two women who have lived together for many years are lesbians, or that one or both wouldn’t be thrilled to have their way with a man. In ways that matter, they are family.
How would I explain marriage to Melody and Daniel? Well, it might be time for them to know about sex in more than a vague way, if they don’t already. I would tell them it’s more about mutual support, about a stable environment, all that. I would tell them that having romantic love for each other is wonderful, and is how marriages often start, but that there is more to it than that, and those feelings might not survive, or remain so strong. Just having those feelings and wanting to be together all the time is not reason to be married, even if it were legal at that age. But marriage is a legal vehicle anyway. People can be together without ever being married, and be perfectly happy. Perhaps even happier. Live, be together as much as you can, continue growing up, and see what happens in a few years.
Politically, things went the wrong direction. Instead of forcing government to recognize more marriages, which has slippery slope potential for those who hate the idea of things like legally sanctioned polygamy, we should have been backing the government out of marriage. Why should it be licensed? Why should it have special treatment?
Well, I can answer that last one. You give special treatment to what you encourage. Encouraging people to make more people and be able to raise them in a stable way is what a government does to subjects when it wants to ensure more subjects without simply importing and, ideally, integrating them. If we aren’t subjects, why treat us as such? The government here is us, not a king.
Marriage shouldn’t exist as a legal vehicle controlled by government. People should be able to have any arrangement they want that is marriage-like or family-like without permission, so long as nobody is harmed. Actual harm, not pretend harm. That doesn’t mean there can’t be religious rites, or private purveyors of registration or contractual arrangements that are ready made for common scenarios. It’s just an odd thing to do with government, even if it goes back millennia.