Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What Constitutes a Marriage?

Anonymous asked for a definition of marriage, and, as it seems like a reasonable request, I'll give mine.

There are two aspects of marriage to consider. One is a sacred contract sealed between two or more people in the presence of family and their God. There is no legal aspect to this – it is simply a promise, made in the presence of God to seal it with holy sanctity. The details of who qualifies is determined by religious hierarchy. Some religions endorse polygamy, some define marriage as between one man and one woman, some endorse same-sex marriage. All of these religions can be found in the United States, and all of them currently practice marriage by their definition. In a free society, each religious tradition defines marriage as it sees fit; there is no obligation to treat different configurations equally, or even to recognize that they exist.

The other is a legal contract, made between two or more people in the presence of the state. It is an agreement on dispensation of property, ownership of children, and social organization. The role of a government of free people in regulating this contract is, first, to ensure that all parties are consenting adults – a consenting adult being someone who has reached the age where they fully understand the obligations, responsibilities, and consequences of joining into this contract, and who is entering into it of their own free will, without coercion. The second is to apply the law evenly to all citizens, which means that once assured that all members of the union are consenting adults, the state allows them to sign the paper joining their individual lives, and treats them henceforth as one unit within the bounds of the marriage contract.

Yes, that means I believe the state should allow same sex and multiple partner marriages, so long as all members are consenting adults. The state also has a duty to prevent marriages that include young people under the age of consent, people who are under pressure from family or church, and people who are incapable of understanding what they are doing. And yes, this is a very libertarian philosophy or definition, but that doesn't make me a libertarian. I just believe in freedom, responsibility, and conscience. I believe in the principles under which this country was created.

Note: I did not consult a dictionary in writing this. Anonymous asked my opinion. Here it is.


Anonymous said...

From same anonymous~

Does your definition allow for any consenting adults to marry, including brother-sister, father-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter?

anne said...

I'll put in my two cents, since I'm a historian.

Marriage used to be a liaison between two adults with all kinds of legal ramifications and the fact that the US has only one kind of marriage is just pathetic. The get married in the church, officiated by a priest person is a bizarre tradition that seems to have been merely a money maker. A celebration between families
of a liaison that might produce offspring is as old as humans themselves.

I think that the US could distinguish between the three main types of marriage: marriage for the job of producing offspring, marriage for the sake of joining families (for alliances or money reasons) and marriage for the sake of combining households.

Taboos on unions between close relations (in Russia a man cannot marry a woman who is the sister of the man who married the first man's sister) are for the first kind of marriage which demands viable offspring and can be dissolved if none are produced in a year or so.

Many ancient peoples had marriages for kids, in that the marriage was only for the sake of producing and taking care of those offspring and would only last until the children were old enough to foster (about 7 years of age).

Sharing a bed, engaging in procreation, sharing a house, or being a family should be in separate categories, not all lumped together under some heading loaded with taboos.

There is a strong taboo against sleeping with children in this country which is just bad for the kids. In other countries it is forbidden for the wife to eat anything that is not leftover on her husband's plate to insure that she makes enough for him to eat.

To believe that sex taboos are the be all and end all of marriage and family taboos is just ridiculous.

Sex taboos belong just there: some of them are against offspring, some of them are to protect children and others from aggressive behavior.

If you lump all behavior under the heading of sex, you get a mess. Look at Iran, where a woman cannot bathe and smell clean without being arrested for distracting men from the contemplation of god with her evil whiles.

FAMILIES HAVE LITTLE TO DO WITH SEX!!!!!! Just because sex is a sub-category of some family behavior (procreation) is no reason to make families subject to sexual mores in the form of laws.

In 99 percent of the animal world, a family is a mom and the babies. Letting other adults into the family is an amazing advance on that, part of our survival ability. So don't mess it up, people. Don't equate marriage with sex.

We need two different words, maybe.

ah well, it's a total mess, isn't it?

Seda said...

Obviously, I was not considering the relationships you mentioned when I wrote earlier. Society has a responsibility to protect the weak and vulnerable, and the consequences of incest to the offspring of it are well known. The social taboos against the first inhibit it in almost all instances. The second case would be hard pressed to get beyond the ‘consenting adult’ question, and is rife with abuse. The third is ludicrous.

Having said that, I don't feel that I have the right to dictate to someone else how to live within the bounds of their own conscience, so long as no one else is damaged. I'm not comfortable with those. Others are not comfortable with me. So be it. The issue of genetic problems does not involve same-sex and unrelated multiple-partner families.

Further, there is no guarantee of sexual relationship in a marriage sanctioned by the state. Currently people sometimes get married in order to obtain visas or citizenship, with no intent to ever conjoin or unite households or families, and this is legal. I'm legally married, and do not have sexual relations with my spouse - and it's a same-sex marriage, too. Are those marriages? Both are sanctioned by the state. How do you define marriage?

Religion has the right to specify the purpose of marriage, including limiting it to procreation and thus only a male with a woman. The state does not.

You can always find the situation or exception to entrap me. I'm not perfect – not even particularly wise – and I don't have all the answers. I’m not Jesus, and I’m not going to kneel and write in the dirt while you tempt me and I come up with the perfect answer.
But I will put my butt on the line and tell you where I stand.

Yes, dear, it is a mess. It's a mess no matter how you look at it. Human relationships are like that.

And still, love is everywhere. It's all around us, in us, through us. Just like beauty. When you get right down to it, we're all just doing the best we can with what we've got. I’m celebrating that. I’m celebrating the beauty of so many relationships that I see. I’m celebrating you, too, Anonymous. Be blessed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for tempting you.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our