Sunday, November 3, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Marriage, Holy Matrimony or Civll Contract?

Half the class is gay! So the professor's afraid it will get heated. So now, what is the importance of marriage ? Is it effective ?

One of the things that people tend to forget in the marriage debate is that there are really two different kinds of marriage here in America. Although on the surface they seem much the same, there are fundamental differences that can be very profound.

Back when we were having the first debates about this, I took a position that was unsurprising for a lifelong reader of science fiction. It seemed to me then, and it still seems to me now, that we can resolve this entire issue simply by following the lead presented in many science-fiction stories about the "far future". That is, recognize legal marriage for exactly what it is, a legal contract.

Instead of marriage law comprising an entire separate branch of the judicial system, it should be a subdivision of corporate law. After all, from a legal point of view, marriage is a legal contract. Contract law, not marriage law, should be applied to the breaking up of these very personal corporations.

All of the problems our nation has had over issues of marriage, whether they go back to cross racial marriages, or whether first cousins should be allowed to marry, or the current problem with gay unions, can all be resolved with the simple recognition that marriage as a religious and spiritual union of two people falls directly in the religious area of life. Marriage as a financial contract falls firmly under contract law.

Governments traditionally have been unable to see this in the United States. However, in Europe being married often has had nothing to do with any kind of ceremony but involved simply presenting the right licenses and papers and signing a book. When both parties and the witnesses have signed said book, the marriage was complete.

Those who wished to have a religious ceremony were welcome to do so (except in the atheistic Soviet Union), but the legal act was something that was entirely different.

Again, so much of the confusion arises because we use the word marriage for both acts. We call a legal contract with legal expectations and requirements a marriage. We call a spiritual union between two people who love each other a marriage. At the very least, we should call the one a civil marriage and the other a spiritual marriage.

Many churches, including the Catholic Church, are aware of this differentiation. It is entirely possible for a Catholic to be married for the third or fourth time, legally; while the Church insists that that individual is still married to his or her first spouse, religiously.

So, even if we adopted these differentiations, does marriage work?

I'll answer this in pieces.


Marriage works so well for some that they remain married all their lives. I recall one couple who had been married for 50 years being interviewed. Asked how their marriage had lasted so long the husband thought about it for a moment and said, "Well every now and then, for maybe a year or two, we'd just stop talking to each other. Then we 'd get over it."

As strange as it sounds, it obviously worked for them. And that is my point. Marriage is a very personal and individual thing in terms of the spiritual union between two people. What works for one pair may not work for the next. But some marriages are obviously very very successful.

Even a relatively short-term marriage could be seen as individually successful. Some people manage to break up and remain friends. They are even capable of getting together and working for the benefit of their children. I would have to call such a marriage successful, even though it ended in divorce.


Similarly, we find many marriages which are successful financially. The couples perform their appropriate duties, mutually supporting each other and their children. They contribute to the economy of the nation and each other's well-being. There may or may not be love in such a marriage. But it is nevertheless successful.

Again, this can happen in long-term or short-term marriages. Of course, there's always a financial disruption in the case of divorce. However, it is entirely possible for both couples to recover from the event successfully, at least financial terms. (Studies do show that men tend to recover more rapidly and thoroughly from a divorce in financial terms than women.)


From a societal point of view, the purpose of marriage is to create an effective financial team which also provides effective upbringing for the next generation. It is often commented that any nation's greatest resource is its children. This being so, marriage can clearly provide an excellent foundation for raising that next generation and developing that resource.

This becomes a serious problem in the case of divorce. It has been shown that children of divorce are less emotionally secure than children of a happily married couple.


Whatever we think of marriage, I believe it is with us forever. Many species pair bond. Clearly human beings fall within that group. We are not one of the animals that gather together large harems. It may seem that this is contradicted by certain societies in which actual harems are created, but note that only the very wealthiest and most powerful individuals are permitted to do this. In most cases marriage is either between two individuals or a very small group of individuals.

I believe it is quite clear that humanity has evolved to marry.

That is, we generally bond, one partner to another, at least for periods of time. It is been said that humans are a serially monogamous species. Meaning we are monogamous for a period of time with one individual, then break up and find another individual with whom we are monogamous for a time.

The fact that jealousy is a problem even in small group marriages shows the natural state of humanity tends toward pair bonding. Going back to be entirely atheistic and supposedly unemotional Soviet Union, people fell in love and got married. Struggling against this is struggling against the essence of human nature. It is a losing battle.

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