January 10, 1997


Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.

What biologists call pair bonding occurs with many species. Some bond just to mate and some bond for life.While the mating habits of all sorts of living beings are interesting, they hardly make the front page of the newspapers.Unlike most species, which are fairly consistent in how they bond, Homo sapiens can be highly variable. Not only are the bonding customs different for different tribes and cultures, but they can be radically different within cultures and religions.In the United States, whatever bonding pattern you might dream up can be found somewhere.

More significant is the fact that what is professed by various groups and what is practiced by them can be very different. In this country, of the people who profess to marry for life, only half manage to do so. There are tendencies, such as more religious fundamentalist stay married for life, but it is hardly a rule. The fact is that while the vast majority of people intend to stay married to the same person for life, only about half manage to do so.

Wedding customs also differ radically, ranging from extremely elaborate and expensive public ceremonies, to nothing other than an agreement between two people to wed. This is usually recorded in city hall so that the couple can have some of the financial and other advantages of a marriage. If an anthropologist wanted to record an American way of getting married, he would be unable to do so.

I have heard people say that they would not feel married without a clergyman-officiated ceremony attended by all of their friends and relatives. The subsequent divorce, however, is usually a very private affair. Some people like getting married so much that they do it over and over again.

Now people of the same sex who live together want the same recognition and privileges as people of opposite sexes have. Why would same-sex couples want marriage? Besides the emotional aspects, they would like to include their partner as a spouse in their health insurance. They would like to be able to visit a critically ill partner in a hospital when "family only" are admitted. There are other advantages to being married such as being able to transfer retirement benefits to a spouse, spousal privileges in clubs, income tax benefits and community property rights.

I don't see any reason why they shouldn't have those privileges. It's not something that I, or anyone else should have a say in. Like the clothes that someone wears, or the home he chooses to live in, it is a matter of taste. The responsibility of the state should be to merely record those decisions.

The argument against marriages between people of the same sex is that it tends to destroy the sanctity of the marriage ceremony. I don't see how, with a 50% divorce rate, that is possible.

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