Therefore in the public interest I herewith undertake to present to you a brief history of Marriage.
Modern humans have been around for somewhere between 200,000 and 1,000,000 years. So this problem with marriage isn't exactly a new thing. Humans have these genes that have one goal and one purpose: to reproduce; to perpetuate themselves; to carry on. Those genes are not by nature monogamous, but they are by nature highly jealous. "MY genes are being perpetuated here, not YOURS. So get your paleolithic paws off my woman! That one, too. And that one."
This tended to lead to a lot more clubbing and stoning than was strictly necessary, and so in the best interests of our reproducing genes humans formed societies. These societies solved the problem of jealousy-related manslaughter and other reproductive misunderstandings by pairing off and marking spouses in some way as off-limits to others. Not that that ever really stopped any mischief from happening; it merely set down the ground rules, indicating where extra discretion was needed, and providing a framework for dispute-resolution.
So we have the earliest definition of marriage, consisting of socially-recognized reproductive partners as a way of heading off potentially deadly disputes among your basic cave-man types.
Much later as societies became incredibly complex, it became increasingly difficult for an individual to determine one's actual place in society. In European cultures and others it became usual for people to belong to classes or categories, and for certain categories to exist under the protection of more powerful ones which they served. Marriage paralleled this arrangement by placing women socially under protection of men whose status offered them a position in society. Marriage in this type of feudal society became then a contract between a man and his father-in-law in which property was exchanged; namely a woman. In every legal sense she was considered property, first that of her father, and then that of her husband. A woman simply had no status without being legally deeded to some man or another, and the definition of marriage in such societies was the arrangement by which a man extended some of his legal, social status to a woman in exchange for subservience and offspring. This is the origin of the legal definition of marriage that people defend so vociferously today.
Much, much later we witness shifts in society leading to more enlightened concepts such as human rights, freedom and democracy. Just for men, initially, but eventually for women as well. In most countries this has only happened within the last 100 years or so; in some countries it has not even happened yet. With that change, marriage quietly changes as well.
Since women no longer need a man's legal status in order to own property, to be recognized under the law, to have rights etc., what is marriage now for? Well, the law conveniently provided another reason for marriage by outlawing fornication and adultery. By inserting itself into the bedroom, government held onto its medieval authority over the family, and marriage became basically a license to have legal sex.
In the last 50 years or so in most jurisdictions, "blue laws" have been struck down as impractical, unnecessary, backwards, unenforceable, inhumane, and generally stupid. So where does that leave marriage? Unwilling to surrender power in any domain, the law gradually and sneakily found a way to keep the marital handcuffs on: Insurance. Taxation. Property. Identity. Each of these areas in our complex lives are affected by one's marital status. When a relationship breaks down, it leaves a path of legal destruction a mile wide which supports a thriving industry all its own.
Not only that, the law as it stands discriminates and disadvantages people who for any number of reasons cannot or will not participate in traditional marriage. The law in regard to marriage is increasingly being recognized as deeply unjust, outdated, destructive, and pointless. Children? There have long been adequate laws on the books which protect the rights and enforce the responsibilities of biological mothers and fathers. Laws regarding marriage are more often an obstacle and a distraction to paternity/maternity laws being fairly and evenly enforced.
What should the future of legal marriage hold? None. Nothing whatsoever. It is far past time to dissolve any and all legal definitions of marriage, whether it be:
- Ownership of women;
- Legalized sex;
- Eligibility for citizenship, insurance, education, or any other specific benefit;
- Inheritance and property;
- "Next of kin" recognition.
If two (or more) people choose to say they are married, then they are the only people eligible to define what exactly that means. The Law, to be fair and just, must restrict itself to recognizing individuals only, and must accept that individuals will at times be in relationships with each other. And when those relationships dissolve, the Law does not need to become involved.
Will this be better or worse for children and families? I assert that it will be better. My reasoning is as follows:
A marriage is often regarded as an extant thing apart from the individuals, as some gold-plated unassailable fortress of permanence. If that illusion were not reinforced with legalistic documents, elaborate state-issued certificates and the like, then perhaps more attention would be given to the fragile, ever-changing and ethereal thing called a relationship.
Without the legal fiction of Marriage to muddy the waters and distract everyone, substantive legal concepts such as property and paternity could be dealt with rationally and in the best interests of all involved including and particularly children.
Without a legal definition to consider, individuals would be free to consider their decision to marry entirely within the context of their particular religious faith should they have one, or entirely in the context of their relationship. This would seem to present a clearer, more focused idea of just what it is they are choosing for themselves, and in my opinion would lead to stronger families less likely to be torn apart by financial, employment, religious, social or legal considerations, well-meaning though they may be.
Therefore the question of gay marriage is the wrong question entirely. We should not be asking whether gay marriage is legal, but why the Law has anything at all to say about our most intimate, personal relationships in the first place.
The government is neither our parent nor our priest. We are not feudal serfs, nor cave-men. It is time to establish the preeminence of human rights and freedom, and to eliminate any reference to marriage in the Law.