Till death us do part

Marriage, eh? As some famous wag once said, it’s not a word, it’s a sentence.

Marriage is a contract between two people; a statement they are willing to invest in each other’s futures, and share each other’s ups, downs and sidewayses. Historically, children were an important part of this arrangement, and concern about the next generation would have motivated the creation of stable family units.

But marriage is more, particularly in relatively modern times. It is a three-way contract between two people and the state. The state agrees to acknowledge that couples who agree to link themselves in this way have certain rights. Moreover, the couples allow that the state has certain rights over that relationship, for example the right to decide on the splitting of property if a coupling breaks down.

This second aspect of marriage only became common practice in the 18th century for the majority of British people. This is because concerns of inheritance and property division were only really concerns for the wealthy. When more and more people started to become rich enough to need regulation, the institution of marriage as we know it today started to emerge. Prior to this, it is interesting to note, the primary way in which couples got “married” in the first sense (although they were not married in the second sense) was to cohabit.

Let’s talk about gay people, we haven’t mentioned them in a while. All over the world, gay couples are denied the right to marriage in the second sense. Perhaps this is why they are keen* on concepts like Civil Partnerships. Couples who are already married in the first sense can get the social recognition that getting married in the second sense entails. And whatever anyone might say, having the society you live in not acknowledge the validity of your relationship cannot be very pleasant.

The good news, if any can be drawn, is that although there are plenty of people who would want to restrict the kind of person who can apply for marriage type 2, these same small-minded people can do nothing about the same couples enjoying marriage type 1. I like to imagine that this causes them some unhappiness and discomfort.

Stephen seems to believe** that Civil Partnerships are foolish, as they mark a gay marriage as being somehow different from a “normal” (!) one. This comment is what, in part, inspired this post, and I have to say I agree, for reasons that (if you follow the argument above and have read my previous thoughts) should be clear. It is a shame that Civil Partnerships are exclusively for same-sex couples, as otherwise I would definitely prefer to ratify my relationship in this way and not by marriage.

This post has meandered a bit. I think I will end by saying “Come on Britain, you are supposed to be a civilised country, let’s remove the differences between the way we recognise same- and mixed-sex couples.” Let’s not forget that posterity can be a harsh judge.

* Well not all of them, obviously. They are individuals, you know, not just a group!

** Apologies if I am misrepresenting you Stephen, this can be edited if it is incorrect.

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16 thoughts on “Till death us do part

  1. No, you have my position right, although I would like to note that I didn’t refer to heterosexual relationships as “normal”.

    Also, I disagree with your analysis of marriage as being simply a contract. From a purely secular point of view, that is clearly the case. However, it omits the aspect of marriage as religious observance, where the couple swear their vows before God, and ask God to bless their union. That isn’t an invention of the 18th Century. I suspect virtually all Christian couples I know would be offended at having their marriages described as ‘a contract’.

  2. Personally I can think of no reason why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to have the same LEGAL type of marriage as straight people if they want to.

    Not being able to be married in a church of a religion that expressly forbids homosexuality, eg the Catholic Church, is a different matter.

    Can you explain how a Civil Partnership is different from a legal marriage, (except by name)? Do Civil Partners not have the same rights/recognition as spouses? (maybe y’all all know this, but I’m not British. And you KNOW ain’t never gonna be gay marriage in Georgia!)

    I think it *is* foolish to have something which is effectively the same as a civil marriage but just has a different name, so nobody can be happy. It’s just a fence-sitting “solution”.

  3. In France they have had the PACS for years. It is a way of giving any couples the same rights as married couples, in terms of tax. Also, especially important given that 25% of the French workforce are civil servants, they can ask for work in the same area.

    You can PACS with anyone you like, and it just disappears when you marry someone else.

    Good idea, huh?

    I want to get married, but not in any form of religious ceremony. I don’t like the religious element of marriage at all, I often find it very hypocritical.

    Marriage for me is really just about the couple. What’s important is making vows to somebody you want to spend your life with, the practical, state-related bit is not really important to me.

    Oh, and I want a nice small wedding. Whoever I decide to marry (!!!) is really the only important person. Yeah, it’s nice to invite family and friends, but to me that’s a different thing. The whole party bit is just an excuse to meet up with lots of friends and have a party.

  4. Julliet – Mr Belle & I got married at the registry office with only our mothers as witnesses, then spent that night in a fancy hotel suite, then the next night had a big dinner with 50 of our nearest & dearest, then stayed in the hotel again.

    It was awesome. And for us it was still pretty frickin expensive, so I don’t know how people manage the big weddings. Don’t they want as much money as possible to invest in their life together? Weird.

  5. After having two marriages – one the big “do” in church with lots of people, and the other a quiet romantic one in Florida with just the two of us – I can say that the second one, although it ended bitterly, it was the best wedding out of the two. And I shall never get married again. Ever!

    And while my religion does not support gay people (they think it is a sin, while I think it is God’s idea of seeing how everyone reacts to each other and lives with each other – love they neighbour and all that), I know that there have been, there are and there always will be gay couples so I believe they should be able to be married, in whatever kind of ceremony that they wish.

  6. Juliet: just a quick and horrifying thought about the ‘small wedding’ thing. I did a count when A&A got married in November, and we have 27 relations in common. And that doesn’t include the likes of Leigh, who is family in all but name. (It does include PJ and SW, both of whom are very small and so might not need a full invite.)

    Of course, there’s no rule that says you have to invite all these people, but knowing some of the tensions in the family, there might be a bit of a scandal… and especially since you’re the eldest in that particular branch of the family. (It’s an issue R&L are worrying about quite a lot, since she also has quite a lot of family, which doesn’t leave much if any room for anyone else.)

    Sometimes, I’m really glad I don’t have that to worry about.

  7. Stephen, no, I wasn’t intending to imply you were. The “normal” was, once again, me attempting to be funny, and not me trying to make you sound like a bigot.

    You are right about this other aspect of marriage, but in my view this is a third way of looking at the situation, not a way that conflicts with the first two. The contract between the couple and God is, however, only important if you are religious.

    And I apologise to the romantics out there who are offended by my use of “contract”. You are potentially right, I should have thought of a better word, maybe. I only intend it to mean an agreement between the parties involved, with none of the connotations of expedience of perfunctoriness (a word I believe I have just invented…!) that “contract” can sometimes have.

    In Britain, Church and State have always been closely linked, particularly through the period we are referring to.

    Also, there is a difference between a marriage and a wedding ceremony. As stated, it used to be quite acceptable for a couple to become married by living together, a custom adopted from the early Christian Church.

    Um, lots of unrelated thoughts, should probably have got them into some kind of coherent argument… never mind, will do it later, I am in a rush now…

    Oh, and you can have a small wedding with lots of people. If you follow my meaning… It is more to do with the attitude behind it, not the numbers.

    Sorry, will be back to reply to other people soon, but must dash.

  8. Hmmm. The wedding we have in mind will be small in scale, but with all the people we want to invite, and with all those people coming for the entire day, not just bits of it. Best not give away too much though, as some of you will be there and I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

    So essentially, I want the whole party thing, but I want it to be nice, and essentially about the people and not all poncey and unnecessary.

    And Chris’s family is as big as ours, so actually, people-wise, our wedding will be huge!

    Money, rather than presents, is the way to go I think

  9. Are we getting married?

    Don’t I have to ask you first?

    Related question: would it be acceptable to propose via blog? Some people have been suggesting the whole blog thing has become a bit moribund recently, so that would shake it up I suppose.* Any thoughts welcome.

    * Just don’t tell Juliet.

  10. I’m not aware of a ‘down on one knee’ smiley. Can’t say I’ve looked though.

  11. Another, more relevant thought.

    AT what point does a person become family? I mean, to me, Chris is equally my family as my relations, if not more so given the difficult time my family often give me. But is he part of ‘the family’ (ie, with the grandparents etc) or do we have to get married for that.

    Given that Peter and Lauren are having a baby in May (is that news to you Stephen or does your bit of family already know?) will she then be more of a family member than Chris, because she is the mother of a family member whereas Chris is just a boyfriend?

    ANd how about Bunn? Cousin Kate and Bunn can’t get married (both being girls) so at what point does Bunn become a family member?

    Which is the whole point of the post I guess. People want their relationships to be recognised by their family and friends as such (I’m not saying Kate and Bunn do, I have no idea about them). Do we accept somebody’s partner who is the same sex into our family in the same way as we accept somebody’s husband or wife?

    I hope I’m coherent enough here that people who are not intimate with the details of my family can still comment on it. Essentially, is our whole system of validating relationships and saying what is and isn’t serious (because that’s what people do) completely and utterly ridiculous.

    For the record, For our wedding I intend to end out invites plus one. It’s up to a couple to decide how serious they are and whether they are ‘part of the family’ / ready to do the whole socialising bit.

  12. That’s such an interesting point, Juliet.

    I think that it depends on a lot of factors, includng how the people involved define the relationship.

    To take you as an example; Chris is not just a *someone you’re dating right now* boyfriend to you, it’s clearly a meaningful relationship, but you’re not married or *officially* engaged (yet!) either.

    Presumably you’ve been going out for a reasonable length of time and met most/all of each other’s immediate family. You wouldn’t define a boyfriend as part of the family if none of these factors were true, would you?

    I myself have wondered the reverse: When someone divorces, are they not part of the family they’re no longer married into?

    For example, my sister’s ex husband is no longer my brother-in-law, but he is father to my niece & nephew. He’s basically not in our family any more, but it’s partly because they all live in another city than most of my family.

    My mother is counted as family by my dad’s family, but they were married for a lot longer, and I lived with her, so she was still present in their lives after the divorce.

  13. I think the whole inviting your family plus one is not the right way to go, although you (Juliet) may not be miffed if someone sent you an invite plus one knowing full well you and Chris are intending to marry, but I think I would. That’s just me personally though. I knew someone once who did that to her family members even though she knew her brother had been dating this woman for two years – she knew her name, she had socialised with her at family events – I felt it was just wrong to put plus one on the invite. Like I said, that is me and I am not being critical of you because I don’t know your family.

    Southern Belle, I am divorced from my husband but I still consider my ex mother in law to be my mother in law and she always has and still does treat me like a daughter. My son is her grandson and we will always be connected. I suppose it depends on whether you have kids or not and how good your relationship was before the divorce. Plus the fact she thinks her own son is huge idiot!

  14. If you send out “plus one” invites, be sure to make it clear that people must RSVP properly – you’ll need an exact count for catering purposes. According to one ‘wedding survival guide’ I browsed one time, the proper etiquette is that you are obliged to invite a partner that someone has been seeing over a matter of years, but not someone they’re just seeing casually. Naturally, etiquette books are infuriatingly short on specifics.

    I didn’t know about Peter and Lauren. Actually, when she wasn’t at A&A’s wedding, I kinda assumed they’d split up.

    When does a person become family?

    Formally, it’s at the point of marriage (or, in the case of a homosexual couple, when they get one of those cursed civil partnerships). And, when this bond is dissolved, the person involved ceases to be family.

    Informally, a person is family if, when planning some sort of event you find yourself in a position where you don’t just invite the one, but rather both. For example, ‘Ric & Leigh’.

    Beyond that, I got nothin’.

  15. Hmm, I think informally is more important.

    It’s tricky. The problem is, I would never not invite somebody who’s already been to a family event, and who I therefore know. However, new people are more difficult, because there has to be a first time they get invited.

    And don’t panic about the plus ones guys. For one thing, you don’t yet know how we’re planning to cater our wedding yet!

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