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.