This post was authored by Steven Baker
I have a few friends, who are vehemently opposed to getting married. Since I’m married myself, it leads to some interesting and often heated discussions on the topic. I’ll be the first to admit that there are valid points to both sides of the debate.
Among my main arguments in favour of marriage are that the willingness to engage in a marriage shows your full commitment to your relationship, and allows you both to access the legal privileges available to married couples.
Some of the anti-marriage arguments I hear in response are that it’s “just a bit of paper” so it is meaningless, and since there’s often a religious connotation to marriage, it’s irrelevant to atheists (I find this claim historically, and legally dubious). When I got married, I did not perform any religious acts and just had a small civil ceremony in our local council chambers (as is done in the United Kingdom) which met the minimum legal requirement to “get married”.
In this article, I consider what exactly “getting married” is. What is the essence of a marriage? And who really needs to be involved?
What is Marriage?
There’s a famous joke which goes “What is the shortest sentence in the English language? I am. What is the longest sentence? I do.”
There are plenty of jokes to be made from men and women about what it means to be married, but here I want to explore the real essence of it. Strip away any frivolities, and get down to the real defining features.
What does it mean to get married?
In Western culture, mainly in the movies, a stereotypical wedding would probably be along the lines of this: a man and a woman invite everyone they know (and their plus ones) to an extravagant event at a large church, where the bride can be walked down the aisle in a flowing white dress, to the equally dapper groom. They say some vows to each other, exchange some extremely expensive rings, and are deemed married under the eyes of God. Then after signing a few forms, they are married in the eyes of the Government. The newlyweds then drive off into the sunset on their honeymoon and live happily ever after.
It differs on the detail in reality, but this is basically the gist.
What is it about this ritual that is so important?
If you do not believe in God or other deities, nor follow any religion, and you also do not believe the state should have any part in your wedding, then what is left? Without the blessing of a God or a Government, can you actually get married?
Let’s dig in.
I have attended a Hindu wedding, which, while being completely valid in their culture and religious custom, was not at the time was not considered valid from the Government’s perspective. After the big wedding celebration, the bride and groom had to go to their local council chambers and get “legally” married the same way I did: by signing a piece of paper in front of some bureaucrat.
There are a lot of examples like this, where the state element is a separate event. The question is, if you removed this post-nuptial bureaucratic blessing, is the couple still married?
My answer is; of course!
However, they would not be considered married under the law. In personal matters such as love and relationships, why is state recognition required in order to consider a relationship a marriage?
I don’t believe it should be because I believe this is overstepping the boundaries of the state.
Above are a couple of examples of weddings, one without religion but with the state, the other without the state but with religion (requiring the state bit done later).
But what if neither were there?
What’s Wrong with Anarchistic, Atheistic Weddings?
We’ve stripped away religion and state and seen that a marriage can be valid with one aspect missing. But can both be missing?
Take the idea of hiring a venue and inviting your friends and family, where you exchange vows in front of everyone and commit to being married to each other. There is no official clergy member present to oversee, and there is no Government representative present, either. Can you still be considered married then?
If not, why not? I say, of course!
- What if there was no fancy venue, but just someone’s home?
- What if there were no vows, just some basic utterances?
- What if there were just close friends and family in attendance, or just immediate family?
- Or just close friends?
- What if neither and it were just the two people actually getting married?
At what point is it no longer considered a wedding?
Imagine if two people told each other that they were committed to each other, and one proposed to the other. At that point, they agreed that they are now married.
Without the ceremony (why is their little meeting not a ceremony?), a religious and/or Government official, and the company of friends and family, can this be considered a wedding?
Once boiled right down, a marriage appears to be a specific agreement between two people (which could be verbal or written). Just like any other contract!
In the personal matters of a relationship, my stance is that if you want that to be the way you get married, then nobody else gets to say it is invalid. It’s really none of their business.
Unless you are the State
The state’s point of view is that everything is their business.
The only objection I can muster for why the above small event is less than optimal is that without the piece of paper “proving” you are married, neither partner will get to enrol in the Government’s special benefits package for legally married couples. These vary from country to country, but consist of changes to legal rights and responsibilities, tax advantages, and whatever other carrots can be dangled as part of the state’s passive social engineering project.
The whole gay marriage protest that is happening around the world, really boils down to gay couples being allowed access to this legal toolkit, as it doesn’t meet the state’s view of what a proper couple should be. This toolkit is really the only part of the whole charade that cannot be manually emulated—for example, two men could hire a venue, hire a person to run the wedding (the “celebrant”), invite friends and family to go through the ritual, then draw up a contract committing various rights to one another and even changing their surnames. But they can’t get in on the tax benefits!
Without this members’ only subscription, there is no benefit to the state sanctioning your wedding. Gay or straight.
Real Marriage Equality
Real marriage equality consists of the state getting out of the marriage business altogether. Existing common law and contract law is more than enough to deal with holding parties to terms they have agreed.
Nobody else should get a say in whether consenting adults can get into whatever relationships they choose, whether monogamous, polygamous, heterosexual, homosexual or both.
As long as all parties are compos mentis and agree, then there’s no justifiable reason to stop them.