Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's in a Marriage?

There seems to be a great deal of debate going on lately about not only what constitutes a marriage, but who has the right to one.  As someone who has been married twice, there are some who believe that I should be able to speak on this right of joining with a certain degree of expertise.  As someone who has likewise been divorced twice, there are an equal or greater number who believe that, having twice failed to keep one together, I have absolutely no right to voice an opinion.

That's the thing about "Just Blowing Smoke" however.  Since this is in fact my world and you're just living in it, I not only don't have to check with the readers of this site (both of them) for permission; I don't normally even seek the judgment of the DJBSS or even the SOS lexicographers before speaking out on a subject (and usually can't sober them up enough to do so even on the rare occasions when I want to).  

Speaking about belief in general, if not my suitability to speak about the subject in particular.  One of the chief arguments about this ceremonial joining is that the Christian religious belief determines that this should be the relationship between one man and one woman.  That may in fact be the case in the New Testament, but there's a different story being told in the Old Testament.  Abraham had more than one wife, at least according to Genesis 16:1 and 25:1, Ahab is asked to give his "best wives and children" up to an enemy in The First Book of Kings 20:1, David appears to have been married to Michal (Book of Samuel 18:27), Abigail (The First Book of Samuel 25:43) and Eglah (The Second Book of Samuel 3:5).  All of this of course, discounts the concubines and slaves that appear to being sharing the beds, if not marital status with major Biblical figures (except in Abraham's case, where Hagar was apparently both depending on when you look).  

But religious groups can choose what kind and whose marriages that want to sanction and whose they don't; as I discovered during my first attempt at the practice when the Catholic Church refused me for in turn refusing to take and pass their class before going forward (though looking back at my record, one cannot help but wonder whether I might have learned something useful from the education process).  One cannot also help but wonder however, which religion we should use to judge by.  Many of them after all have permitted polygamy of one form or another, and most have tacitly sanctioned the reproductive practices purportedly restricted to marriage, at least to those sitting on the throne.  One might go even further and ask why, at a time when so many in this country (including myself) are seeking to keep Sharia law from being used in any way to judge or condone behavior, why laws of Christian tradition or the Jewish law that precedes it should be a standard from which we judge.  (Oh I know the arguments that this is a 'Christian Nation', but disregard their logical absurdity since I normally hear them from the same people decrying Sharia Law practiced by nations in the Middle East.)

And as we thereby seek to prevent religion beliefs (which are often contradictory and rife with seemingly irreconcilable differences) from being the standard for marriage, we might also ask ourselves by what right the State thinks it has authority to decide such an issue.  A "Marriage License" issued by the government is of course required in order to any union to be considered legal.  Where in the Constitution (federal or state) should we look to find that particular empowerment?  In point of fact there is none.  Marriage ceremonies were for most of history, simple ceremonies conducted locally to acknowledge a romantic bond publicly; and could be as simple as the couple jumping over a broom.  Of course things got more complicated as noble families bound themselves to each other and joined lands through treaties of marriage.  Likewise having some form of documentation of the bond came in handy when divvying up the spoils of inheritance in a grand estate after such mergers.  In none of this however (with the exception of some of the nobles getting hitched) was it required to obtain the 'permission' of the state.  So the question remains, by what right or documented ceding of power does any level of government get to issue a license for marriage, as if you were registering the ownership of a business or a dog (questions which have likewise yet to be answered)


You know, this probably hasn't been as clever and amusing as some of my more recent weekend efforts (which in turn are probably not as clever and amusing as I would have like to have made them).  But it is in fact the discussion itself that provides the normally required humor.  The truth of the matter is that the discussion of the subject by the President (especially in an election year), the Vice President (for whom the concept of speaking on any subject without putting his foot in his mouth up to the knee is usually his greatest concern), or the opposition party candidate running for the office (whose religion does in fact permit polygamy) is all but ludicrous.  At a period in this country's history when the national debt is on the verge of of destroying it, at a time when half the people in this country are complaining that they're not getting enough from a government being paid for by the half being demonized for making enough money to do so, at a time when the economy continues to swirl the bowl with a fairly distinctive flushing sound; the last thing we need to be talking about is who gets to get married

What's more, at a time when out-of-wedlock childbirth is unacceptably high and when "baby daddy" and 'baby momma" have become all but acceptable descriptions of former partners that were never married; this discussion is becoming largely irrelevant.  After all, the "Leave it to Beaver", "Father Knows Best", and even "I Love Lucy" marriages from our parents day are mostly gone (and more's the pity).  For those trying to save what was once defined as a 'Traditional Marriage', sorry but it's largely gone.  Like it or not, we live in an extended society today where children understand the concept of step parents, step grand parents, and people related to them who aren't actually related to the kids at all.  We speak calmly of ludicrous concepts like my 'nephew' or 'sister-in-law' by my first marriage as if they had any meaning.  Hell, according to our current Secretary of State at the time when she was formerly the First Lady, but not yet a former Senator (How's that for complicated?); "It Takes a Village" to raise a kid anyway. 

As for my own feelings on who should be allowed to get married, I'm afraid that regardless of my past experience on the subject, I will not say.  Since I've already expressed the opinion that both the Church and the State have no standing in the argument, how can I then claim to have one.  As for my own potential marriage plans, while some say that 'the third time's the charm', others argue that 'three strikes and you're out'; I find that I am wary, but at least occasionally curious on the subject.  Having lost half of my stuff in the first of those marital partings, and half of what's left in the second, I appear to be having difficulty in finding someone who's interested in at least half of what's left ... let alone living and putting up with a stogie-smoking Curmudgeon.  If I ever find someone however (and I do continue the search), I believe that we will have to have a serious discussion about 'what's in a marriage' before I'm convinced to once more take the plunge.

It was only this evening while indulging in the guilty pleasure of reading other blogs that I discovered a posting on this subject by mi Amigo, Roland Hansen.  We don't always agree politically, but it's an interesting take on the politicizing that this subject has recently gotten in the news. 


Roland Hansen said...

What an absolutely wonderful, fantastically written commentary you have written on this subject, mi amigo Tim. Very well put indeed. I tend to support your perspective, including that of not explicitly expressing my own personal opinion.
BTW, did I ever tell you that I used to teach Sociology of Marriage and The Family at Owens Community College?

Laura Demaria said...

Well, technically your sovereign could have a say in whom you married if it was a question of title, succession or noble blood lines. In England, the royal council needed to approve the marriage of the sovereign him(or her)self. Not that it particularly affected someone like Henry VIII, the poster child of heterosexual marriage.

Laura Demaria said...

(Procrastinating grading truly awful research papers.)

Timothy W Higgins said...

Being far more education in historical references Laura, your knowledge on the subject would be far greater than mine. I suspected that such would be the case from my own limited research, hence my comments in the area of nobility and estate.

Since title is not at issue, and disposition of estates are now a separate one, the question of the place of the State in granting permission to marry remains.

Timothy W Higgins said...

Kind words Roland, though I found last evening that you had actually posted an effort preceding my own. I took the liberty of posting a link to it as an update to this effort.

I likewise find nothing surprising in your one-time teaching efforts, or the subject on which you expounded.

Roland Hansen said...

Much grassy ass, my friend; er, I mean, muchas gracias, mi amigo. Gee, I hope no oe takes affront to my political incorrectness.