by Jim Kaness

As the old saying goes, “Marriage is a fine old institution, and who wants to live in an institution?”

But seriously, we hear a lot about ‘marriage’ these days but I’ve heard very little that suggests the pundits know what they are talking about. What the heck is ‘marriage’ anyway?

Since the beginning of time men and women have been attracted to each other and one thing has led to another and before you knew it the woman gave birth to a child. As cultures developed the clan or tribe or nation began to recognize the need for some order and regulation of human affairs to avoid confusion and dispute. One of those regulations, found in nearly all cultures, is the concept of marriage.

Marriage is a simple civil contract. It says that this man and this woman declare to the society they live in that they have consented to come together and form a family, including attempting to produce children and to raise them to become good citizens in that society. Indeed, the refusal to make children is often a reason for voiding the marriage contract.

Marriage is also a commitment between the marriage partners, and between the society and the partners. Any two people living in close quarters will inevitably disagree on a number of things. The commitment says that we will work diligently to resolve these differences, that our union together is more important than these petty squabbles and is a thing worth fighting for and preserving.

Society, in recognizing this union and the value of having families, offers many perks to the couple including creation of a business partnership (joint financial accounts and joint property ownership) and various other financial and social benefits not available to the single and unmarried members of that society.

Marriage is NOT just “a piece of paper” any more than a hundred dollar bill is NOT just “a piece of paper”. The paper is only a document, a public record, for all to see and to remind us of decisions and agreements previously made.

Marriage is not just a Christian institution. It appears throughout history in nearly all cultures and religions. The ceremonies may differ, but the fundamental purposes and agreements made are remarkably similar.

And, of course, marriage does not guarantee anything. Marriage is only as good as the good faith and trust and intentions of the partners make it. People break or violate various rules and laws all the time and marriage is no exception. Some people use marriage for other purposes such as gaining wealth (marrying for money) or power (marrying into the right family) just as some people use the police or the courts for their own selfish purposes. Anything can be abused and marriage is no exception.

Can we redefine marriage? Of course we can. But, in doing so we run the risk of causing confusion in our and other societies. Redefining marriage is like bringing British automobiles into America. They run just fine on our roads but the steering wheel is on the wrong side.

Will marriage survive our efforts to redefine it? I think it will because marriage was not created or invented by society. Rather marriage is a recognition by society of what people do, and want to do, and what works well for them.


Copyright © 8/3/2008 by Jim Kaness