Amblin' Alameda: Marriage in Our Time

Amblin' Alameda: Marriage in Our Time

Morton Chalfy

Last night I listened to an hour of discussion about marriage by the two co-authors of “Debating Same Sex Marriage,” John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher. These are two intelligent and articulate spokespeople for their respective positions (he’s for it and she’s not) and because they discussed the subject in moderate tones it all seemed very genteel and reasonable. And except for the fact that I disagreed with both of them, it was.

In general on this subject I would say that any people who want to live together in a committed relationship and want to enjoy the legal benefits and obligations of marriage should certainly have the right to do so.

Maggie Gallagher’s point about it is the one I want to explore here. She asserts that heterosexual marriage is primarily for the purpose of procreation and community building and as such is fundamentally different from all other types of unions. That keeping the family unit together is so important to society that it has become a sacred rite and needs the protection of exclusivity to maintain its vigor in pursuit of that purpose.

Almost sounds good enough to be persuasive, but it falls short on the grounds of reality. While mating and family making and community building are natural activities of humans and other animals, the institution of marriage has, from its beginnings, been co-opted by society and particularly by patriarchal societies as a way of controlling women. There are good reasons marriage is in trouble in our country and others.

Before the Second World War the word divorce was only mentioned in hushed whispers and out of the hearing of children. Divorce rates were low to vanishing. After the war, divorce rates began to swell and now half of all marriages end that way. This is a freely chosen way of life for multiple tens of millions of people and there is real reason behind it.

Before the war the police were often called to the scenes of domestic disputes. In my neighborhood it was because a drunken man was beating his wife, often because he had drunk away his pay packet and was taking it out on his personal whipping person. The police would try to calm them down and leave the wife with the admonition that she should be more understanding and accept her lot in life.

Why? Why should a youthful mistake be turned into a life sentence of unhappiness and pain? Why should married people be less free than unmarried ones when it comes to life choices? Why should unbelievers be subject to religious laws passed because of the political muscle of the church? We’re against it in Afghanistan, why should we institute it here?

Had marriage been kept as a sacrament of the church and not applied outside its walls, we wouldn’t have a problem. Had the government not tried social engineering through tax breaks for the married no one but prospective parents would necessarily be interested. Instead we have had to struggle for centuries to free women from its toils when they want their freedom and to fight for tolerance for gays and lesbians.

All humans deserve respect and lifestyles which reflect inborn characteristics like sexual orientation should be equally respected for all. Gay marriage does not diminish hetero marriage. The heteros did the job of trashing it through unconscionably taking advantage of it all by ourselves.