Does marriage simply exist for reproduction? If you are married, did you choose your spouse based on their ability to have children? I'm guessing the answers to both those questions will be no.
A proposed new piece of legislation is causing a great deal of controversy in the US at the moment. The Washington Defence of Marriage Alliance are advocating a new law which would mean only marriages which produce children within three years will be legitimate. Yes, that sounds crazy, but the group do not seriously believe that this initiative should be made law. Quite the opposite. What they are attempting to do is challenge the idea that marriage only exists for the purposes of procreation and in the process advance the cause of same sex marriage.
In the past, it is true that people married for the purpose of producing children. Preferably as many as possible. The rich wished to produce heirs to unite families and their assets, the poor wanted to ensure there was someone to take care of them in old age. Nowadays, we marry for love. People tie the knot because, quite simply, they can not imagine not being with that someone special for the rest of their life. Yes, many marriages end in divorce, but even those who have been divorced go out and marry again, sometimes more than once. Proof, if it were needed, of an over-riding human desire to devote ones life to someone special.
Same sex marriages were made legal in the UK in December 2005. In the time period between December 2005 and September 2006 over 15,000 same sex ceremonies took place. Has the world stopped turning? No. In reality, there are now thousands of couples who have publicly and officially declared their love for each other, who in the past would have been denied the opportunity to do so. None of these unions will be 'productive', although some couples may adopt, but as far as the specific individuals are concerned all are valid, and all took place for the same reasons heterosexual marriages take place - an overwhelming love for another human being.
Many 'different' sex couples do not have children, for some this will be a choice, for many others it will be a tragic blow. Most will stay together, even the unintentionally childless, because having a family was not the over-riding reason for them being together in the first place. However, using the logic that marriage only exists for the purpose of producing children, one could argue that these marriages are somehow less valid than the fruitful ones. Naturally, no one in such a marriage would agree with this, and I would suggest that very few people outside would either. What about two retired people who having been widowed, meet up, fall in love, marry and spend their old age together? Is their relationship not as legitimate as a couple of ultra-fertile twenty-somethings? I think it is.
It would be easy to label the actions of the Washington Defence of Marriage Alliance as a gimmick, or publicity stunt, or even a cynical attack on the institution of marriage. I think these reactions are wrong. This initiative will never become law (I'd bet next years shoe budget on that) but what it will do is encourage people to question the traditional view of marriage. Of course, a minority will have such strong religious or moral views that they will never agree to a change in the status quo, but I suspect the majority will agree that marriage is about the joining together of two individuals, and children are a (very welcome) bonus.
I know many of my readers will have a sneaking suspicion that I am a bit of a cynic, but (don't tell anyone) the truth is I am quite the romantic. When I pass a church or registrars office and see a wedding party coming out, I smile and think 'good luck to you' because seeing two people making a public commitment to one another is truly wonderful. Regardless of their gender.
Thanks to Misfit Duck and BlogHer for alerting me to this item.
Technorati Tags: same+sex+marriage, gay+marriage, usa+law, the+washington+defence+of+marriage+alliance