Most people in the West are tolerant – if that’s the word – of same-sex sexual relationships, but half of us draw the line at same-sex marriages. Why is that? Most people in the world probably couldn’t care less if siblings live together, but very few approve of sexual goings-on between or among them. Almost all of them would draw the line at sibling marriages. Why is that?
What is so special about marriage? It can’t be all about children, surely, in these sophisticated times. At least, not in the West. Promiscuity is blatant, adoptions are easy, artificial insemination is routine, divorces are simple, surgical sex-changes abound, birth control is everywhere, and serial monogamy is the norm. The old ideal of “the nuclear family” has gone out the window.
Why should we (society) draw the line anywhere, as long as there are no children involved or envisioned? What would be lost, if we scrapped the idea that society needs to formally approve every marriage? Nothing. Not a damn thing. The law governing civil contracts can take care of any children.
Is it about taxes, pensions or other entitlements? It may be. The last surviving widow of a US Civil War veteran died in 2003, and the last surviving son of a US Civil War Veteran was still alive just last year. (I would want a DNA test for him, but the relevant US Government agency was still paying his pension of $70 a week.)
It was the custom for young girls to be married off to ancient Veterans specifically in order to inherit their lifetime pensions. Sex was not always required of them. Deathbed marriages were just a way for old codgers to do their friends’ families a favour. Sometimes the favours would be reciprocal. Today’s marriages of convenience are following some fine precedents.
Some private companies will not pay spouses’ lifetime benefits (pension and medical) if the age gap is greater than a designated number of years. It’s a good idea. Why don’t national governments introduce a similar measure? Or, why don’t they simply get out of the marriage-approval business altogether? (Or, busybody-ness, which is what it really is.)
The original purpose of community-approved marriage was to give tribal elders the power to ensure the stability of the ruling classes. In the earliest civilisations, marriages within the nobility had to be carefully monitored to mimimise the likelihood of factional rebellions. Marriages were designed to cement alliances of families, clans and factions.
The serfs were generally left alone to arrange their own marriages, though rulers kept a weather eye out for suspicious alliances. Slave families were deliberately split up in order to remove any temptation to plot against their masters. It happened to the Africans in the Americas, and the provenance is an old one.
The difference with same-sex relationships was the absence of children, but in actuality the ruling classes were less against homosexual marriages than for the traditional form. Long ago, empires in China were largely governed by eunuchs, whose value to emperors was that they could not produce lineages to which they might owe their primary loyalties.
National histories are cluttered with examples of military dynasties jostling for political power. As individual rights have gradually superseded community rights, the reason for the official licensing of marriages has lessened. There is no point in the custom any more, and if it were scrapped altogether, it would be no loss.
Even today, there is occasional deep suspicion by hereditary rulers of a “Pink Mafia” whose members, like Masonic lodges, might be loyal to each other at the expense of loyalty to the community as a whole or to the ruling classes. That kind of loyalty might indeed exist here and there, but formal marriage doesn’t and wouldn’t frustrate it. Some state, somewhere, ought to have the courage to give up on marriage altogether. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose any more.