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Why Marriage?

Why do we marry? Both Church and State must believe there is a societal benefit to having a married citizenry since there are such tangible benefits for married people in both areas. Priests have long joked that their job is to “marry them and bury them.” In our country, married couples receive tax benefits and social security benefits that are not available to commit, but unmarried, couples.

There may be some persons who marry simply because of the edicts and benefits of marriage by Church and State, but I think that most of us believe that the desire to marry has roots in the ephemeral constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness. My question today is why, in the face of almost half of U.S. marriage ending in divorce, do we still want to marry?

Clearly, it transcends the desire to be seen as complying with the old social customs, since the desire extends to those who are in gay relationships and to couples who have already had and/or adopted children.

Love is obviously a worthy goal. But, everyone knows that love can be found without marriage. So, I reject love as the reason for marriage.

Philosophers have long theorized that we all have an innate desire to rid ourselves of our alone-ness, to be understood and accepted by at least one other person. Certainly, this understanding and acceptance requires commitment, but does a commitment require marriage?

Once upon a time, I think we believed that act of marriage altered us. Marriage is what that boy needs, old men used to say, that will grow him up. Apparently, wives were then seen as drill sergeants, since the other solution often proposed for growing a boy up was enlistment in the army.

Also, once upon a time, women and men were so dependent on each other to survive that marriages were tolerated even in intolerable situations.

I think that for most of us, we marry to publicly acknowledge something that has already taken place. We are in love. We have decided to commit ourselves to another person. Joyfully, amazingly, that person is also in love with us and wants to commit to us. We marry to share that astounding, life-altering fact with the other people we love and who will be affected by it, i.e., our family and friends.

Also, we believe that by making our promises publicly, we are more likely to be able to keep them. And we want the legal protections that marriage itself promises. Finally, I think we want the order that marriage brings with it and the order that divorce accords if the marriage is unsuccessful. In both instances, there are objective formats for handling otherwise potentially chaotic events. It is in the best interests of the State and the citizenry to have these processes that govern the situations. It helps us resolve property issues and custody and support issues.

Of course, priests and ministers can decide whether or not they agree to marry anyone. We willingly subject ourselves to the constraints of a church, when we ask for a rite to be performed, whether it is a christening or bris or marriage or funeral. But, should the State have the right to deny marriage to anyone unless it is under the police power accorded it to keep people safe? We have acceded to the idea that the State may deny a marriage license on the basis of consanguinity under this power, but how does denying a gay couple a marriage license keep anyone safer?