When I first heard of the American movement to legalize homosexual marriages, my first thought was that Americans are completely mad. My second thought was “What’s the point of marrying anyway?”
The Companionate View of Marriage
This is one I grew up hearing. It goes like this: Alex and Jill meet. Alex and Jill feel very much affection for each other. Depending on the context, Alex and Jill might feel sexually attracted to each other. Alex and Jill feel like they can’t live without each other. Alex and Jill decide to get married so they can have sexual relations and care for each other and make each other happy for the rest of their lives. (Or at least till they change their minds).
What problem do I have with that theory? Well, really nothing. I just think it’s a little weird. Consider this spinoff:
Jill meets Renee at a dance party. Jill and Renee feel very much affection for each other. They like to dance with each other very much. They feel that they can’t live without each other. So, they decide to get married and dance together and take care of each other for the rest of their lives.
Now, if Alex and Jill and Jill and Renee just had a private ceremony to which they invited all their friends, made promises to each other, ate lots of food and danced a lot, I would pay no attention to them. But if they had to go to the government to fill a form, be officially registered as married, get tax breaks for it and other special results, I would go “What the hell?” So you want to be with each other. Fine. Be with each other. But why are we subsidizing your relationship? Why should we even care about it? How is it any of my business if you want to rub each other’s tummy for the rest of your lives and why should you get special privileges for it?
My point: If the government is going to officially recognize two people who care for each other, I have a couple of friends I would like to get married to. Then they can visit me when I’m sick, inherit my stuff, share my property and we can get tax deductions for it. But that’s all unnecessary. Two people who want to be together can be together but it’s kind of ridiculous to assign some special status to it. My verdict is that the companionate reason for marriage is pointless and ridiculous.
So, in what context does marriage make sense?
The Conjugal View of Marriage
Everyone knows that sex between two members of the same species has the biological purpose of producing children and it often does. Children are vulnerable. They need care, stability and guidance. Consequently, they do best when they are able to be raised by both of their biological parents. Sadly, this is sometimes impossible but it is nevertheless, an ideal to strive for.
That’s where marriage comes in. Marriage can be a mechanism by which we bind two members of opposite sexes together so that when they bear children, we can ensure (to the best of our ability) that those children have both parents available. Marriage would be different from cohabiting in that both partners have an obligation to be there for each other and their children and cannot just leave at a moment’s notice. Such an environment would be very good for children. In this context, the idea of marriage does make sense. It serves some purpose. The privileges given to married people make sense and they are well worth it. The only problem with it is that not everybody who wants to marry can simply marry. There has to be a good reason they should marry. Because of such rules, I can’t marry my brother. But no one has ever complained about that. There are people who shouldn’t marry.