Tuesday, April 02, 2013

What's Love Got to do with It

This discussion has nothing to do with the movie of this name, the book that inspired it, the song or whatever else was involved (I have never seen, read, or have any knowledge of this, but I thought the title was useful). I am concerned here with Gay marriage and the concept of “Love and Marriage going together like a horse and carriage,” and such other romantic nonsense.
I have often seen, read, or heard in the current preoccupation with Gay marriage, that when two people love each other they should be allowed to marry. If you love someone and that love is reciprocated, and if you wish to marry and live together, why should  you not be allowed to do so. I find this a reasonably cogent argument. However, the concept of romantic love leading to marriage is a terribly ethnocentric and idealistic idea found almost exclusively in Western-Europeans and especially among Americans.
Historically, even traditionally, and certainly cross-culturally, love has had little or nothing to do with marriage. In many societies marriages are arranged between families, clans, or tribes, and the two participants have little or nothing to say about it. There are always political, economic, or social factors involved that have nothing to do with the desires of those being married. Marriages are arranged to cement alliances between families or groups, to consolidate landholdings, to unite two groups for defense, and so on. Of course these types of marriages were common among the upper classes, the rulers of different countries, but the basic reasons for marriage even among more common people rarely had anything to do with love, romantic or otherwise.
Men sometimes married for dowries that would enable them to raise their status in their society, women married to avoid becoming old maids, and often married in some circumstances because they could not easily survive on their own, they married for security. People married because they needed children to help on the farms and to look after them in their old age. Indeed, in many societies it was virtually unthinkable that women and/or men would remain unmarried, to do so would label them as unworthy. Polygamy was common and men would sometimes have many wives, to imagine these unions as a result of love would be truly stretching it, certainly in most cases.
Certainly in many societies men married because they wished to father children and thus perpetuate their name and their “line.” To not have children in some places, like the New Guinea Highlands, for example, would reduce you to the status of “rubbishman,” and for women to not have children was even worse. A barren woman could be the subject of derision, could be and often were divorced, or relegated to the status of a lesser wife to new wives. In some societies like the Nuer of Africa having an heir was so important a widow would sometimes have a child by another man after her husband was deceased that would be considered the child of her deceased husband. Among the polyandrous Toda of India the paternity of children depended not on the actual progenitor but on the relative position of the husbands.
Things are very different in the “modern” world. Working women do not have to marry for security, being childless is no longer such a terrible debit, children are not needed to work on the farm or take care of their parents, and with increased mobility where children, siblings, parents and grandparents scatter widely, family ties themselves are no longer as important as they were. Except in very rare cases political motives for marriage are virtually nonexistent as are unions for defensive purposes. Similarly, marriages to increase landholdings, or acquire dowries, or even to please parents, are no longer of the importance they once were. Historically, traditionally, realistically, marriages have not for the most part been based merely on the idea of romantic love.
They are not necessarily always so based even now, as having a family and children, and even basic companionship and the security that comes with companionship, are perhaps as important as romantic love itself, but these desires are themselves reflective of love. As this is true, and if it is also true that most of the more practical reasons for marriage in the past no longer apply, it would appear the reasons for marriage now seem clearly to possess a much more important component of love than ever before.  This suggests to me, interestingly, that Gay marriages probably come closer to personifying romantic love than marriages ever before. This is not so say, however, there are no practical advantages involved, but Gays do not have to marry and the practical advantages become salient mostly after their unions are already formed (I think).
In any case, as is pretty typical in our politics, those who presume to speak with authority on the subject of marriage, know little about it.

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