Mar 4, 2004

It's a nice day for a white wedding . . . It's a nice day to start again

The institution of marriage comes with a lot of baggage. More than enough for the honeymoon, in fact.

For example, both the surviving custom of carrying the bride over the threshold and the now-discontinued practice of parting the bride’s hair with the tip of a spear symbolize the once common concept of marriage by capture. Similarly, the father’s giving away of the bride represents that marriage was once (and still is, in some cultures) a financial transaction, whereby the father transferred his property (his daughter) to a new owner (the groom). The kiss indicated not romance, but the seal on the contract. The role of the best man was originally to support the groom in fighting resistance from the bride’s family when the groom went out to capture a wife. And the bride traditionally stands to the groom’s left because, in Anglo-Saxon England, the groom would have needed his right hand free for his sword. I suppose marriage-by-capture wouldn’t make you very popular. So, if we want to be egalitarian about it, we should really scrap all of the traditions and begin again. Chances are, though, that we’re not going to do that.

Since it’s not bloody likely that we’re going to start afresh, we just adapt and refine the traditions that we have. Not a virgin? Wear white anyway. Don’t like the father-daughter handoff? Walk down the aisle alone. Don’t want a wedding at all? Schlep over to city hall for a quick, no-frills, but perfectly legal ceremony. Want to be married by an Elvis impersonator? Head down to Vegas. Want to marry someone of the same sex? Oops.

The problem is that, when many people think of the concept of marriage, they think of a big, white, religious wedding. But that’s simply not what marriage is. It might be one component of a marriage (and an optional one at that), but it doesn’t define the institution. These same people are uncomfortable with the image of two men trading vows in their matching tuxes. The whole marriage debate is then a matter of semantics. If the government is willing to grant gays and lesbians the perks of being married in the form of a civil union, they might as well call it what it is—a marriage.

Sensei argues that marriage is inherently religious and, ideally, should be banned entirely and replaced with legal unions. I disagree. Marriage has always been as much, if not more than, about economics as about religion. I maintain that granting gays the right to legally marry should in no way threaten the religious. There is, or should be, a separation of church and state for good reason. If a religion does not want to perform or recognize same-sex marriages, so be it. That is the prerogative of each religion. But the laws of this, an ostensibly secular country, should not be made by the religious right. Everyone needs to overcome the fear of two brides on top of the cake.

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