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Talk sense about marriage

In their typically fumbling fashion, the people’s representatives in the Maryland General Assembly have been trying to figure out what to do about proposals to legalize gay marriage, set up civil unions, enact some limited version of the latter, reaffirm one-man-one-woman marriage, or just repair to the bar and forget about the whole thing.

Before the abusive automatic responses kick in, let me try to be clear about the essentials. I’m not interested in church so much as state.

Religious denominations determine whether marriages can be performed by their adherents. The Roman Catholic Church continues to decide whether a man and a woman can marry within the church and, divorce being ruled out, whether that marriage can subsequently be annulled. The Episcopal Church and the Southern Baptists can do the same. Synagogues, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, will or will not countenance individual unions solemnized by rabbis, as they see fit. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Unitarian-Universalists, Wiccans and the Universal Life Church’s mail-order clergy are equally free to go about their business. This is America, and the state doesn’t meddle.

(In Britain, having an established church has made things a little more complicated. In the 19th century, the Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage act forbade a husband to marry the sister of his deceased wife, on the prohibitions of marriage within consanguinity of canon law and the Church of England’s ecclesiastical law. The Deceased Wife’s Sister act was not repealed until the early 20th century.)

I would, however, like to look at the frequently repeated statement that marriage has always involved just one man and one woman and therefore always should. If memory serves, the patriarchs and monarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures often maintained domestic arrangements that, if attempted today, might involve criminal prosecution and would certainly tie things up in probate longer than Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. *

The anthropological literature includes descriptions of numerous societies in which polygamy or polygyny has been practiced.

And contemporary sociologists coined the term serial monogamy, also sometimes called serial polygamy, to describe the exuberant careers of successive marriages and divorces that people increasingly undertake. (Repeat quietly to yourself: Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Warner Fortensky.) And let’s not even get started on the Henrickson family of HBO’s Big Love.

Even more, I’d like put up for examination another uninformed view that crops up occasionally: that the state has no business regulating marriage.

The state regulates marriage, for one, because marriage is and always has been about the orderly conveyance of property, and anyone who thinks otherwise has plainly never read Jane Austen. The law, as a relic of the practice of providing a dowry for a wife, used to hold that the woman’s property passed entirely into the man’s control at marriage. The state made that law; and when social circumstances changed, the state unmade that law.

The state also has an interest in protecting the welfare of its citizens, including those citizens who are minor children. So as part of the law of marriage and divorce, the state determines custody questions. Religious marriage involves principles of theology. Secular marriage involves the state’s maintenance of public order by the regulation of property and supervision of the welfare of children.

Maintaining civil public discourse doesn’t require people to hold one view or another about the terms of marriage and civil unions, but it does require them to be clear about the terms of the debate.


* Look it up yourself. Bleak House is in the bookstores. If you’re insane, you can read all 600-plus pages on Google.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:13 AM | | Comments (10)


Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all Americans if they choose. For the truth about gay marriage check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue:

There are some governments -- Mexico, for example -- where the distinction between the governmental and religious versions of marriage are so distinct that the ceremony is performed twice, once to satisfy the state, and a second time to achieve deistic blessing. The former grants the various contractual benefits that you note. The latter makes things good with the meta-authority of one's choosing, but -- this would be the so-called rub -- is not recognized by the state as a legal contract. (Needless to say, although I'm saying it, the church hardly recognizes a few signatures on a contract alone, written in some bureaucratic office somewhere, as anything like a marriage.) The tradition, as I understand it, is therefore to have a quite small civil ceremony followed by the big splash at church. All parties -- family, state, heavenly realm -- are satisfied, and no one is confused about who's done what to/for/with whom.

What never seems to be mentioned whenever someone assures us that polygamy has been with us for millenia--as if that gives the practise respectability--is that nobody bothered to ask the women how they felt about being forced to bcome concubines in some lecher's harem. Polygamy stems from the days when females were chattels to be parceled out between men.It's high time this ancient, Third-world cruel practise was kicked into the garbage can of history, where it belongs.Let's have real equality between men and women . . . PLEASE!

I think if the government is intent upon screwing up marriage for politically correct purposes, that they ought to stop sanctioning marriage altogether. A blanket decree that we're all just shacking up would then follow. After that, marriage is as it defined within the tribe we choose to associate with.

Someone on a forum I frequent commented that she and her male sweetheart had taken advantage of NYState's "domestic partner" law, coupled w/ anti-discrimination laws, to register the man she WASN'T married to (but could have been, if she'd wanted to) as her "domestic partner," thereby getting him insurance rights, etc.

This is exactly why I'm opposed to "domestic partnership" laws and why I want legalized CIVIL marriage for gays.

I don't want those *heterosexuals* who can't or won't get married to claim the same rights as married people.

I actually *am* worried about the state of marriage; I *do* feel it's under attack. But I don't think it's under attack by gays--the very folks who are saying, "we *have* the right to live together, and even grant powers-of-attorney, and it is not enough; MARRIAGE IS SPECIAL."

I think marriage is under attack by people who will have multiple children w/ someone, even the SAME someone, they are not married to.

Germany is another country where there is civil marriage, recognized by the state, and religious marriage.

Thank you for saying what I keep trying to tell people. You and your church of choice can agree or disagree; that's your prerogative.

However, that has nothing to do with the state. There are a lot of ways to get married, and even if the state condones gay marriage your church doesn't have to. The end.

in response to 13A COMMENTARY by Richard Dowling:

Good morning Mr. Dowling,

God sees all, does he not? With senses beyond sight.
Intuition beyond our body systems, through to our
souls. Does he not?
You agree, then, that God sees fear. He sees through
words and actions and follows the transparent trails
of ignorance that lead to fear, that lead to hate.
Your words are saturated with this fear, and they are
hurtful to many of God's creatures, so in turn hurtful
to God. The article is plump with clever manipulation
of language and capped with a large archetypical
image, but what Good does it do? And isn't doing good
your purpose? It only provides repetition of language
to which conservative followers desperately cling,
offering them no additional revelations or
inspiration. And yet turns the edge of its sword to
cut deeply across the lives of others-all of whom are
equally God's children. Mark my words, as your
writing is judged by God for its wisdom, he sees only
fear and a loathing that burdens you with a weight.
This weight can only serve to render one, and one's
followers further and further from wisdom,
wholesomeness, and holiness.

Bless You,

I've heard a lot things being said both pro and con about marriage in general. I've also read some interesting points on various government's, denominational and people's points of view.
I only know this thing, I judge not because I don't want to be judge. I have no heaven or hell to put anybody in.
So I will officiate marriages & committment services.

I'm of the belief that marriage should be treated strictly as a religious issue and only civil unions fall within the purview of government. These guys are certainly testing the limits.

John, just another term to toss into the mix: polyamory. You mentioned polygamy and serial monogamy. There are also other forms of responsible non-monogamy out there, and there's a lot of information about them all. I think people have a very old, outdated, and single-minded view of marriage and commitment. There's nothing so unhealthy as to shoe-horn yourself into something that society says is "normal" if it doesn't work for you, and you know it doesn't. Just some thoughts.

PS - I don't know how I missed this post a while ago; so I'm a little late in responding.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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