Recent events have brought about saturation of my ears with the phrase "sanctity of marriage." It seems to be the concern of one and all. On the one hand, you have homosexuals, with their agenda ( hilarious writeup by Evil Catallus, BTW), saying, basically, that they should have the same rights and privileges as everyone else, and be able to marry whomever they please, so long as the other consents, irrespective of gender. It is easy for one to sympathize with this view, with it sounding so clearly like an issue of fairness.

On the other hand, we have conservatives, who point out that same sex marriages have never been regarded as marriages historically, and, significantly for the subject of this node, the recognition of such a practice would violate the sanctity of marriage, and threaten the very institution. For those with a religious bent, this is also a highly sympathizable view.

Let me state from the outset that I do not and will not consider any same sex union to be a marriage. The practice is unIslamic and I will not be a willing participant in supporting it. Those who support such unions, however, point to equal protection of the law, and ask why should the government not extend the same rights and privileges to them that they extend to their heterosexual brethren. Those who oppose these unions claim no such equal protection issue exists, as a gay man has the same right to marry any eligible, willing woman he chooses just as does a straight man. This is a valid argument, though it does come off as a bit disingenuous to my ear. They go further in saying that such a novel definition of marriage threatens, of course, the sanctity of marriage. There it goes again, being threatened like some damsel in the age of chivalry. Hearing this said, day after day, got me thinking. How sanctified is marriage, really? And is the prospects of gays getting in on the action the greatest threat to this as-yet-unestablished sanctity?

Marriage, as a religious endeavor is an important part of the life of a Muslim. The Messager of Allah is reported to have said "marriage is half of religion." Sounds pretty sanctified to me. It was always regarded as a tremendously important thing among the Christians I grew up with and counted myself among as a youth. Catholic nuns and priests, I seem to recall hearing, regard their vows of chastity as being the necessary result of being "married to the church" (or perhaps it is Christ. I would appreciate any correction here). So, that seems pretty sanctified there, as well. So, let us assume, as I think we may, that marriage is considered a sanctified institution for the vast majority of humanity. Now, let us address what threatens that sanctity.

Marriage has been trivialized for decades now. Men, in recent years, for the most part, have been able to enjoy just about all the benefits of marriage, division of labor, dual incomes, sex, even children, without the commitment of marriage. Marriage, as the culmination of a domestic partnership which provides the same traditional benefits, involves risk on the part of men which is greater, in the current legal climate, generally, than that of women. Men, earning, on average, more money than women, lose out when all assets are divided equally. There also appears to be a prejudice on the part of the courts regarding custody, and a man is far less likely to have custody of any children upon divorce. He may, in fact, be forced into near poverty by the weight of child and spousal support and other aspects of divorce settlements. Women bear a higher percentage of the risk when the two are shacking up. The lack of stigma placed upon people living in sin has resulted in a natural explosion in the commonality of such arrangements. The fact that government, through welfare and other Great Society programs, has provided a means for women to take care of the children resulting from ephemeral encounters, has resulted especially in young women of modest means exerting less care in 1) choosing a mate, and 2) locking up the deal with a contract. This has led to marriage being a pretty low priority among a lot of people.

Why then, do people concentrate so much on the gay thing? I think that's a political decision. Politicians who attack people living together and having sex outside of marriage might find votes shifting to others with a more tolerant view, and they well know it. Similarly, even the clergy has sometimes yielded to political correctness and spend a lot more time ranting on the homosexual agenda than with young people remaining chaste until marriage. They know that the collection plates might be a bit lighter if they started addressing the core issues too forcefully. For this reason, I am more than a bit dubious of the purity of the motives of those clamoring for Constitutional amendments.

It seems to me, that if you really get to the nub of the whole sanctity of marriage issue, that the thing which has most destroyed its sanctity, is the fact that these people only recognize a union as a marriage if the state does as well. The state, in the mind of these people does the sanctifying, apparently. Why should the God-fearing care about the "blessing" of government, an entity which is mainly concerned with maintaining and expanding its own power? An entity which has killed the innocent in staggering numbers in the twenthieth century and seems to be using that bloody period as a good running start for bigger and better things? I, for one, am concerned with the blessings of a perfect God and not that of exceptionally flawed men, as those are the type who almost invariably find their way into positions of high office. If you really want to preserve (and restore) the sanctity of marriage, get the government out of it altogether.

addendum: Chras4 was somewhat cross with me because women are in poverty with greater frequency than men after marriage. I haven't studied that, but that doesn't change my point. My point was the risk of marriage. The risk is borne by he or she who has the most to lose, not by whomever is lower on the totem pole when the dust has settled. If I marry a billionaire, the financial risk of marriage is greater for her, but I will have less money than she if we break up no matter what. Black women, for example, are extremely poor at a high rate when unmarried and much less poor when married. I don't know if this is true of other groups, but I suspect it is. And even if the actual risk is not what I say, I can say with certainty that most men certainly look upon it this way. I don't know any woman who has been left in poverty after a divorce. I know several men who pay thousands per month in child and spousal support. So my circle of acquaintances is not typical. I'll grant that, but this perception has a powerful effect on behavior.

Chras4 has mentioned that women often give up careers to get married and are left with diminished capacity to earn a living after a divorce. This is very true, and it was remiss of me to omit to mention it above. This is a choice made very frequently by women and is a much greater risk than any that a man takes. The reason I was concentrating on the risks inherent to the man is that I believe that is a primary reason people tend to avoid marriage for other arrangements. I don't know of as many women who completely avoid marriage because they don't want to give up their careers. They may delay it, to be sure, but many women I know make the continuation of their careers a criterion for getting married in the first place. They will not marry a man who would insist that they give up anything. I don't blame them, either. Becoming completely dependent upon another is a HUGE sacrifice, and not one that men can probably relate to very well.

The Divorce Question

It appears as though my comments regarding divorce has rankled those with more personal and far more bitter experience with it than myself. I don't mean to imply that divorce is easy on women, or that what women do has no economic value. Far from it. My point is that, for a man, an unmarried state, perhaps tied informally to a particular woman for a time, but ultimately being a free agent with no legal obligations towards her, is economically more advantageous than the identical relationship with a legally binding marriage. People have pointed out the horrors of domestic violence and poverty as a result of caring for children without support of the ex-husband, and I agree that these things are terrible. But they are often worse without marriage. Domestic violence happens all the time between people who are unmarried and living together. So, too, are many women left in poverty following a relationship in which she bears one or more children to a partner outside of marriage. My point is, religion or nobility aside, what is the incentive for the man to marry a woman with whom he already shares a home, children, and healthcare coverage? What is the incentive for the woman? Who has the greater incentive? I maintained above, and still maintain, that the greater incentive lies with the woman. Relationships aren't going anywhere. The question is whether or not legally binding obligations relating to those relationships is. If we have a world of relationships between men and women, then for no more reason than the fact that it is the woman who bears the primary burden of reproduction, the formal process of marriage is of greater benefit to women than men.