My views about marriage have broadened and liberalised over decades to the point where I am quite easy with the idea that any two consenting adults in love can decide to formalise their relationship with a marriage ceremony.
It is strange that though I have transitioned from High Church Anglican through almost fundamentalist Pentecostal to rather a relapsed and nominally assenting Christian, there were times when I thought divorce was unthinkable or even unforgivable, but with time by understanding human nature more, I have realised no marriage is made in heaven, the partners in a marriage have to work hard at it.
Then again, I will also challenge the young-earth creationist view that appears to put marriage firmly in the docket of a Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic construct. Maybe up half the world follows that belief system, but there are considerably large Asian religious groups, agnostics, atheists, apostates and non-religionists that do not subscribe to the Adam and Eve Genesis mythology of the human race, yet they all seem have a tradition of marriage with all its ceremonies. Religions of the world – Wikipedia.
Marriage is more civil than religious
Love carries a deeper relational context between people, be it between man and woman, man and man or woman and woman, but more broadly, marriage, whilst is still appears to cling to religious apron strings in many societies has long been extricated from the grip and hold of religion.
It is mostly a civil and legal contract of commitment with accoutrements that accrue to it, giving legal standing to the relationship, recognition of next of kin and a partnership that gives a greater say to the spouse over the family in important matters of life and death.
The religious part of marriage has almost become a kind of nostalgia, a sop to the innate spirituality of the participants who generally might not be regular attendees of the religious establishment that grants a blessing to the union.
A matter of equality, respect and dignity
It is in light of this that I welcome the Same-Sex Marriage ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States of America in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges where James Obergefell sued to have himself recognised as the spousal survivor on his husband’s death certificate.
The majority verdict delivered by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy made a most profound announcement that should once and for all put paid to the culture wars and wedge issues that have long become the staple of conservative American rhetoric and religious disputing.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgement of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”
I read this to mean that love is the foundation of marriage regardless of the pairing of genders and it deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and fully honoured by the law of the land.
Just over a month before, Ireland, a recently very Catholic country voted in a referendum that garnered 62% of the votes accepting that, “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Fundamentally, marriage as an institution whichever way you view it is rapidly becoming more a subject of recognising a commitment of consenting adults and providing them with all the rights, the privileges and the benefits that such a union entails before the law. It must not be reductively seen in its primary purpose for procreation, else people cannot make choices about having offspring and to be found infertile will seemingly be too unnatural to contemplate, yet life is that different for different people.
Address the matter of consent
More importantly, what we should address is where minors or non-adults are conscripted by mechanisms of religion or custom into marriages outside of their fully informed consent, but coerced by parentage, relations, traditions or customs – such activities generally defined as child marriage can in no way be accepted as a contractual engagement of commitment between consenting adults or an expression of love, no matter how that illicit union eventually turns out.
Then, on the issue where people especially the Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts averred that the majority ruling he dissented to might lead to polygamy, if the question of marriage with the view to equality does not fully enshrine and honour the rights to polyandry too, then polygamy should not have the free run to trample on the marriage commitments of the woman or consign her to sharing her husband if the man will not countenance the idea of sharing his wife.
One to one, on the matter of love and commitment, marriage is a wonderful thing and as James Obergefell did say, he hopes that the term ‘gay marriage’ will soon become a thing of the past as we just default to the simple term, marriage.