Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Thursday, 22 March 2012

What is the purpose of marriage today?

In an article for the BBC, Lauren Everitt traces the ‘Ten key moments in the history of marriage‘. Starting with the ‘Strategic Alliances’ of the Anglo-Saxons, where the institution was seen as a way to establish diplomatic and trade ties, through to more recent developments. For instance at eight, ‘Love Enshrined’ is related to the more romantic notions of the Victorians.
For people today, the ninth stage ‘More Than Baby Making’ will have an impact on the religious where their faith pronounces on whether their followers should use contraception to prevent unwanted children. Roman Catholics still see one of the essential things about marriage as ‘the procreation of children’ and would not marry a couple who had ruled this out. However, the Anglican Church started accepting contraception from the 1930′s and today ‘does not regard contraception as a sin or going against God’s purpose’.
The tenth stage in the list, ‘Civil Partnerships’, is generally seen by the non religious as the equivalent of marriage and does have the advantage of allowing same sex partnerships their own form of marriage, but, ‘To many Christians, however, while a civil partnership confers all the legal rights of marriage, a church wedding is seen as a mystical event, the making of promises before God in a sacred setting, endowing the relationship with a special “blessed” quality.’
It can be argued that we have, today, reached a new stage, if we view the issue objectively, that should be recognised. Clearly contraception is necessary if we are to avoid the global population rising rapidly from its present seven billion to eight billion with all of the attendant environmental problems that such a rise would/will create. Arguably we should be looking to decrease our numbers, as is generally the case with the endemic people of the West, and this would probably have been allowed to continue if modern economic theory did not require a continuing rise in the population – or more precisely consumers.
Although, from an environmental point of view, any attempt by the Roman Catholic Church, or any faith, to prevent contraception, particularly after a couple has had two or three children, can be condemned. However, It can be argued that this faith is right to view marriage as being essentially about children – in fact, now, solely about children. It is for their procreation, their protection and their development. Essentially a contract to help ensure that the parents are giving their children the best upbringing possible so as provide a sturdy basis for their entry into an increasingly challenging world. Apart from this, why would the state be concerned with who is living together?
Statistics show that married couples stay together longer and since ‘children tend to enjoy better life outcomes when the same two parents give them support and protection’ marriage, today, is better seen as a commitment purely for the benefit of children – although it might be more than this for many with a religious faith.
If this is not the purpose of marriage – what is its value in a modern society that recognises the equality of the two sexes? A way of preventing or binding an unhappy partner in a relationship from moving on? Clearly if two people decide to set up home together some contract is needed so that any assets acquired can be fairly divided if it ends, but surely not to detain one partner when they would wish to leave.
Although it is true that some couples do say that they have been ‘in love’ throughout a life long relationship – however, for most the ‘in love’ stage lasts only for the first few years. Those relationships that last longest will be those where the partners have chosen wisely and are still very fond of each other when the ‘passionately in love’ stage has passed.
It is generally accepted, by psychologists, that we do grow and develop throughout our whole lives. Often aspects of our personalities do not emerge until later in life – because there had been no room for them to develop in a busy and demanding life. However, it is quite possible for a couple, initially compatible, to develop on different paths as the years pass or, perhaps, one wants to start a family and the other cannot or will not accommodate this wish.
Since no blame can be attributed to this development, to use an institution such as marriage when there are no children, to prevent one partner from moving on to avoid the other from being unhappy seems regressive. Better surely that the one being left accepts and adapts to their new situation rather than the one who has developed be shackled – if the existing relationship cannot accommodate this change.
There are few things in life that endure – the only real certainty is change.

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