MARRIAGE THROUGH THE AGES
Have you seen how much debate has been raging as a consequence of my piece about gay marriage? I’ve been quite taken aback, so I thought I’d write a piece about marriage itself, seeing as I’m very happily married to an angel. And apropos that last mention, I’ll explain that Dorothy and I met as a consequence of me blogging on MySpace and she commenting on those blogs, and neither of us had the least thought of finding a partner. But we did, and we married over three years ago and I can honestly say that no man could possibly be happier than me. If you want to know if she feels the same you’d better ask her.
We’d both been married before, so we knew a bit about it, though in all honesty and fairness this time round having a family was out of the question largely due to our ages and her surgery of several years ago. We married to be together, for each other, and that’s possibly the best reason. If you like we married because of a wonderful feeling of romantic love.
Other reasons abound in history, and initially marriage had to do with the accumulation of wealth to the male line and the political alliances that could be made. Forget the romantic stuff, when the sons of lords and ladies courted their ladyfolk in Jane Austin’s day it had very little to do with love. It had, indeed, a great deal to do with finding the “right girl” from the “right background”.
Some cultures take the idea to an extreme, and marriages can be arranged as early as at the birth of one of those to be married. It’s a plan for marriage all right, and continents may divide the betrothed and they not meet until the wedding day, but the objective is to tie two families together with tight matrimonial bonds and to hell with romance and love. We might feel a bit superior about this kind of arranged marriage and we may look down on the societies in which it has evolved, but it exists and we probably have no right to make any judgement.
Fortunes have been made as a consequence. Take two wealthy families and marry the son of one to the daughter of the other, and the joint wealth is virtually explosive!
British royalty has used the concept of the arranged marriage in order to equip princes and kings with a partner in the matrimonial bed and a surfeit of political liaisons, so it’s not a unique feature of so-called “alien” cultures. And down many years the idea of romantic liaisons was secondary to connections of a more useful nature, involving wealth and position.
So it hit me like a house-brick when it transpired that so many people are critical of same-sex marriages. I’m a sad old cove who places human feelings, love, affection, call it what you will, a million miles above such mundane matters as wealth and political power. I find the concept of the dominance of the male line in society as being superior to the female line to be quite objectionable. Women, and their gender, for too long have been the possessions of the male, and that found its way, over many, many years, into the concept of marriage and the boudoir. The British Tudor monarch Henry VIII beheaded two of his wives and despite what he said at the time the real reason was they didn’t provide him with a male heir. The male line was so vital that it didn’t matter to him that two women lost their lives in the form of public execution because they failed to convert his doubtless male semen into sons. But that kind of behaviour was expected because the important thing was to perpetuate the male line. And that (as well as the acquisition of political influence) was what marriage was for. It had very little to do with romantic love. Such a luxury was to emerge many years later.
As a rider to the bit about Henry VIII, I wonder if he turned in his grave when his daughter Elizabeth turned out to be such a successful and long-reigning monarch? And she a girl, too!
Marriage, or the institution of marriage, then, has changed. From being little more than a commercial arrangement in which the feelings of the couples were very much secondary it has become an institution in which I can turn to my wife and tell her quite honestly and several times each and every day that I love her.
All the hands-held-high protestations against gay marriage fall into some kind of perspective when we look at that institution through the lens of history. There couldn’t have been anything like same-sex marriage when our ancestors pledged their offspring in bargain-basement betrothals. And when the importance of the male line began to wither (and it’s still got a great deal of withering to do) there was less and less point in arranging unhappy and often brutal futures for our daughters. Remember: it wasn’t that long ago that husbands were allowed, in law, to beat their wives as long as the weapon they used was no thicker than their thumb, and if a man didn’t love the woman he had pledged himself to for purely selfish reasons, he could beat her just for fun. And he could have mistresses, maybe women he did feel something for, but Heaven help her if the little wife at home strayed!
And against all that’s gone before people still hold their hands up in horror at the thought of loving people who happen, as a gift from nature, to be the same sex, having the right to marriage because very recently its morphed into something more lovely than it was. The thing is, for a great deal of history married couples weren’t expected to love each other, but now they do and everyone ought to have the right to share it.
© Peter Rogerson 26.03.12