There have been reports that a scientist on the Scott expedition to the Antarctic of a century ago who observed the relationships between penguins was deeply shocked by what he saw. So much that he censored his findings to give the impression that their habits were as regular as people liked to think they should be.
He could not imagine the reason for this, but my non-scientific explanation is that as penguins spend a good deal of time going into low dives this might the cause. That is lifestyle choices as you might call it.
Looking at the current debate on marriage and relationships in humans possibly the above makes more sense than much of the present debate about who should marry who and on what basis.
We really need to look back at the past to understand the extent of the muddle we are in. “Romeo And Juliet”, for example is an illustration of what could go wrong. A young couple become attached and take themselves off to a priest to join them in marriage in God’s name, all very romantic.
The trouble is that her father and mother have already contracted for her to marry somebody else, a nobleman with good prospects and very well connected. It all ends in blood and tears, very much a three handkerchief job whether you are watching the play, the ballet or the opera versions.
Around the drama, comedy, opera and ballet plots dealing with the past when a marriage was in view the person that matters is the Notary or attorney or lawyer waving a contract and the detail of that is sometimes critical. The contracts are about property, settlements, money arrangements and provision for future events.
The State is rarely ever involved or mentioned, save when the intervention of a person in authority is needed as a plot device to either resolve issues to create more of them. But there is usually a clergyman around to add to the confusion and keep the plot going.
In the Atlantic Isles at present we could fairly be said to have an unholy mess. Part of this is due to our recent beliefs in individuality, media concentration on the romance (as in the past) or relief of physical needs (as in the present) and the idea that the whole thing is very personal.
Marriage and its consequences in the past gave rise to a good deal of trouble and legal strife which led to increasing intervention by the State for registration and then legal prescriptions. To that must be added all the paraphernalia of the Welfare State and attempts to redistribute incomes.
In the current debate whether other forms of partnership other than one male and one female constitutes a marriage in legal terms there are now other issues that are put aside in the fuss. One is where people live together in support perhaps of one for another or by reasons of descent or need for economy where marriage is excluded.
The other is that the religions of the past in the Atlantic Isles were once essentially Christian with some others which also had forms of marriage similar in basis. This is no longer the case. There are now many of other faiths who have different arrangements involving multiple partnerships.
Why should they all be excluded from what amounts to contractual requirements determined by the State which relate not just to matters of partnership, but probate, taxation, benefits, property and a raft of other contingent effects? What is the answer?
Perhaps it is quite simply that for tax, benefits probate and the rest the State should treat everyone, no matter in what form of partnerships or relationship as individuals and leave the rest to the lawyers and the religious leaders.