Sunday 10 February 2013

Marriage, An Unholy Muddle

Perhaps this is not the best place to discuss marriage, having had only one ceremony and that over five decades ago in another world.  It was a village Church ceremony, to avoid the need for conveyances and a journey into town for the Registrar.  It was the second of the day and almost closer in time never mind in form to the one pictured above. 

This enabled our congregation to enjoy the splendid flower arrangements made for the previous couple.  They wished to get it over early as they were off to an exotic location in Devon by first class rail, we were headed for somewhere closer and less costly.  Begin as you mean to go on.

In those days, despite all the assiduous romantic propaganda of the media of the time, as well as writers and necessarily the commercial interests involved it was common for people marrying to have a strong practical outlook on the business.  But time has moved on.

The essential problem in all the recent howling and raging in Parliament and the media is words and their meanings.  Clearly, what people see as marriage and the purpose of it differs between groups and too often there is a lack of clear understanding of what it means, never mind the history.

The original intention was to try to give a longish outline about what marriage has been and what it meant down the ages in the various elements of our society and how it worked in practice.  This would have taken a full scale essay so the point is made simply that the past may not have been what we think or assume from much of what we read in books.

The detail matters and having trawled around a very large number of families of all classes and different faiths, later census returns and the rest and with both social and economic structures in mind of the periods in question, the past is not what it is claimed to be and we should not assume too much from it.

What is striking and this has been mentioned before is that there two distinct elements, that relating to law and that to religion.  To be certain in law there had to be a contract or settlement, signed, sealed and delivered.  Then to fulfil the higher purpose and sanctity there was a religious ceremony. 

Unluckily, given ordinary human frailties, there was a lot went wrong which led eventually to State intervention with rules and regulation to ensure State law was complied with and to provide a common structure. 

All this proceeded on the basic assumption that “marriage” was between an adult male and an adult female and was likely to involve producing children.  As well as social laws bearing on this a great deal of probate law related to it as well.

Those concerned still had to proceed with care.  Once you were in you were in and it was made hard to get out.  If you had other arrangements then you were not covered in law or by the state.  During the 20th Century all this began to change.

By definition this form of “marriage” was restricted and then never intended to apply to other types of partnership or personal arrangements of any kind.  There might be some of these where those concerned regarded themselves as good as married for practical purposes but they were still outside its scope and legal applications.

What has now happened is that we have a muddled set of compromises where “marriage” now legally assumes that it is the ceremony that matters in defining arrangements that are normally sexually based no matter who is involved.

The effect of this has been further discrimination in that all the other pairings of people living together, for whatever reason and in whatever form, are excluded from the legal benefits and advantages allowed to legal marriage, however socially useful or personally beneficial they are to the people involved.

To raise the question of “care in the community”, we have the strange situation that if this kind of care is carried out by State or private agencies there are ways and means of supporting it.  But if two relatives or friends come together for some form of support they can be excluded and in fact discriminated against at the present time.

Essentially, this is a complete nonsense.  What is needed if “marriage” is no longer confined to the earlier form of male plus female life or long term co-habitation or partnership is a wholly new basis of contract.  This would allow all forms of these to be State registered and acknowledged as part of our essential social and contractual personal arrangements.

So what is needed is something like a Mutual Arrangement Long Term (MALT) that adheres to an agreed form and meets certain simple but defined criteria.  A MALT might be a life contract or for a set period or related to set circumstances.

This can be between anyone, including all those adult categories at present excluded from marriage.  It would have particular advantages where care might be needed or in many small business arrangements. 

A traditional form of ceremony might be an additional extra option.  The basic duty of the Registrar would be to make sure the MALT was correct and the people involved knew what they were signing up for.  If a complicated contract was involved then legal advice should be involved.

As for religion, if a pairing was consistent with whatever faith group, denomination, religion, chapel, church or meeting hall they might belong to, that would be entirely up to those involved in relation to the ceremony to be held.  If such a group had its own definitions as to what “marriage” might be that is up to them.

Now, to check the diary, the anniversary must be soon.  This year we hope to be at a performance of “Alice In Wonderland”. 

At least it will have more logic than what is going on in Parliament.

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