Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Traditional Marriage

In the ever ongoing debate about whether gays should be allowed to have marriages recognized by the civil law of the states, much is said on the opposing side about traditional marriage being between one man and one woman.  Sure enough, that's generally been the case in Western history, but how those marriages are viewed historically versus now is very different.

Most marriages in the US are entirely as between a man and a woman deciding to marry one another.  That's a fairly recent change, particularly in the higher classes of society where marriage has been about family alliances and binding ties rather than love and affection.  Considering that the upper classes were the ones who created the laws about such things, it's interesting to note how different the view was.

I've been reading Cervantes's Don Quixote for probably about a year now.  I only read a couple of chapters a week because I'm reading several other things at the same time.  Recently I came across a passage in which Don Quixote was talking about marriage.  Much of the book is about the travails of various couples in love and the impediments to them marrying.  Don Quixote, in his fantasy role of knight errant, is often defending such unions, and yet he declaims the following at length.

"If everyone married the person they love parents would lose their power to marry their children when and to whom they should; and if it were left to daughters to choose their husbands as they pleased, one would pick her father's servant, and another a man she has just seen walking down the street and who she thinks looks jaunty and dashing, even though he is in reality some wild swashbuckler; because love and fancy easily blind the eyes of the understading, which are so necessary when making decisions about settling down in life, and with marriage there is such a danger of making mistakes, and great circumspection and the special help of heaven are needed to make the right choice.  When a pruduent man sets out on a long journey, he first looks for someone trustworthy and agreeable to keep him company.  Well, should not someone setting out on the journey of life, with death as his destination, do the same, particularly since the person he chooses will keep him company in bed, at the table and everywhere else, as a wife does her husband?  The companionship of one's wife is not some article of merchandise that can be returned or bartered or exchanged after it has been pruchased; it is an inseparable appendage that lasts as long as life itself lasts.  It is a noose that once placed around the neck becomes a Gordian knot, never to be undone except by the scythe of death."

Now, Quixote is generally considered to be insane in his actions but entirely rational in his arguments, so far as the other characters and the narrator of the book are concerned, so I take this as a position that the general society of the time found appropriate.

Advocates of traditional marriage, then, ought to be careful of that for which they wish, lest they return to the tradition of parentally chosen marriages and no divorce under any circumstances.  I don't know what heterosexuals in the US would do if they didn't have divorce.  Divorce is a fair recognition that people make mistakes in their decisions and should be able to rectify those mistakes.  You might as well ban bankruptcy as ban divorce.  They're both designed to reorganize and repair mistaken relationships.

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