This is going to be a huge departure from my usual ramblings, but I got an inspiration by reading "Ask Amy" this morning. More on that later. First, a story.
A long time ago, well, okay about 7 years ago, Mark and I were in a bar after our weekly co-ed volleyball game. Mark was chatting up some friends, and I was sitting beside one of our teammates, I'll call him Zack. Zack was a great friend, great volleyball player and also a coworker. At the time, he lived with a woman and had been doing so for several years. They were very committed, to the point where they were toying with the idea of buying a house together. So I asked him - "are you getting married?" He scoffed at me, said "no way". Me, being Catholic and married, decided to pursue it a little farther. "Why not?" He proceeded to tell me that they didn't think much of marriage - after all, HIS parents went through a terrible divorce and the children suffered greatly. And HER parents had a terrible marriage, SHOULD'VE gotten divorced, and the children suffered greatly. Then he asked ME - "religion aside, why are YOU married?" My brain fluttered. Let's see, hmmm.....and I began to realize that if indeed, you didn't have a religious obligation to be married in the eyes of God and your church community, then really, what WAS the point? After all, there are lots of new laws these days that talk about communal property and the rights of unmarried partners. I have to admit, he kind of had me there. Is it really just a piece of paper?
I've been unsettled about this for many years. I've had this same conversation with others, and never did reach a conclusion, with one exception. Many gay people I know wish they could be married to their partners, and wish that the institution of marriage extended beyond the union of a heterosexual man to a heterosexual woman. So what is it about this elusive marriage that is so important to the ones who for whatever reason CAN'T marry?
I found a bit of an answer in this morning's Ask Amy column. A gay woman wrote in and said that marriage is a "private commitment that the relationship is for life. It is also a public declaration of that commitment and a public acknowledgment that the couple has joined the larger web of community connections and sanctions".
Does this answer my question? Would this have satisfied Zack? Does it satisfy me? Not really, since having a "private commitment" certainly can extend beyond the vows of marriage - actually, it almost SUGGESTS extension beyond marriage. And with a veritable mish-mash of "community sanctions" these days, one needs only shop around for the approval of whichever community from one wishes approval. And most important, would this statement mean the same thing coming from a married person? I must admit, it rings a little hollow in that circumstance.
So I remain a little confused. Sure, the heavy-hitting religions, all of them, have their rules and their sanctions all in place, and it's worked for 1000's of years. But throw out religion. How DO you defend marriage as an institution to a non-believer, or non-religious person, whether they are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, you name it? Certainly, there must be some non-religious people out there who are married civily. Maybe one of them would enlighten me.
Oh, and for the record? Zack and the girlfriend broke up a few years later. Would they still be together if they had married? More than likely, not. When it's not right, it's not right, regardless of the piece of paper.