Life / Sex & relationships

The Marriage Tradition Fable

Stalybridge My husband Scott and I had our first date on August 25, 2005. On our first anniversary, we celebrated at a better-than-average Chicago restaurant. And in the years following, we did the same, dining at Chicago’s North Pond, which is nestled under giant oaks and elms along the shore of a lagoon in Lincoln Park. Eventually, we made a tradition of visiting Piccolo Sogno and its romantic garden.

IMG_0258Everything was rosy until July 5, 2012. On that date, we entered into a civil union (which prompts me to ask, why does one get married, but one enters into a civil union?) Anyway, two days later, we had a celebration with family and friends. And so we were faced with three potential anniversaries to celebrate and a dilemma: Should we continue celebrating our original anniversary or shift to the date of our civil union—or observe the date of the celebration? Or celebrate all of them?

Well, we decided to celebrate the date of the courthouse civil union. And we still observe the anniversary of our first date.

Things were settled for two years until this year, when same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois. We visited the courthouse again in June and had our civil union converted to a marriage. We were again confronted with the potential for a shifting anniversary date. Thankfully, Cook County backdated our marriage to our civil union date, so we could stick with that date.

The experience, though, made me think about the evolution of marriage and arguments against gay marriage. One of the arguments against gay marriage is that the institution is based on tradition and that traditions—by nature—defy evolution or change.

So, here’s a quick overview of the “tradition” of marriage. Post-World War II, courtship and marriage followed a fairly similar path (in western cultures, anyway). In American culture, in particular, traditions generally ran along these lines: meet spouse at a social function, work, or school, date spouse, get engaged, get married, get pregnant, have children (in some cases, pregnancy preceded marriage, but let’s not quibble.)

Just prior to this time period, though, arranged marriages weren’t uncommon. And the celebrations themselves were generally small affairs. There were not five bridesmaids and there were not diamond engagement rings. And there were not giant receptions. All of these “traditions” represent changes to the tradition of marriage.

Okay, but one could argue that these changes are trivial and apply to merely the celebration of the marriage. But then what does one make of the now rarely used marriage vow that mandates that a wife must obey her husband? And what of laws that considered a woman a man’s property, let alone the ones that allowed a husband to beat his wife provided that it wasn’t too extreme? Well, these laws only date back 500 years, which ought to qualify them as being well-established traditions. Right?

So, exactly which traditions are gay marriage opponents referencing when they want marriage to remain “traditional?” And if you get to pick and choose, then you can no longer say you stand for traditional marriage. Marriage has either evolved, or it hasn’t.

Gay marriage opponents can try to brush aside these arguments, but the truth is that marriage has evolved and continues to evolve.

And if we accept that marriage has always evolved, then not only can we happily embrace same-sex marriage, but we can also celebrate multiple anniversaries. And isn’t that a tradition that we’d all like to adopt?


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