Marriage: Just two people in lurve..?
Blogged by James Preece on 29th January 2013
My thanks to New Friend for taking the time to answer my question...
There were many other reasons for marriage. You identify some. Others were political, some to secure family fortunes, some just for companionship. Some to find a carer for elderly parents. Some to find a home maker. Marriage was always for a variety of reasons. It is NOT just a recent development. It is a particularly myopic religious viewpoint which attempts to suggest that in the past marriage was only to produce children in a "responsible" way.
We need to distinguish between the reasons individual people get married vs the reason a society has marriage in the first place.
Individuals may get married for companionship or so they can immediately divorce and run off with half of the wealth or just in the hope that the old fella dies soon and they can bag the inheritance. Those things all happen, but they are clearly not the purpose of marriage.
No society has ever said "hey, let's have Marriage so that people can have a crack at scamming inheritance money!"
The other reasons New Friend gives - to maintain political harmony, to ensure the stability of families through the inheritance of wealth, to ensure the elderley have carers... These all amount to my original premise - that Marriage is a social institution between couples and society to ensure that children grow up in the best possible way.
There have certainly been differences over the years about what is the best environment for children growing up. In some societies the priority has been on bringing up children to be good carers, in others cases the priority has been on averting a war between two kingdoms while in other cases the goal has been to keep wealth in the family. So not always "best for children" in the sense of "that which puts the needs of the children first" - you know, the myopic sense of a stable home with a mother and father. Sometimes "best for children" in the utilitarian sense of "that which produces the kind of children we want".
That said, I think it would be cynical in the extreme to suppose that Marriage has primarily been selfish. As New Friend goes on to say "Good parents, married or not, will always care for their children because they love them". Is it really such a leap of faith to think that these good parents who "will always care for their children" might feel compelled to consider the fate of their future grandchildren?
The interesting thing to note about the above is that every single one of these reasons without exception involves the institution of marriage being used (or abused) as a tool to manage heterosexual fertility in a way that benefits society and/or children.
Even when we disagree with the goals, we seem to agree on what Marriage is.