Sunday June 17 2012 was a memorable anniversary for me. It was thirty-five years to the day since my met my wife, and I remember it like yesterday – better, in some respects. Two years or so after that we “tied the knot”, and our, official, thirty-third anniversary will happen in August this year. I’m sure that my wife wouldn’t look at it quite the same as I do, but to me the day we met carries more significance, if a date can be significant in that way.
So I regard marriage as a contractual formalisation of something that already existed. Although I haven’t been divorced, that is another such formalisation. The difference between married people and unmarried people is simply one of a relationship to a formal set of obligations, responsibilities and benefits, and it has long been assumed that such formal obligations, responsibilities and benefits will contribute to the smoother running of society as a whole, in much the same way as, say, a formal contract between an employer and an employee will contribute to the more efficient management of a business.
Of course it is more complex than this. We have Common Law provisions that dictate that people can be effectively married even if not formally so. But marriage is also a kind of public declaration of devotion – in an ideal world the married have no need for formal arrangements to cement this devotion. And weddings are themselves a celebration, not of formal arrangements per se, but of a formalised mutual commitment. In this sense they are a “tradition”. As I’ve argued elsewhere, traditions themselves become the traditions and there is no historical reason to suppose that things that we regard as traditional now will always be traditional. Continue reading