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Monday, April 26, 2004

Adjectives will be the death of marriage

Through Alas, a Blog.

David Blankenhorn argues that what will kill marriage is using adjectives to distinguish one marriage from another. He firmly believes that marriage is an institution that is so powerful that every couple in it must wedge themselves into the standard form regardless of their personalities or needs, must less their sexes. And who gets to decide what the standard form is? Well, Blankenhorn has a great solution for deciding what the definition--whatever Blankenhorn says it is! Thank god the debate is over! Why didn't we think of this before?
One distinction that doesn't need to be made is healthy or unhealthy marriages.

Take an example: "healthy" marriage. I understand where this comes from. But it troubles me. Are you for marriage? Well, not really. I am for "healthy" marriage. Regular old marriage, you see, might be full of all kinds of problems, like domestic violence, unhappiness, patriarchy, and rigid sex roles. (Do you like to play tennis? Not really. But I do from time to time enjoy "healthy tennis." You know, tennis that's not ... unhealthy.)

Huh. That makes sense. After all, marriage is as universally good for people in the same way that exercise is. And what about those 50% of marriages that end in tears and heartbreak? Well, it's simple. Those aren't "marriage".

Here is my rule: Every time marriage nuts are forced to stick an adjective in front of the word marriage, we lose. Marriage is a big, old, strong word that has gotten along fine for 4,000 years without any adjectives.

I'm sure those who are looking to divorce are relieved. Now that their marriage requires an adjective, such as the dreaded "unhealthy" or even "ending", all they can say is that theirs is not marriage, since adjectives got involved. I'm sure the courts will buy that.
In all seriousness, there is a reason that people differentiate between healthy and unhealthy marriages. I'm sure that Blankenhorn wouldn't have a problem with differentiating between healthy and unhealthy people. (If he does, I can imagine what a pill he is for doctors when he gets sick. Once he receives his diagnose, "What was wrong with just being a person? Why do you have to call me unhealthy?) Marriages, whether he likes it or not, are made up of people. Marriage, I would argue, exists because of people and for people, not the other way around. It's a very Zen thing. Without people, there would be no marriage. With no marriage, there would still be people. It turns out you do need ears to hear trees falling.
There are other distinctions between marriages that Blankenhorn thinks we need to get rid of:

And now, as of about five minutes ago, we have something called "civil marriage," which, we are told, is something quite different from "religious marriage."

Technically, that is a distinction that was created the minute that the church and state became different things. I don't know if Blankenhorn is married, but if he is he must not have handled the paperwork or he might have noticed that outside of his religious ceremony there was this thing called a marriage license that the state made him fill out, or else he wasn't legally married no matter if a priest said so. As people point out on Alas, a Blog , many people have to learn the difference super fast when they try to obtain a divorce and an annulment and find out these are two very different things.
Well, no matter. In our brave new world, we have to get rid of distinctions between marriages, so one of these has to go. My guess is that Blankenhorn wishes to rid the world of this "civil" marriage, especially considering how inconvienent it will be to tell religious officials that they cannot marry people anymore if the "religious" distinction is abandoned. Of course, this means that people who were married just by the courthouse without the tacked-on religious ceremony will have their marriages disolved. Maybe it really would be easier to just get rid of "religious" marriages, since all "religious" marriages have some kind of civil component. Or we could go back to a theocracy where the state runs religion, since that was a situation that worked out so well in the past.
But even after Blankenhorn has rid the world of those troublesome descriptions, there is much work to do. Besides the adjectives that they bring up on Alas, there are more mundane descriptions that people carelessly use every day, not realizing that by distinguishing marriages by the people in them, they are doing irreparable damage to the institution. Even more frightening, some of these adjectives have been in use for centuries. Sometimes millenia! I'm surprised marriage has been able to hang on.
There are faithful marriages and adulterous marriages. Newlyweds have traditionally been differentiated from older couples, sometimes even to the point where older couples have been asked for advice on marriage! First, second, third marriages, all of which are often distinguished by the wedding clothes. Monogamous and polygamous marriages, the latter being indulged in by great Biblical heroes, mind you. Barren and fertile marriages. Sometimes marriages can be one, and then turn into another kind, such as a childless marriage becoming a fertile one. Traditionally, there were distinctions made between love matches, financial unions, arranged marriages and marriages of convenience.
All these differences make it a simple thing to make room for homosexual and heterosexual marriages. Obviously, the problem is diversity, as Blankenhorn points out. Getting rid of diversity is going to be a lot of work. I'm sure Blankenhorn is up to the job, though, even though he has trouble understanding the history and diversity of marriage that has existed until this point. Hell, maybe his inability to grasp that will help him.


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