When I was younger, I never dreamed of my wedding day. I don't know why, exactly, but thoughts of it just didn't excite me, and they didn't really come into my mind. It wasn't something I thought I wanted. It's not something I want right now, but I will in the future. I wonder who she'll be. I believe in love, and according to Phoenix Flame, "Marriage is love personified." I have much to look forward to.
When I think of marriage, I look to my parents. They're about 35 years in and happy. They're not a romantic pair per se; I don't know that they ever were. When I think of their marriage, I think of a certain key element: sharing, not just bills and bank accounts but a relationship, an experience, a life. I know they love each other. They have always been so solid and consistent in that respect. It's what I want when I grow up!
My brother got married not so long ago. The day was beautiful. His bride was beautiful. I watched him as he watched her walk up the aisle to join him, not just before the altar, but to join him as they embarked on their lives together, as two became one, one union joined in matrimony. A celebration of love: what finer contender? An air of happiness filled the day as our family and friends gathered to share something so personal, something so special to these two people.
The idea of marriage has been on my mind more and more lately. Maybe it's my age; I've just embarked on my 30s. Or maybe it's the Libra in me; the typical Libra has a constant need for balance, justice, and fairness. Libra's star-sign is represented by a set of scales. Currently my scales are off balance. They lean toward the past, whereas they need to be tipped toward the future. I am not on an equal footing with my dear brother. He found his love. He found his bride. I want that, too. But my opportunities are currently less than his.
What exactly is marriage? Dictionaries don't help me. They typically call it a "social institution," but they don't define what the reality of marriage is. They tell me who has access to it, and if anything they highlight the limitations to entering it. But they don't tell me anything about marriage or what I can expect from it. So I consulted a trusted friend.
I recently asked a learned author friend what marriage means to her. Her name is Nicole Kane Knepper. She is a licensed clinical professional counselor. On her massively popular and humorously titled blog Moms Who Drink and Swear, hosted on Chicago Now, she skilfully weaves humor and health psychology into her writing while documenting her opinions, both professional and personal, about parenting. I admire this lady for many reasons. I'm learning from her. I trust and respect her opinion, not because she often tells me how young I am but because she tells it how it is. Her reply came as follows
To me, making the decision to marry means that you will be persistent and committed to the concept of "forever," to be willing to try. I see marriage as a thing totally separate from the two people in the marriage. It is literally its own thing, with its own soul and identity. Each person needs to nurture that, grow it, and keep it alive as best they can. Like any other living thing, marriage has highs and lows and times when it just can't survive, so the cycle of its life ends. ... Seeing a marriage as a valuable living organism is key to nurturing it so it thrives.
Thinking about Nicole's insightful description excites me. What a worthy goal to work toward. It sounds like a big responsibility and appears that much effort goes into making it work. That effort is underscored by a desire to make it work. Whatever I thought about marriage before, I can now also see it as not only making a contribution to and nourishing a living organism, as Nicole calls it, but also making a contribution to and nourishing the life of another. What a gift to give. What a gift to receive. How privileged one must feel to be part of this social institution.
I believe marriage involves love. Love can exist outside marriage. Can marriage exist outside love? To me, love is fundamental to its existence. I see love as an umbrella term. A marriage based on love encompasses not only romantic notions but commitment, trust, loyalty, and respect. All the good stuff, sheltered by this overarching bond, sealed and guarded by the law. I see it like all the personal aspects of your life are shared with another, and that other person becomes a part of your personal experience. Your heart and your soul unite as you share your personal journey together. There's a fusion. That fusion is bound not only by law but by desire to nurture and grow it. As it grows, it gets stronger, and marriage can be built to last, "till death do us part." I see my marriage starting out with that expectation. I'm guessing most people do.
As I think of it, it is something so fundamental to my human experience -- who I'll fall in love with, who I'll want to celebrate that love with through marriage. Something so simple yet is greatly misunderstood. How big a role does love play in any of our lives? Love is not a force reserved exclusively for some and withheld or denied from others. It's a natural part of the human experience, for one, for all. And I see marriage as the pinnacle and ultimate celebration of that love.
When I consider that the right to marry is a basic human right, what the courts have called a personal freedom and a personal right, I wonder what "personal" means. As it stands, nothing about the right to marry takes account of my personal circumstances and what it means to me to be a person. The freedom element is not exercisable, where my choice of marital partner is concerned. In Loving v. Virginia (1967), Chief Justice Warren, who wrote for the majority, described the right to marry as "essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness." It is not the case that it is essential to the pursuit of happiness for some and not all. Falling in love with another, committing to another, sharing my life with another -- these concepts are the essence of personal, possibly the essence of happiness.
It's a hot topic. The marriage-equality debate gathers much coverage. I see that some opponents of equality in marriage laws are basing their opposition on these notions of tradition concerning marriage and gender. Not only is it misunderstood that the feeling of love and an ability to commit is not a privilege reserved for some, but what about tradition anyway? What would actually change? Eligibility without regard to gender to enter this beloved social institution will take effect. But what about marriage itself would change? When I am afforded the right to marry, and when I choose to exercise that right in accordance with the desires of my heart, would something about the institution of marriage change? Would something about my parents' marriage change? Would something about my brother's marriage change? Of course not. The tradition will live on. If anything, the status of marriage will be preserved or even elevated as the need for, or existence of, different forms of civil unions and domestic partnerships will be eradicated. There will be no need for alternatives to marriage based on gender. There really is no alternative to the ultimate bond based on love and commitment, something that is known and respected the world over.
I maintain my optimistic attitude. Equal opportunity to exercise the right to marry is the right thing. It is justice, it is fairness, it is equality, and my Constitution guarantees me equality. The promising thing is that six states and 11 countries have not only gained an understanding of but have also given recognition to the fact that not only love but marriage, too, sees no gender. What they illustrate is that the tradition of marriage as "love personified" has remained very much intact.
As my future romance buds, when love blossoms and it gets close to decision time, I'll remember the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, "When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory."
I feel I now have a better understanding of marriage, but what I still don't understand is what gender's got to do with it.