MARRIAGE:an officially sanctioned reciprocal human sexual relationship event

Because sexuality and social aggregation have been two of the essential elements of the human condition, the evolution of the concept and institution of marriage has resulted in innumerable local manifestations of tradition and cultural value expectations. Although definitions and the practice of marriage have widely diverging biased perspectives, nevertheless... pared of the often ludicrous and sometimes cruel cultural practices... declaring allegiance to gods, genital mutilations, the ingestion of extraordinary preparations, bizarre decorations, and the like... there is a secular core of elements that ought normally be considered essential for a relationship to be legally recognized by an administration authority as a marriage.

A marriage... both the on-going relationship and any initial ceremony... is an event rather than a condition or state. Although it often seems convenient to refer to marriage as a condition... like the weather, health, or finances... the reality is that conditions and states and circumstances are always only snapshots along a continuum, and as a consequence only offer a very restricted perspective. For most purposes it needs to be remembered that marriage is an event... just as a contract is an event, a coalition is an event, and the seventh divorce of an affluent entrepreneur is another news-worthy event... and as a consequence has a beginning and an end. The first core essential of a marriage therefore, is that it is an event socially associated with times and places. It has a beginning, signalled by a ceremony or acceptable social arrangement. It has an evolving temporal existence as conditions and circumstances change. It has an ending, when death or legal intervention terminate the relationship.

The second essential element about a marriage is that it is a sexual relationship between humans. The all-consuming factor of sex that pervades the human condition is such a widespread and dominant phenomenon, that it is entirely pragmatic and sensible to restrict any social rules and practices relating to 'marriage' to only be about human sexual relationships. There are thus various human circumstances that should not qualify to be considered as marriages. A marriage is a relationship wherein at some stage, some form of sexual cooperation and participation is expected to eventuate... a sexless marriage is an oxymoron. An individual cannot be married to nothing in abstract nor to themselves. No-one can claim a state of 'being married' as if it were similar to a state of happiness or depression or impecunity... and unilateral masturbation does not count. An individual cannot be married to an institution, occupation, church, state or a different species of animal. One can no more be married to god than to a dog. Marriage should thus be restricted to a human sexual relationship between at least two individuals. Within this class of possible marriage events however, different cultures and administrations will always make further restrictions, depending upon the values and attitudes that prevail. Same sex, multiple, juvenile and incestuous marriages have all been allowed or not according to the existing political and religious climate. There may be obvious and compelling reasons, for example, for the outright prohibition of marriages between sexually mature individuals and those who are immature, but formulating a policy with respect to relationships that diverge from the most common standard MarkI male-female model, will be difficult to achieve without the bias of cultural prejudice. Social administrations should adopt an entirely empathetic and pragmatic perspective when attempting to legislate on such issues, but of course the probability of that happening is often nearer zero than one.

A marriage is a social event that is publicly recognized. Its focus is a human sexual relationship that a governing authority approves of and sanctions any administrative implications. As much as it may be convenient for two or more individuals to suppose that a relationship could be a form of secret marriage, in fact it can never be any more than a private mutual agreement to participate in some form of sexual activity. A 'marriage' has to have some social, legal and official benefits and obligations for there to be any point to it. Assuming oneself to be married in social isolation 'before god' or 'spiritually' is delusional nonsense. Individuals can 'cohabit' in isolation but they cannot 'marry' in isolation. 'Marriage' is a public and symbolic event that signifies a relationship that has implications for the whole of society. If it is irrelevant to a society whether individuals are 'married' or not, then there is probably little point to the classification. A 'marriage' is a socially recognised sexual relationship between individuals which is invoked, formalised and established by means of a publicly witnessed action that is generally admitted as being an adequate signal of intent. Historically, marriage has for the large part been associated with heterosexual relationships in order to provide rules and social standing for any eventuating offspring. Since, in fact, marriages were often not consummated, were infertile or without issue by choice, heterosexuality need not be a defining characteristic. A homosexual marriage event could quite readily replicate the life-cycle of innumerable childless heterosexual marriages.

The above-mentioned minimal common secular properties of a marriage contract will normally be enhanced and augmented by a variety of social rights and obligations which are deemed to be appropriate by the administering authority. Making fair and equitable regulations about naming, nurture, inheritance, property, rights, money, children and relatives, etc is nothing less than a pragmatic procedure for diminishing the social disruptions that occur with birth, divorce and death events. Whilst a marriage will probably always be some sort of officially recognized multilateral human sexual relationship, many of the other concomitant aspects will be subject to the pressures of evolutionary change and circumstance. As with all other aspects of human social and cultural life, the rules and laws and regulations lag some distance behind the reality of behaviour and practice. In some circumstances it may be acceptable to authorize polygamy or first-born inheritance for example, but with the passage of time socioevolution will transform the cultural realities and such rules may be no longer appropriate. Eventually, legislation will have to be created to reflect the changed situation.

Complexifying the above logical, secular and pragmatic considerations, are the multifarious and diverse idiosyncratic expectations that the various religious and ethnic groups entertain. Whilst some of these are harmless and often enjoyable enhancements, it is nevertheless unfortunately the case, that many are uncompromisingly unacceptable to an equitable and inclusive secular society. It is not acceptable, for example, that there is an expectation that the male partner of a heterosexual relationship should have the right to dominate and dictate the behaviour of the female... yet this is widespread and pervasive situation. It is not acceptable that one or more of the members in the relationship be kept in a state of virtual slavery. It is not acceptable that one or more members of the relationship must have been subject to abusive forms of genital mutilation. In short, it is not acceptable to any society, that has the interests of all its citizens as a priority, to either authorize or turn a blind eye to the cruel and self-serving practices carried out behind the camouflage of a quasi-marriage screen.

There are many other perspectives that have been adopted with respect to marriage, the imposition of which upon a general population would have little support or merit. It has been suggested that marriage should be a state of emotional integration... a sort of ecstatic condition of blissful mutual adoration. This is to confuse the existential and legal marriage event with the supposed mental state of the participants... and they are quite clearly not the same. It has been promoted... mainly by religious self-interest... that marriage should be a permit to commence sexual activity. This is such a narrow and myopic view of human biological evolution and behaviour, that attempting to impose a general compliance upon the population would be absurd. On the political stage, marriage has been used as an economic and political treaty between families, clans or monocratic countries. It has been a useful mechanism to create alliances instead of aggressive power conflicts, but for most citizens such considerations are entirely irrelevant. In the fashion and socialite environment, a marriage is promoted as a theatrical event wherein the principle participants act out a fairytale fantasy that promises an eternity of unblemished happiness. The absolute details of costume, staging, ceremony, props, reception, publicity, guest list and documentation is monitored by professional perfectionists, who ensure that as little reality as possible is allowed to intrude into the proceedings. Such events are frequently deemed highly newsworthy by some sections of the journalistic media, but they contribute very little to any analysis of the essentials of what a marriage is.

The individuals view of marriage is usually quite restricted and even one-dimensional. It consists of a narrow idiosyncratic focus on a few matters that seem significant to that individual at the time... the right or not to 'marry' another particular individual... the cost budget of the ceremony... the ability to establish a viable lifestyle financial basis... the obtaining of access to significant assets... the presumed availability of greatly enhanced sexual participation... and so on. The state view of marriage on the other hand is of course more authoritarian and multi-dimensional. It might be expected that the legislative procedures of any cultural administration would have established procedures and boundaries that were equitable and sensible and generally acceptable, but the inertia of such institutions is so considerable that socioevolution processes ensure that that is never the case. There is at least one international legal system that has a "Definition of Marriage" law wherein there appears to be no definition of marriage.

Finally... from a genealogical point of view... the establishing of probable lineages will remain a study of heterosexual activity until cloning technologies become relevant and significant. Because of the significant propensity for adulterous human promiscuity however, it will have more to do with verifying circumstances of opportunity, accumulating evidence of copulation, making suppositions about the probabilities of menstrual phases, researching the birth archives and obtaining scientific DNA evidence, than to any certifications of a marriage event.