I always think that it’s worth reflecting that in essence we are the same as we were 40,000 years ago. Evolution is a matter of millions of years rather than tens of thousands. There may have been some slight changes, but we have the same instincts as our ancestors who lived in caves. In terms of morality and law this means I believe that we should not try to legislate against human nature. Morality must flow out of human nature and must reflect our strengths and weaknesses as human beings.
It is in the nature of men to want to have sex with as many young healthy women as they can possibly find. If it were up to the average young man, other things being equal, they would sleep with one woman and then move on to the next ad infinitum. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. A man can make hundreds of women pregnant in the space of time that one woman can have one baby. If he lived in a land where all the other men had been wiped out, it might even be his duty to do so. Even today young single men are invariably looking for sex. Until fairly recently in human history young single women were not so much looking for sex as looking for marriage.
But why seek marriage? It may be helpful to think about all those years ago when we were hunting mammoths. A pregnant woman on her own would struggle to look after herself. Society needed a way to prevent men simply having sex with a woman and leaving. It is for this reason above all that we developed something called marriage. It followed from human nature. Stable family units were needed, otherwise humanity would not last past the Stone Age.
Imagine you are a pioneer on your way to Oregon in the 1840s. If you are a man, you know that if you want to have sex on a regular basis, you will need to find a wife. In those days no woman on the wagon train would have sex with a man without already having married him. The reason for this was very simple. If she ended up in a log cabin on her own with a baby, she would struggle very hard to bring up the child. In order to develop an ordered society in Oregon, certain rules of morality and law were established. Men, who wanted to have sex, had to be married. Women did not have sex before marriage. Once married it was difficult, if not impossible, to become unmarried. But why did society develop all these prohibitions? Why not just have free love? The reason again is quite simple. In the wilderness women needed men to help them raise the children they had created together. It would have been a disaster in Oregon in the 1840s if there had been thousands of children without fathers. Who would have paid for them? The Government was thousands of miles away. Fellow pioneers might have been willing to look after the odd woman and child if her husband died in an accident, or more likely she would rapidly remarry, but the stability of the pioneer society required that sex and marriage went together.
Much of our present day thinking about marriage stems from a time when there was a prohibition on sex. Much of the elaborate courtship ritual of 19th century fiction is dependent on the idea that these people cannot possibly sleep with each other until and unless they marry. The romance rather goes out of the fiction if after one or two dates the couple are already sleeping together. Who needs romance if you both simply get drunk and end up sleeping with someone you just met. Why indeed have words like love and romance at all under these rather instinctual arrangements?
In a world where there is freely available sex, it is a wonder that men marry at all. Why should they? In what way is it in their interest? The ideal sexual situation for a young man is probably that of a harem. If he could have a different woman every night, would he not choose that? No need to kill them, of course, as threatened in the 1001 nights: eventually the man ends up back where he started. What’s not to like? So why limit himself to one woman? Even if he does tire of always seeking new mates, so long as he can live with his partner, what possible purpose can marriage have for him? It is no longer the condition for him to have sex. In what way then does it benefit him any more than living together? Why need the law get involved? Why should there be any question of promises and undying faithfulness?
For women, too, it is no longer such a great disaster if they have children outside marriage. There is no taboo about it. People admit it on television. If it so happens that a woman is deserted by her partner, she will at the very least receive benefits and quite possibly child support. What purpose then does marriage have for her, too? Marriage no longer acts as the gate keeper to women’s sexual favours. It is no longer needed as a way of guaranteeing that a woman won’t be left destitute if she’s pregnant. It is a promise which if made, can easily be broken by either party. Apart from tradition, what is it for at all?
This is the issue that we ought to be facing in the context of a world where there is no prohibition on sex, when men and women can sleep with who they please, when they please. Why do we still maintain institutions like marriage when we have already given up the morality that underpins the idea? When I talk to people about marriage, they frequently do not even think of it as much of a promise. They are as it were crossing their fingers when they marry, for they reflect, if it doesn’t work out, I can always get a divorce. Nothing bad will happen. But to marry in this way is not to marry at all. To make a promise while thinking to yourself it will be easy to break it, is a form of self-deception. Only someone who marries while thinking I will never break this promise can be said to actually be married. The others are merely going through a complicated ritual for no purpose.
Marriage today has become about white dresses and a huge party costing thousands of pounds which is planned years in advance. Meanwhile, the couple live together “as man and wife”. Why spend all that money? What do you obtain that you don’t already have? No-one is preventing you making an eternal promise to your partner. But why turn it into a legal contract?
The reason we developed the whole idea of marriage in the first place was to protect women from being deserted by those who made them pregnant. All of this depended on a context of morality shared by everyone. We have thrown out the morality, but retained this thing called ‘marriage’, but we no longer believe the words that are said at the ceremony. It’s all very romantic, no doubt, to listen to the marriage service, but who actually believes these words? In that case, it would be more honest to simply dispense with marriage.
The real inequality is this. It is between the married and the unmarried. Why should those who have not taken part in this elaborate ritual be discriminated against? Rather, let us say that all those who love are before the law “married” and have the same rights as everyone else. We are, moreover, tasked to love all our neighbours and, indeed, all our enemies. So let us be married to everyone. Above all, let us abolish this expensive day, for in reality we have already abolished it. The logic of the past sixty years is not that marriage should be available for everyone, it is that marriage no longer has a purpose and should be abolished. Promise eternal devotion to whom you please, but don’t let’s kid ourselves that this ceremony brings about something that can justly be called ‘marriage’. That is something we actually abolished rather a long time ago. All we have left is a charade. We play at something that people in the distant past understood, but it is forever lost to us because we don’t even share the same morality as they did. We lost it somewhere about the same time as we lost love and romance.
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