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1. THE CEREMONY
Besides costing enough to feed a village in Madagascar, the traditional wedding ceremony is a conglomeration of ancient leftovers from every culture we’ve destroyed, absorbed, aped, or inherited on the way to our present pinnacle of enlightenment.
The wedding party, the ring, little things like the placement of large numbers of ceremonial people around the altar where the joinery is executed–all symbols: remnants of forgotten cultural baggage–much of it quite unpleasant. The ring–wasn’t it originally on the bride’s ankle? All those people–weren’t they really guards?? Marriage by capture, marriage by treaty, marriage by arrangement, marriage by purchase: it’s all there, silent, deadly, in the “modern” wedding.
The gown is white -for virginity–but the only virgin likely to show up at this shindig is the flower girl. Even in the fifties (which idealized virgins) a virgin bride was rare. Now she may actually be in need of surgery. In fact, most couples have been living together–very sensibly–for two or three years, and have decided under societal pressure to abandon the ecstasy of illicit love for the mundane and lasting materialistic joys of joint checking accounts and tax returns.
But some of the symbolism is more sinister. The veil, covering and hiding the bride’s face, is a token of the woman’s former submerged status in law. The fact that she is “given in marriage” by a male relative signifies her lack of autonomy.
Stripped of its burden of sentimentality, this is quite clearly a device by which the ownership of the female in question is transferred from her father to her husband. The starry-eyed, deluded bride has been seduced by yards of tulle over satin and re-embroidered lace (I am familiar with such details because I used to write stories for the wedding page) into thinking she is the Star of the drama rather than the sacrificial lamb or object of sale.
2. THE CONTRACT
At first glance it may seem a very romantic thing: two lovers so reckless of the outcome of their passion that they are ready to sign a contract that neither of them has even seen. But wait! The author of the document is not Cupid or Venus, not their own families, not even God. This contract my darlings is drawn up by The State. But there is more–a lot more.
This contract is subject to change. Should you decide to visit a less enlightened country, your status could be reduced to chattel and your legal rights nil. But you don’t have to go that far–your marriage contract may be radically altered if you merely relocate to another state, and even if you stay put, its terms are subject to every political wind that capers through.
For instance, when I got married, women were quite literally the legal subjects of their husbands, even when the ceremony didn’t include the traditional woman’s vow of obedience to her new lord and master (which vow was never imposed on the man of the house). I won’t recount the marriage laws of that bygone era, but when I got divorced fifteen years later, all had changed–radically. Now it so happens that I approve of most of those changes–but what if it had gone in another direction? I would have been subject to the terms of a contract I’d never even been consulted on.
3. THE LICENSE
License to WHAT??? This may be just another bureaucratic ruse for getting a $4 dollar fee out of us, but I see no reason to grant the State the privilege of permission in this matter. After all, if I allow them the right to say “yes” to my choice of partners, am I not also granting them the power (at least theoretically) to say “no?” And just why does the State take such an interest in the intimatelives of its citizens, anyway? No! I don’t want to tell them who I’m sleeping with, and I’d be infinitely happier if I never had to hear another word about their sordid, overpublicized sex lives, thank you!
4. THE VOW
Consider for a moment just the WORDS: For better or worse? Till death do us part? A simply-worded questionnaire would determine just how many people were seriously prepared to stay married to an abusive, drunken slob, an habitual gambler, a victim of multiple personality disorder.
In fact, you don’t need a questionnaire; just look at the divorce statistics. But they all take the oath, because a real oath, one which allowed for all the sad possibilities still recited in places where one must show “cause” to get a divorce, would make a mockery of the ceremony.
The simple fact is that 50% if those marrying in America today will get divorced–many for reasons far more vague and of less consequence than the sickness and poverty they solemnly swore to stick through. And that easy lie cheapens their sacred oath, and cheapens all of our oaths.
5. THE NAME THING
I don’t remember when I agreed to changing my name on marriage. I wasn’t asked. I signed nothing to that effect, I’m sure of it. It wasn’t in the ceremony. But it happened anyway. And the horrible part is I liked my “maiden” name. It was a nice name, I liked the sound of it and it connected me to a large group of people much friendlier to me than my in-laws.
Now I would back the almost-lost common law right to change one’s name–but that isn’t what happens when a woman marries. She is quite eradicated, and to make it worse, her proper name is now Mrs. John Something, or Mrs. Harold Whatsis. What was so terrible about her first name that it had to be submerged under some masculine appellation? Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued that this de-naming of women on marriage was very like the naming of slaves in the south, who had no surnames of their own. No I am quite adamant on this point. After thousands of years of women changing their names when they marry, it is definitely THEIR TURN.
6. THE HUSBAND
A “husband” is the keeper of livestock, and I don’t have any.
Now don’t laugh–morality can be inserted into any argument on any side: that’s the chief usefulness of morality. Mary Wollstonecraft argued possionately that the married state led to immorality. She and her lover Godwin lived in separate apartments and managed to produce two children without indulging in whatever immoral acts she feared might result from marriage, so she ought to know.
8. THE DIVORCE
It’s crude to mention it, but splits happen. When it happened to me, I elected to “do” my own divorce (which is one of the things Californians “do” besides lunch). Had my employer not unwittingly contributed the copying and the time I spent typing the forms, I probably wouldn’t have saved much over the cost of a lawyer. Everything seemed to require at least five copies and if a sentence was minutely different–not different in meaning or incorrect in syntax, just different–from the current form, only a complete retyping of the form would do.
I had married in my teens, and all I remember being asked was whether I did or didn’t. Now here I was in my thirties–all grown up and far better qualified to know my own mind and look out for my interests; you’d think they’d have taken my word for it that this marriage was history–but no, suddenly the welfare of all concerned was the intimate business of government!
A “divorce” in my present situation would require little more than a packing of bags. No sneaky serving of summonses, no “petitioning” the court, like a beggar, rather than an autonomous being. No legal fees to further encumber the partners. No testifying against whatever has come to pass–a person one once loved. The property settlement would be made while one partner was elsewhere–and probably would be as fair as many that require a court date, the serving of papers and a detachment of lawyers. Justice is no more a function of present-day law than animal rights are in a slaughterhouse.
9. THE CHILDREN
If a marriage produces children, just think of the shock produced by divorce–especially when the child never considered the possiblity. Then consider the trauma produced by the tensions between bitterly warring parents who stubbornly will not divorce for “the sake of the children.” Ponder the pain produced by miserably mated parents who would never even consider divorce!
Childhood is inherently traumatic and this may well explain the sorry state of the world. Further, most of us are the products of this existential trauma, and our children are destined to suffer however desperately we try to avoid it. Even if we manage to give our children a perfect and idyllic childhood–imagine the trauma when they discover the truth about life. Perhaps we should instead prepare our kids for the rough and tumble reality, by letting them know that their parents are delightfully living in sin, and there are no certainties, except that we will always love them. (And that will be difficult enough when they’re fifteen.)
10. A NUMERICAL PROBLEM
I am very suspicious of any important list that ends in Ten. Too pat. The Ten Commandments and the first ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights) both suffer from a certain ambiguity between the ninth and tenth items, which has given rise to a great deal of ridiculous–and expensive in the second case–speculation as to their intent. Clearly, each of these noble lists should have ended in nine! No, I will not end this list with ten just to achieve a round number or because the human race is endowed with ten fingers to count upon! To do so may be an invitation to great mischief. If you want to memorize my arguments, I suggest that 11 is as good a mnemonic device as 10. Deal with it.
11. THE ROMANCE
In the twenty-eight years my lover and I have been sharing quarters, we’ve been asked some pretty silly questions, like (to HIM) “When are you going to make an honest woman of her?” To this I take extreme umbrage; I have not lied about our lack of marital status (at least, no more than he has). Or, “Are you afraid of commitment?” The answer is no, we are committed to staying together for love–not property, or convention, or because the State or Church demands the appearance of fidelity. But the most important one that has come up from time to time is: “Are you afraid of losing the romance?” Well, I like to think that our relationship could survive even such a blow as marriage, but who’d want to take a chance on a thing like that?
ADRIEN RAIN BURKE can be reached at: email@example.com