Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How To Define Marriage

When people ask me for marriage advice, or when I have to sign a guest book at a wedding, one of my favorite piece of marriage advice is: "Make your marriage what you want it to be."

 A lot of people these days are trying to define marriage. My issue with this is that people historically and even in our modern society have very different ideas of what a marriage means. I'm not even talking about the issue of gay marriage. You don't have to look to that deep into "traditional" heterosexual relationships to find wide variations in marriage.

My great grandfather had a concubine. This was an acceptable social practice at the time in Taiwan. While there are historical and literary accounts of wives having issues with concubines, my great grandmother had no issues with this issue. As she put it having a concubine meant that her husband "bothered her less." This was part of their marriage and they were fine with it.

A couple that I know who have been married for about four years has no intention to have kids. This is a position they both feel strongly about and discussed before they got married and they are fine with that fact.

Another one of my close friends spent the first year of their marriage living across the country from each other. And one of my uncles commuted from Tokyo to Texas leaving his family for months at a time for work. For these people, marriage was not something that meant they had to be physically in the same space all of the time.

My marriage to Diana doesn't involve a concubine, we are committed to having kids and it would take something pretty extraordinary for me to live apart from my wife. We've chosen to define our marriage a certain way that works for us. Who am I to say that a marriage that doesn't have children in the future is less legitimate?

Marriage means so many different things to different people. What's important is not that you subscribe to a type of marriage defined by other people but rather one that is defined by the spirituality, love and values that you share with your partner.

We've come such a long way accepting plurality in marriage. Last weekend I was in Nashville, at a cafe with my wife. Sixty years ago, if I walked into that same cafe holding hands with my wife, people would look at us with disapproval and today, no one even looked twice.

Divorce, wider age gaps, interracial relationships, interfaith unions, long distance relationships, changing gender roles, number of children, are all variations in marriage that our society have accepted in a wider definition of marriage.

Some of these things may not work in your marriage and you may disagree with some of these variations in marriage, but they are there and it's important we learn to not judge different definitions of marriage and accept them as reflections of the diversity in our culture.

So make your marriage what you want it to be. Don’t get bogged down by people telling you how their marriage works. Figure it out for yourselves and make it what you want it to be. As the priest said in the sermon I heard at my friends wedding I recently attended, marriage is a sacrament that is ordained by the people getting married, not the church. You are in control of your marriage.

The definition of marriage has evolved for thousands of years in different cultures all across the world and will continue to change. Everyone deserves to define marriage the way they want to, without prejudice and judgment.

The slippery slope is not "let gay people get married and then people will want to marry animals," it is "if you ban gay marriage, then you can ban marriage between people of different religions, and races." Providing more freedom for people begets happiness and more rights for all. And as we've seen in the darkest periods of human history, taking away rights leads to atrocities.

Let's stop trying to define marriage as a list of requirements, a cage.  Instead, let's define marriage with the fundamental framework of human companionship and build upon it with our own individual expression of who we are and what we believe.

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