Friday, January 16, 2009

Legalizing Love

This question arose when I was in the middle of a debate on gay marriage rights. The argument predominantly was on the government's uncertainty on how to define marriage, if it were not between a man and a woman. I am known to go off on a tangent. Obviously my mind derailed on why it should be so hard and confusing to define what marriage meant. Maybe I'm being overly simplistic.

To me marriage is a promise of commitment - the simple vow, "for better or for worse, till death do us part." It is being together as companions for life. Or isn't it? Does a relationship qualify as marriage if and only if the couple could produce and raise children? What about those couples in wedlock who are not blessed with children? My point is not to write something in support of gay rights, or question it. It is to simply convey my bewilderment on what qualifies as marriage.

Ever since my teens I've had this peculiar thought, albeit a little "revolutionary". In a way doesn't marriage seem like a legal contract? It is like legalizing a relationship, and drawing out a contract for love and promises. Can there even be such a contract? Doesn't such a contract obviate the true meaning of love and commitment in the first place? If we are to loan money to our friend, there is no contract due to trust. Why then is there one between two people who are supposed to trust their lives with each other? It doesn't sound so much like trust if there are prenuptials and a legal document....sort of like a safety leash to ensure people are bound by their responsibility? Or is it only for the sake of being recognized in society?

There are many committed relationships that haven't entered wedlock, but probably are far more sincere than those within wedlock. And these are viewed as relationships far less serious, purely because of them not being legalized. Is it because they don't have a sense of "forever together"? Well, marriages don't really last forever all the time. How different is a relationship out of wedlock breaking after 5 years, and a divorce from wedlock after 3 years? Why is the latter viewed more seriously? Why is it that the sound, "I have been divorced" sound tragic and severe than two break-ups from past serious relationships? Is there somehow less pain associated with non-legalized-break ups? Or is it serious because of the money involved due to settlements? (here we will assume there are no kids involved, for their presence will obviously tip the scales)

One can argue it is the extent of emotions and attachment that marriage wields in contrast to other relationships. Maybe so, but in today's world, the lines are getting blurrier. Couples in committed relationships seem to share almost as much as those within wedlock. Again, I am not arguing if that is right or wrong, the fact is, it is very much prevalent in today's world. In such a case, is marriage taken more seriously because of the public ascertainment of promise and responsibility?

I know the government needs some form of system. Yet, it somehow sounds very very silly to me that up until the wedding ceremony the same couple receive very little respect for their relationship... but after that mere ritual, they gain all the respect and privileges society can offer.


SecondSight said...

Interesting!:) I largely agree with you- to me, the purpose of marriage is more to create more occasions to celebrate (weddings, anniversaries, more ceremonies that you get to share with larger groups of people), and to simplify a whole bunch of government paperwork/ legalities. I think. Beyond that- the only situation where I would question gay marriage is when the question of adoption comes in. Do you think a child needs two parents of opposite sexes to grow into a healthy person (psychologically), or can two men/ two women do the same job?

Neeraja said...

Well, in my view, all children need for proper growth and development are a good home, responsible parents who nurture and provide them with love, education, knowledge, instill principles etc. Gender doesn't play such a huge role. There are many single parents out there who do a good job. Why not two people of the same gender who can potentially provide more care.

The way I see it is simple - especially in the case of an adopted child, the child would be more fortunate to come into a home with two potentially loving people (regardless of gender) than being left out in the cruel world. And I say this more vehemently after Slumdog Millionaire :)

SUMI said...

However... since have straight parents (actual mom and dad) is the norm and having gay parents who adopted you is out of the norm, the kid could have psychological issues in grappling with these facts and understanding and accepting them... and that in turn, could be detrimental even if, two people of the same gender parenting a kid in itself, isoltated from the social context may not be an issue...

Neeraja said...

Sumi - I agree that it's out of the norm and the kid will go through a phase of confusion, but I don't regard it as being (or having the potential to be)detrimental to the psychological growth of the child. It will be a confusing/challenging phase for all involved but I only see it as a phase, similar to many turbulent phases that childhood and parenthood invariably face.

Anonymous said...

Although there are many more important issues facing humanity today, especially nutrition, poverty and illiteracy, the developed and developing worlds are more obsessed with sex than anything else. Sex and relationships get disproportionate attention. I wish people could see beyond these and make a concerted effort to contribute to human development in general.

Having said that, the issue of parenting really is one of how to introduce a balanced personality into a child to make him/her succeed in society as a whole. Since society is predominantly heterosexual, I don't see how gay couples can be effective parents. We should surely try and separate what is probable from what is possible.

Neeraja said...

Philramble - Thanks a lot for sharing your views. I admit that I haven't really studied or read on the dynamics of gay couples/relationships. But I struggle to envisage how their dynamics might be so disturbingly different so as to affect a child's holistic growth. Would the child grow to be in a misguided light about his/her partner preferences? Or does the absence of one gender fail to inculcate necessary personality growth in the child?

As for the former, i concede that it is indeed a confusing concept for a growing child, but would it be so crippling? I guess the answer lies with the parents... in the age of counselors and other forms of awareness and help, if parents invested time in helping the child handle the phase, would it be so detrimental? But I guess the argument is why make the child go through it in the first place - prevention than cure. Well my argument is from a cost/benefit standpoint.

As for the latter, it might have been very relevant up until the recent decade wherein the roles played by the man and woman in relationships were quite distinct. The concept of one person hunting/gathering and the other nurturing and caring is no longer so distinct between men and women. It's common to see men nurture and women hunt/gather as well. There are no longer exclusive roles played by men and women... so would it matter in gay relationships? Why then are gay individuals and heterosexual individuals allowed to adopt?

Anonymous said...

I read through your response to my comment. You raised pertinent questions. I don't know much about gay relationship dynamics, but I think its possible to say that the roles played by a mom and a dad are very important. As a male child, I developed a kind of bond with my mother. Perhaps the role of the father traditionally has been to initiate his son/daughter into some of the realities of everyday life and teach them how to stand on their own feet, basically. I think gay relationships may not have enough depth in order that they help nurture the child, although they may be perfectly fulfilling to the partners themselves. The counselor solution may work in some cases, but there may be a stigma associated with being a counselor child.... and sexual development for a heterosexual child growing up with gay parents may be stunted, leading to an unfulfilling lifestyle. While population is not humanity's problem (the excess of it is), it may become decisive to reproduce naturally to ensure the species evolves and survives a rapidly changing environment. In this context, gay couples will always be seen as the exception and not the rule.

Gay couples also seem to change partners more frequently than heterosexual couples and have greater chances of contracting HIV due to high risk levels, so I don't know if they will provide the right environment for a child to develop.

I think we need to look beyond the fact that the hunter and gatherer roles exist in society. Surely they have manifested into other social traits that we deem necessary for fulfilling living. And at least I am not convinced that gay couples can provide the emotional, mental and sexual development and fortitude that is necessary for a heterosexual to develop in a healthy way and lead a fulfilling life.

Neeraja said...

Philramble - Thanks for dropping by to continue the discussion. One aspect that should be considered is that adoption is a long drawn rigorous process of assessing the potential parents before a child is handed over to them. I've seen the convoluted extents of rigorous checks done to even those couples who maintain the perfect standards of loving environments. Be them heterosexual, or gay... a couple is not just handed a child because they have gained the right to adopt. In that respect, I think it's unfair to classify most gay relationships to be subject to infidelity and hence the risk of HIV and unstable environments. Even married heterosexual relationships run similar risks of divorce/infidelity. So assessing the stability of the relationship and commitment among the couple is part of the adoption screening process - which will be present regardless of the type of relationship.

I agree that the roles played by a mother and father are crucial, but my example of the hunter-nurturer roles was to highlight just one of the main distinguishing roles, which by itself is now blurry. And when I look around at contemporary parents I feel there is no longer exclusive roles played (beyond just hunter/gatherer). But again both our arguments might be tainted with our own upbringing and hypotheses that anyway cannot be currently proven either ways :). But again, if the role of a dad and mom are deemed so mandatory, why are single heterosexuals and single homosexuals allowed to adopt?

I do understand the inherent risks involved in sexual development. But I reiterate that if we tabulated the costs of dealing with the risk, the benefits of adopting a child and the risk of improper sexual development, I can see the risk index reaching an acceptable scale with the benefits overwhelming the equation. It maybe a simplistic view of risk analysis, but the big picture that I see is a child being given love, care, education, empowerment and an identity in a loving environment. Sexual development is probably a hitch but compromising on the big picture for the fear of not being able to handle it, just seems like a loss.