Recently I came upon a video clip where straight people are asked when they chose to become straight. Many of the respondents were somewhat surprised by the question and most answered that they never really took the decision and that they were born that way. Interestingly, the same question is frequently asked to gay people, somehow expecting a different answer.
The same phenomenon is happening to me because next month I am not getting married through a traditional Church wedding and I have been living with my wife-to-be for the past 20 months. The question I am frequently asked is “Why bother getting married?” It seems that when you break away from the norm, people feel free to pose (discomforting) questions which are not usually asked. Leaving aside the legal aspects related to marriage, I think there still are perfectly valid reasons to get married in my context which I will attempt to articulate below.
First I will attempt to answer the question of marriage in the context of cohabitation or more specifically: “If you are already living together what does marriage change?” I think that marriage signifies much more than cohabitation. Cohabitation has a temporary and non committal element to it: a sort of trial run where one lives with the awareness that the arrangement might suddenly come to an end. Marriage, I believe, involves a significantly bigger commitment which lays the foundation for a life-long relationship with the possibility of offspring.
Naturally, cohabitation and marriage are simply words and a relationship might be lived as a cohabitation even after a marriage and similarly a cohabitation would not develop into a marriage on the wedding day! A relationship is a process and I find cohabitation to be a very natural stage before marriage – a perfect way of getting to know more oneself and one’s partner!
The second issue of why get married if not within the Church has all to do with the meaning of marriage. The way I understand it, marriage is a celebration of a growing relationship. As such it changes nothing but marks the start of a new phase where the couple express their commitment towards each other in the social context of their family and friends. This definition of marriage is not really different from the Church’s definition except, of course, that there is no God in the picture. Still, not even God can make a difference unless the spouses are ready for it; at least that is how I have been taught that grace works. Following this reasoning, I think that there is still a lot of sense in getting married whether through the Church or not.
Throughout the preparation of my wedding I have interacted with many people who have expressed their surprise and, frequently, disapproval. Interestingly, I got the feeling that due to my non-standard choices I had to reflect more on the meaning of this significant step in my life; if anything to answer the probing questions. It is ironic that people like me and others such as the gay community – still fighting for their right to mark their relationships – seem to ponder more the meaning of marriage than a great segment of people who marry (typically through Church) because it is the default and respectful thing to do! Unfortunately, it is the former that are frequently frowned upon rather than the latter.