I’m proud to be a Liberal Democrat this week. Our action in Government, led by Lynne Featherstone MP in her previous role as Equalities Minister, means that more people will now be able to enjoy comfort, stability, love and the odd argument within marriage.
Marriage has constantly been redefined, and it is this adaptability that has kept it relevant. The whole purpose of marriage was to secure land and power through marital union and the children (well, sons..) that this produced. In fact it was only the social mobility of the nineteenth century that occurred as a result of the emergence of the middle class that really changed the concept of marriage from something strategic based on consolidating and expanding land, possessions and wealth into a romantic partnership. The idea of marriage as a ‘partnership,’ based not just on procreation but companionship and mutual support is new. Marital rape was only outlawed in 1991 and it is of course still accepted for a woman to take her husband’s name.
The description of marriage as an ‘institution’ is also misleading. It is not a homogenous concept: some couples choose to marry in a religious ceremony, others choose a civil service. Within religions there are also varying attitudes to, for instance, the importance of procreation in a marriage. Catholicism teaches that procreation is its main purpose, whereas Anglicanism is more circumspect and in the 1930s teaching was reversed to allow contraception, although not ‘from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience’. Couples also go into marriage with varying attitudes. Some may see it as a commitment for life, some may not. Some enter into it after a few months, others after a few years.