What is marriage?

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    So, you think you’re married just like everyone else? Well, maybe not just like everyone else. But if you are married, then what kind of marriage is yours? Many see marriage as an everlastingly love affair — the mainstay of American fairy tales and marketing by the marriage industry and media. But at its most basic level, with or without love, what is marriage? Marriage is defined as “the legal union of a couple as spouses. The essentials of a valid marriage are (1) parties legally capable of contracting to marry, (2) mutual consent or agreement, and (3) an actual contracting in the form prescribed by law.” — BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, 10th edition, 2014.

    Until 2015, a marriage consisted of a male and a female — an opposite-sex/opposite-gender relationship. I refrain from using the phrases, “heterosexual marriage,” “heterosexual relationship” or “heterosexual couple” because a couple composed of a male and a female does not guarantee that one or both are heterosexual, but that is a topic for another column.
    In Pennsylvania, and nationally, a same-sex couple can marry. And just like marriages among opposite-sex couples, there are amazingly rich and diverse types of marriages.

    The religious marriage — A solemn religious act where the tenants of one’s faith control how the marriage operates. Adherence to the Torah may govern the life of an Orthodox Jewish couple. Maybe “until death do us part” governs the marriage of a Roman Catholic couple. Whatever the faith of a couple, the religious laws and commands will govern the marriage and the behavior of the couple.

    The golden-handcuff marriage — A few individuals will be compelled to marry someone deemed by family to be an appropriate match so as not to forfeit family-supplied luxuries or an expected inheritance. Some families inculcate into their child rigid restrictions as to whomever he or she can marry. Children growing up under such conditions can risk a parent or parents not attending their wedding and even banishing them from the family. In some cases, the individual’s marriage outside of family restrictions may even be treated like a death.

    The business-deal marriage — Some couples treat marriage like a deal between to secure the social standing and acceptance that comes with being married. This type of marriage may also be a type of fraud when say one person pretends to love the other, but is marrying for some type of gain, like money, social standing, citizenship or escape, etc.

    The arranged marriage — Arranged marriage usually is based on certain mutually agreed upon terms between the families of those getting married. Marrying into a family that has had a divorce may be forbidden, or marrying into a family with a lesbian or gay man in it may mean a lack of family support.

    The civil marriage — This is the simple, unvarnished version of a marriage. Pick up a marriage license and head for City Hall or your parents’ backyard. Such no-frills type of marriage ceremony may be a couple’s choice, yet the couple may be excluded from the marriage ceremony common in their families. A Jewish lesbian and her fiancée are unlikely to be welcomed into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregation to exchange marriage vows before a rabbi. But maybe they could have a religious and civil ceremony before a reformed or Reconstructionist rabbi.
    There are many more types of marriages, and probably most are a combination of the above selections.

    For most couples, anticipating and getting married is a joy-filled time — choosing rings, planning a party and honeymoon, and simply being in a committed relationship that is legally protected.
    Until recently, the benefits of marriage were denied to members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is important to understand that some individuals are not “out” and the LGBTQ+ community should not judge. There were, and still are, gay men and lesbians who are able to camouflage and present as “straight.” Some may be isolated, unmarried individuals or in a marriage with a person of the opposite gender, either by deceit or through a private agreement by the couple.

    Human sexuality is an enormously complex topic and often misunderstanding, or a lack of compassion, has bred horrendous treatment and exclusion of someone merely by how one’s identity or gender expression is viewed. But in spite of all the differences and coping mechanisms, people in the LGBTQ+ community are free to marry. Free is a wonderful thing, but it cannot be taken for granted because the wolf is always at the door. And the wolf would like to smash hard-fought rights we have attained, largely thanks to previous generations who marched, but were unable to realize in their own lives all the benefits we have today such as the freedom to marry the person we love.

    It is impossible here to address all the facets of marriage, like common law marriages, second marriages, blended families, bigamy, etc. But we started with the question: What is marriage? And the answer is: Marriage, no matter what kind, is for everyone.

    Mark-Allen Taylor, Esq. is a Center City attorney specializing in family law (www.mat-law.com). Email him at [email protected] call 215-854-4008.