I got married in a bar in Philadelphia. Not a fancy bar, mind you — a little beer-heavy joint called the Kite & Key on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon in November 2009, against the backdrop of the Eagles game on the television. I was in jeans. My betrothed, in a dress she’d purchased at Goodwill. In place of a preacher, a woman I’d never met who was ordained by the Church of the Holy Internet (or whatever). The ceremony consisted of signing papers and drinking beer with a handful of friends. There was a small cake from the nearby Whole Foods.
Adri and I aren’t really ones for overwrought sentiment. Nor did we marry for love. That’s not to say we weren’t in love — we were then, and still are. But we didn’t need a piece of paper to tell us that. And as atheist-agnostics, there was little point in any sort of consecration before God.
Our needs were more pragmatic: I needed to get Adri on my health insurance, and the easiest way to do that was to get married. And so, a couple of days before our marriage license expired, I put out a call on my newspaper’s blog for anyone who could officiate a wedding, with the promise of a few drinks as payment — I learned later that, in Pennsylvania, we could have gotten what’s called a Friends license, which enables you to marry yourselves in the fine Quaker tradition — set a date for that weekend, and sent a text message invite to the few people we’d befriended during our two months in Philly. I called my mom when it was over.
I was thinking about this as we put together this Book of Love and Wedding Planner Issue. Love is eternal, a beautiful cocktail of serotonin and oxytocin and vasopressin that primes us toward copulation and reproduction, the evolutionary essence of our being. It is a glorious thing, something to be celebrated, an intrinsic aspect of our humanity.
Marriage, on the other hand …
Marriage is, at its core, a legal document governing property. Until relatively recent times — the last couple hundred years in the West — it had little to do with love. Marriages were arranged. Wives were little more than chattel. Polygamy was, for much of human existence, the norm, especially for men of status. Just a few decades ago, marital rape were perfectly kosher in many states, and married women, being subject to their husbands, were not allowed to open their own credit cards.
“Traditional marriage,” as conservatives love to call it, is a myth.
And yet in Florida, there are thousands upon thousands of couples who love just as the rest of us do, but who, on account of whom they love and the manner in which they screw, are denied the same legal protections, the same legitimacy in the eyes of the law (see “Marriage Equality. Now”), because doing so — letting marriage once again adapt to changing mores — would somehow rend the fabric of our very culture and eviscerate a timeless institution.
Love is eternal. Marriage is a construct — and one that has, over the years, been used to subjugate and discriminate. I can’t help but wonder how timeless it should be.
I’m happily married, and my wife is the singularly best person I’ve ever met. But the same would be true without that piece of paper.