Beyond The Candelabra, Marriage Is A Contract

We’ve heard so much hyperbole about how marriage is a “sacred institution” that will be destroyed by allowing same-sex marriage that this whole concept is something I feel needs to be challenged with a few facts and history.  Being a straight woman myself some may feel I can’t understand and I’m the wrong one to address it, but being a white woman doesn’t keep me from having understanding about racial issues or addressing them.  It’s always when we stand together in unity for everyone’s rights that we are able to secure those rights for everyone. We need to understand it because it affects us as a society and a nation regardless of what our personal sexuality leads us to.

I hesitate to call it a “preference” or “choice” simply for the fact that I’ve never had the ability to “choose” to be attracted to another woman so why should I think it’s a choice for anyone else?  Is that too logical of a concept for us to accept?  I do believe the way we are sexually wired, whether it comes from some biological factor or psychological factor, is so innate we really don’t “choose” who to be attracted to.  With what I’ve seen of some male behavior I almost wish I was a lesbian sometimes and I’ve heard gay men say the same thing…that they wish they were lesbians. I’m sure there are straight men who wish they weren’t attracted to women also because even though they love them women drive them to distraction some days too.

However, apart from these issues, this whole idea that marriage is a religious institution and nothing else is false.  Yes within many religions it is, or has become, a religious ceremony but throughout human history it has also been many other things in many civilizations and cultures, including ours.  Overall it’s been primarily a legal social contract and more often a form of business contract.

This contract says that when two people agree to commit to each other for life, pooling their resources and efforts toward their common goals, they each have a legal right to the assets accrued under that partnership.  It also guarantees that each one in that partnership has the primary right to make medical decisions for that person and be at their side regardless of family or society’s opinion…because that person was chosen as the one they love and trust the most in that role.

This is a very important contract because in most of these relationships one person sacrifices at least some of their own dreams/goals for the common good of the relationship and the social unit.  No human relationship is ever completely balanced when two lives are so closely linked.  Historically we’ve seen it as a protection for women and children because in male-dominated cultures it has typically been women who sacrificed their dreams and goals to support their partners/husbands often leaving them helpless to provide for their own needs separate from that unit.  It says you can’t take from someone and not be willing to give back at least financially from the mutual coffer you built.

That was a practical issue since men have traditionally made more money and controlled it through institutionalized gender bias.  It has also traditionally been the woman, because of the simple biological fact that she is the one to carry and give birth to children, who was delegated the primary responsibility to stay home and raise those children while the man provided for the “family,” which limited her ability to pursue her own career and financial goals.

That contract has been protection for a woman, and the children of that union, so that if for some reason they can no longer live together, violating that contract, the partner who has sacrificed their own goals and security for the common good isn’t left with no assets and no means of support.  It hasn’t been perfectly executed because of bias in the court system but at least it gave both parties access to a legal remedy and some form of justice if the relationship failed for whatever reason.  We’ve seen many examples where men with a tremendous amount of wealth would allow their children, and the woman who gave birth to them and is raising them, to do without their basic needs without this contract.

Until recent times marriage was essentially a business contract as most marriages in most cultures were a bargain between a woman’s family and the man who wanted her for whatever reason–most often to provide him with children.  For most of history the idea of romance didn’t come into the concept or the deal.

In most societies the idea of confining sexual behavior to one person didn’t come into it either for a man, just for the woman, which was most likely a desire to make sure his children were establishing the lineage as well as controlling women.  I’m not saying the concept of loyalty between two people is in itself is wrong, if it applies to both parties, because it does tend to promote stability and emotional security within a very personal relationship but it was never historically considered part of the deal because it was a business contract not a religious or romantic one.

People criticize JFK and other public figures over their private sexual behavior but the fact is that throughout most societies and cultures it was accepted practice for men to have one woman, typically a wife, to have children with and other women for extra-curricular activities.  That was also the accepted ideology here until women started to come into their own in the 1970s.  I don’t defend that mentality but I do recognize it for what it was…a concept that has been accepted throughout history and across cultures.  I’ve never believed it was due to biology but rather socialization…the fact that it was allowed…but it is still a fact of history and is just as much a paradox to this idea of marriage being a “sacred institution” as same-sex marriage is.

Watching “Beyond the Candelabra” brought this home to me as it relates to same-sex relationships.  Evidently, Liberace (in his 40s) pursued and seduced a sixteen year old boy who gave up his dreams/goals and spent five years being at his beck and call… essentially his “wife” with certain promises and understandings.  He even had plastic surgery to appear the way Liberace wanted, changing his life for all time to some extent.

Then when someone else caught his eye and the relationship soured, the one with all of the power and money (Liberace) cast this young man out with no resources and no means of support.  He had no protection under the law so I gather his life has been pretty difficult while Liberace went on to live the high life until his death.

This is why we need same-sex marriage, not as a religious ceremony but as a social contract between two people who commit to each other but then later change their minds, violating that contract, after years of sacrifice for the common good of the union.  In these personal, human relationships one person typically does sacrifice more for the social unit/family so there has to be some way of establishing justice and parity for both parties within that contract.

I haven’t heard anyone say that any church should be forced to celebrate same-sex marriage or perform a marriage ritual if they disagree with it for any reason.  Many churches deny marriage to traditional man-woman couples for various religious reasons proving nobody can force them to marry anyone.

However, we’ve always had marriages performed by judges, military officers and even ships’ captains that were still “marriages” with the same protections under the law as people who were married in churches by religious officials.  So whether you believe it’s a choice, or just biological/psychological wiring that is different for some people, what does it matter?

In a free society can’t we just allow that everyone has the right to choose who they will commit to for life and who they trust to make their decisions for them when they’re sick or incapacitated in some way?  When they make that choice shouldn’t they have equal protection under the law if one person in the social contract changes their mind negating the agreement?  I fail to see where this is a religious issue, but instead see it as a social contract between two people that should be enforceable by the courts when it’s violated.

Is it really so terrible for someone to love someone regardless of whether you would personally approve of their choice?  I’ve got to tell you I’ve seen a lot of men, and women, that I thought I might be tempted to slap upside their bean if I had to live with them and wondered how anybody could.  But the good news is I don’t have to…I have that choice because I’m free.  I don’t try to deny their right to love and marry who they choose because someone else might be in hog heaven with them and that is also their choice…because they are free. Isn’t the basic right to choose the person who makes us happy one of our most fundamental rights in the pursuit of happiness?  What makes any of us justified in taking that right from someone else?


J. Haeberle, Ph.D., Ed.D., Erwin. “Archive for Sexology.” History of Marriage in Western Civilization, 1983. Continuum Publishing Company, n.d. . <“Marriage | History Detectives | PBS.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013.

“Liberace’s former lover:He took advantage of me –” TODAY – Top News Stories, Video Clips, Recipes and Guests | N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013.

“Marriage, a History | Psychology Today.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013.

“Marriage | History Detectives | PBS.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013.

Author: Cheryl Creech

What say you, the people?