“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strength each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
— George Eliot
In truth, marriage has meant a great deal of things to a great deal of people throughout the world for millennia. The concept and definition of marriage have evolved over centuries as societies and cultures alike have changed and evolved. The current debate is not just an American issue. What constitutes a legitimate marriage as opposed to non-traditional unions — such as same-sex, or in some instances, inter-racial marriages, or those outside of one’s caste — is an ongoing debate worldwide.
There are Mesopotamian historical records of marriage contracts and bonding ceremonies dating back nearly 4,000 ago. Marriage during this era was not for love but rather served primarily as a means of preserving the ruling class, forging kingdom-to-kingdom alliances, and maintaining royal bloodlines. Some cultures practice polygamy in the attempt to produce many offspring, which is viewed as a blessing, a sign of having wealth, and of receiving divine favor. Today people marry for a wide variety of reasons, and many people throughout the world still marry within their race, caste, and social class.
It is not surprising, therefore, with all the changing and shifting of the definitions and purposes of marriage throughout millennia, that we would be here today having a national discussion concerning who should or should not have access. At the heart of this discussion should be no less than the promise of love and commitment, for there is no greater purpose for marriage than being a harbor for love. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy beautifully stated its purpose, while also including love stories of same-gender-loving couples. He wrote:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
In all cases, the institution of marriage is a sacred rite as well as a civil right, belonging to all couples who have chosen to partake in one of the greatest journeys two souls can together embark. And each deserves encouragement, wholehearted cheer, and the best of wishes.