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31 August, 2007

Marking

One of the things that interests me about people is the way people do rituals, recognise and solemnise important things to them with patterns.

And I've got a lot of thoughts about this, some of it religious, some of it not, but I tend towards the opinion that people tend to ritualise important things, rites of passage, things they want recognised, in some way or another. Or use extant rituals for other things, trying to make the transitions matter -- a graduation ceremony or a senior prom as an adulthood rite, or even the acquisition of a driver's license as an adulthood ordeal -- when existing rituals don't do what they need.

I could write more about this; I have a lot of philosophy of ritual. But partially in the wake of the Iowa court mandating that same-sex couples have access to the legal marriage ritual in its county of jurisdiction, I find myself thinking about marriage.

I tend to see the whole discussion of same-sex marriage rights in terms of defining the ritual, you see. Which throws people, sometimes, so to try to lay out where I'm coming from in straightforward terms:

- cultures have rituals to mark important things and transitions;
- this is a normal trait, not a positive or a negative thing;
- marriage is frequently such a ritual;
- in my culture of origin, 'marriage' is the ritual for constituting a recognised partnership;
- people will feel free to ignore partnerships that are not properly constituted by their standards;
- this is normal.

I also add to this:

- cultural unity is in part defined by shared rituals;
- disruption of the rituals of a culture is a potentially culture-destroying event.

Which gets me nods from the folks who disagree with me on the whole marriage thing, with that okay, you understand where we're coming from face, up until I point out that this is exactly why it matters for same-sex couples to be able to marry. 'Cause I sit here and go, "Okay. If marriage is limited, then the culture will split into people who come up with an alternate ritual for relationship recognition that includes same-sex couples and the people who don't, and that completely undermines marriage as the ritual for partnership recognition. It is a therefore a threat to marriage to have people forming and ritualising partnerships that cannot go through the cultural hoops."

Right about there people start going all headspinny on me for some reason. Because I don't think that letting people into the ritual that weren't allowed in before threatens it; I think the coming up with alternative ritualisations is what's the cultural warping thing. We've already had the cultural shift that brings people out to where they're able to form partnerships with who they love (rather than past patterns of obligation and similar things) and, like humans everywhere, want to ritually acknowledge those relationships; using the same rituals for this as have been done in the past is a matter of avoiding wild change and unnecessary and potentially risky innovation.

So there's a difference in perspective about what counts as rearranging, you know? Come up with whole new rituals and schism the society based on which rituals one recognises, or change who gets into the ritual at all and see who that alienates.

And ... okay, that photo there? That's from after the ritualisation that was my collaring. And you know, going through that ritual was a big deal to me, something that does a lot for my sense of safety and security in the relationship, simply because it was a ritualisation. And it has trappings that some folks would recognise, if I happen to, say, go out wearing that mark, like I did at the Flea.

It's not a marriage, though. It's an essentially between him and me thing, though it gets some recognition in the sense of awareness of what the symbols mean elsewhere. It doesn't bring in the community and say, "Here, this is our partnership. This is what we're trying to build here, among you." Whether or not one assigns religious significance to the thing (I don't personally have a religion that does, but I'm quite well aware that the surrounding culture does in fact have a religion that includes matrimony), there's still that people and the surrounding world, being recognised, being real to them.

Nothing is going to stop people reaching for being real, for marking their lives with ritual that joins them to their communities.

People look for marks.

3 comments:

Mei said...

I think this your marriage argument is strong. If my father weren't such a overwhelming proponent of the "governments should stay out of marriage, all such things should be as civil unions unto them" point of view, I would try it on him. At least he's pro-equality, but I think that the cultural and legal ramifications of the word "marriage" are so loaded that very few people will want their already-existant relationships turned into "civil unions". The logic of his argument bears out, though, in the number of people getting "married" in religious terms in states where it's not yet possible to do so legally.

How do you think that affect the ritual's impact culturally? (That it's still being performed but not sanctioned by the state, I mean.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Heh. The word for "civil union" in English? MARRIAGE. You know when in English law (as that is most relevant to the law in most of the States) religions had exclusive control of marriage? Between 1753 and 1837. This is not what we call time immemorial.

(The interference with marriage started with the church, actually, trying to get more and more control over it. Before 1200 or so, people in culture-of-origin got married without supervision from anyone, by damn well saying so, by one of three means. (One of which was sacramental marriage.))

The word for "sacramental marriage" in English, at least referring to Christianity where is where the noise is mostly coming from? Matrimony.

Er. Okay. That's the rant. Now to actually be responsive.

I think a lot of what it means depends on how it's framed and how people respond. I've heard a lot of people respond to just-religious marriages with, effectively, "Oh, that's just Unitarians, we don't have to respect that." Which is proof of the cultural schism that bothers me.

At the same time, I know folks (a mixed-sex couple as it happens) who only had the social wedding ritual and refused the legal one; they are generally accepted as married by the people around them, though it apparently took a bit. (And my husband and I only had the legal thing; our 'social' was a party on our six-month anniversary. But because of the portability-universality of the legal marriage, the social stuff was taken for granted.)

If people-in-general are willing to accept religious marriages for not-their-religion as marriages, than in some ways it's a return to 1200 -- people are married because they say so, and everyone respects and acknowledges that. I have no particular issues with that (though I do have issues with rights limitations). However, what I see is the schisming of ritual -- some people-in-general respect nonlegal marriages outside their affiliations, or at least some of them (some people who would accept a same-sex religious marriage would not, say, be so accepting of a multiple marriage situation); other people-in-general treat the lack of it being of their religion or the government as an excuse to treat it as not-real.

Don't know how to shift those proportions around.

Daisy said...

Wonderful post; you are always so interesting to read!