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MARRIAGE: THE STATE OF THE UNION

A knot tied in many ways

Anthropologists and historians point out that the history of matrimony is quite fluid. The constant? Economics.

March 31, 2004|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

"This is a political knife fight," said Robert A. Destro, a law professor at the Catholic University of America. "Either you keep marriage the same or in the future it won't be recognizable at all. It will look like a horse that's been designed by a committee." Destro and other critics see gay matrimony as the modern incarnation of Pandora's box, raising the question: What's next? The re-emergence of polygamy? Three men who want to be declared married to one another?

Supporters of gay unions, however, say the story of marriage isn't confined to dusty history books. The transformation of matrimony is a contemporary tale as well. Interracial couples, they point out, couldn't marry in some states until 1967. Also as recently as a few decades ago, couples who couldn't reproduce might struggle with feelings of pity and shame. Today, it's not uncommon for couples to regard children as a lifestyle choice rather than an imperative.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Polygamy -- An article in the March 31 Calendar section about the history of marriage said polygamy is still practiced illegally in Israel by some ultra-Orthodox Jews. While there are a very small number of Yemenite polygamists in Israel, they are not part of the tradition in the broader ultra-Orthodox community.

Gay couples want all the legal protections enjoyed by heterosexual couples, and nothing short of marriage can do that. Benefits in state laws allowing civil unions, such as California's, aren't recognized in other states. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act recognizes only male-female unions for the purpose of all federal laws, including Social Security and the Tax Code. Rules that allow a widow to avoid inheritance tax on her deceased husband's 401(k) plan, for instance, don't apply to the surviving partner of a gay union.

In the battle over same-sex marriage, the lessons that history might provide are like everything else: a point of disagreement.

"It's hard to predict where marriage will go in the future," said Marilyn Yalom, a senior scholar at Stanford University's Institute for Research on Women & Gender. "The only thing that I can predict is that there will always be something in us that calls for another to complement ourselves, someone to be a soul-mate and to witness our lives."

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