Marriage and Fundamental Physics

Among other important elections, on November 4 Californians will be voting on Proposition 8, a measure to amend the state Constitution in order to ban same-sex marriages. The polling has been very close, with a possible late break toward a “Yes” vote; this would effectively overturn a California Supreme Court decision from this May that held that same-sex couples had a right to marry under the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. Eventually, of course, gay marriage will be accepted throughout the country, and we will look back on today as the bad old days of discrimination. But that’s cold comfort to the couples who would like to celebrate their love for each other right now. You can donate and learn more about the measure at No On 8.

We are occasionally asked why a Physics Blog spends time talking about religion and politics and all that nonsense. A perfectly correct answer is that this is not a Physics Blog, it’s a blog by some people who happen to be physicists, and we talk about things that interest us, blah blah blah. But there is another, somewhat deeper, answer. Physics is not just a technical pastime played with numerical simulations and Feynman diagrams; nor is it a purely instrumental technique for unlocking Nature’s secrets so as to build better TV sets. Physics, as it is currently practiced, is a paradigm for a naturalistic way of understanding the world. And that’s a worldview that has consequences stretching far beyond the search for the Higgs boson.

Charles Taylor makes an admirable stab at a very difficult task: understanding the premodern mindset from our modern vantage point. (Via 3 Quarks Daily.) There are many ways in which our perspective differs from that of someone living five hundred years ago in a pre-scientific age, but Taylor emphasizes one important one:

Almost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed.

Our ancestors lived in an enchanted world, where the boundary between the physical and the moral and the spiritual was not very clearly drawn. It made perfect sense, at the time, to attribute to the external world the same kinds of meanings and impulses that one found in the human world — purposes, consciousnesses, moral judgments. One of the great accomplishments of modernity was to construct a new way of understanding the world — one based on understandable, formal rules. These days we understand that the world is not magic.

This change in perspective has led to extraordinary changes in how we live, including the technology on which we are sharing these words. But the consequences go enormously deeper than that, and it is no exaggeration to say that our society has still not come fully to grips with the ramifications of understanding the world around us as fundamentally natural and rules-based. That’s the point at which the worldview suggested by science has had a profound effect on moral reasoning.

For our present purposes, the most important consequence is this: notions of “right” and “wrong” are not located out there in the world, waiting to be discovered, in the same sense that a new kind of elementary particle (or even a new law of physics) is located out there in the world. Right and wrong aren’t parts of the fundamental description of reality. That description has to do with wave functions and Hamiltonian dynamics, not with ethical principles. That is what the world is made of, at a deep level. Everything else — morality, love, aesthetics — is up to us.

Which is not to say that moral concepts don’t exist. It’s just that they are things we construct, not things that we come to understand by examining the world around us. To Plato or Aristotle, as well as their Medieval followers, the kinds of reasoning used to tackle moral questions wasn’t all that different from that used to tackle questions about the natural world. One looked at the world, noticed that certain things seemed to serve certain purposes, and (somewhat presumptuously) elevated those appearances to laws of nature. Some sort of conception of Natural Law has been an important strand of philosophical thinking all the way through to the modern era, even showing up in the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”).

But it’s wrong. There aren’t Natural Laws that distinguish right from wrong in human behavior. There are only Laws of Nature, which can account for the behavior of the complicated chemical reactions that make up human beings, but stand strictly silent about what those human beings “should” be doing. Things happen in the world, not because of any underlying purpose, but because of the combination of initial conditions and the laws of physics. The fundamental category mistake underlying the idea of Natural Law should have become perfectly obvious and universally accepted in the years after the scientific revolution, but it stubbornly persists, because people want to believe it. If the laws governing right behavior were inherent in Nature, waiting to be discovered, everything would be so much easier than if we have to work them out ourselves.

Just because moral instructions are not located out there in the world, immutable and awaiting discovery, doesn’t mean that “anything goes.” It means that moral guidelines are invented by human beings. Too many people fear that if this sort of moral relativism is true (which it is), then there is no way to denounce Hitler or Charles Manson from a standpoint of ethical absolutes. Well, what of it? I don’t need to live in a world where Hitler was wrong because the universe tells me so — I feel that he was wrong myself, and fortunately many other people agree with me. So I and these other like-minded people sit down to work out among ourselves what rules we want to live by, and we decide that people like Hitler are bad and should be stopped. The codification of moral rules does not come from examining the world or thinking about logical necessities; it comes from individual human beings examining their own desires, and communicating with other human beings to formulate rules of common consent. Some people might prefer that moral rules have a more timeless, universal standing; but personal preference does not affect the working of the actual universe.

Gay marriage is a excellent example of a rule that would be almost universally agreed upon by individual human beings negotiating in good faith, and it is to our culture’s endless embarrassment that at this late stage we are still struggling to get it right. Deep down, there are only two arguments against gay marriage. One, which is the one that actually drives most people’s views on the matter, is that it’s icky. They just don’t like the idea, and therefore don’t want it to exist. There is little point arguing against that, but we can hope that increasing normalization of the idea of homosexuality will cause such attitudes to become increasingly rare.

The other argument is that gay marriage is a violation of Natural Law. That the two human sexes clearly belong together (“Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”) and the institution of marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman. But once we understand how the universe works, in our post-Enlightenment era, there is no reason to take arguments like this seriously. Nature doesn’t have anything to say about the moral status of two individuals falling in love and formalizing their relationship. It is a matter for us individual human beings to get together and decide how we should structure our legal system. We have long ago decided to recognize the special legal status of two people who love each other and wish to formalize their status as a legal union. Marriage is a wholly invented institution; there is nothing “natural” about it. And there is simply no reason — ickiness aside — to limit that institution to heterosexual couples. There might be, if the existence of gay married couples had directly deleterious effects on other members of society; but it doesn’t, crazy exhortations about the looming threat to traditional families notwithstanding.

Opponents of gay marriage are either squeamish and prejudiced, or philosophically confused. Eliminating prejudice takes time, but the situation is gradually improving. But there is even less excuse for the philosophical confusion surrounding issues like this. And if it takes a Physics Blog to sort things out, we’re happy to take up the challenge.

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152 Responses to Marriage and Fundamental Physics

  1. Zeno says:

    Some right-wing Christian students got organized and took over the student council at American River College in Sacramento, where some of my friends teach. The student council voted to endorse Proposition 8 and they’ve been the toast of right-wing radio in California ever since. I just heard that there’s a recall election this week, after which a more sane student council may take over. I hope so. The current crew are the same people who ran on a platform of “reforming” college instruction so as to remove “anti-Christian prejudice” from the curriculum. That meant treating creationism and Noah’s flood seriously in anthropology classes and the Bible as literally correct history in the Bible-as-literature course. Given enough time, I’m sure they would have worked their way around to the atheistic physics and astronomy classes that insist the earth is more than 6,000 years old. Let’s see if the other Sacramento students have had enough and exorcise the cabal in the recall.

  2. applmak says:

    Is natural selection a fundamental law? If you would argue so, they I would propose a new theory, based on a variation of the principles involved in natural selection, that would apply to communities of people. Such a law would say that communities that are better adapted to their surroundings persist longer than those that are not. Given such a law, then “Natural Laws” could be defined as laws that have been observed to help communities to survive. This is not to say that these laws are intrinsic to the universe, independent of any human reference frame, but rather that these laws have been shown to work best for the continuance of the human race. In this way, the moral outrage the founding fathers felt at British colonialism and the modern scientific worldview need not be at odds, as you would have it.

  3. joe says:

    If morality is simply the result of “individual human beings examining their own desires, and communicating with other human beings to formulate rules of common consent,” then why can’t a group of human beings meet together and agree that homosexuality is wrong? And if they do, on what grounds can you claim that *your* morality is more right than theirs? How can you convince people on the other side to adopt your beliefs if you also tell them that morals are relative and that there is no basis for morality beyond popular consensus.

    I’m not saying homosexuality is wrong or that morality isn’t relative; I’m just curious how you reconcile your belief in moral relativism and your belief that homosexuality is not immoral. Normally people either say, “Morality is relative. There are no true morals!” or “Morality is objective. If you don’t believe what I believe, you’re wrong!” but not both at the same time.

  4. Sean says:

    They could, of course; that’s exactly what they’ve done for many millennia. However, once you understand that morality is a human construct, there isn’t much actual justification for saying “homosexuality is wrong” outside of “because I think it’s icky.” Instead, most reasonable people who moved beyond the ick-factor would be willing to allow for almost all kinds of personal behaviors that didn’t affect other people in any way. And that is what I would argue to them when we got together to decide what moral rules we should have.

    In other words: people use the fiction of natural law to elevate their personal preferences to absolute truths. Once we admit that they are not absolute truths, we are much closer to adopting reasonable live-and-let-live attitudes.

  5. applmak says:

    Most reasonable people who moved beyond the ick-factor would be willing to allow for almost all kinds of personal behaviors that didn’t affect other people in any way

    Most reasonable people realize that every behavior affects other people. I don’t believe that a gay couple would want to be gay in complete isolation from everyone else, like some hermit on a mountain; rather, they want to be held up as Good by their community as a regular married couple is. They seek acceptance on par with other kinds of marriage, I would imagine. There’s something else that allows your “reasonable people” to come to a consensus on supporting gay marriage, besides a belief that there can be personal behaviors that do not affect others.

    Disclaimer: I do not know any gay couples, nor have had the in-depth conversation required to know for sure what they think about such things. I’m only applying my own experience to the situation.

  6. Jason Dick says:

    applmak,

    Is natural selection a fundamental law? If you would argue so, they I would propose a new theory, based on a variation of the principles involved in natural selection, that would apply to communities of people. Such a law would say that communities that are better adapted to their surroundings persist longer than those that are not. Given such a law, then “Natural Laws” could be defined as laws that have been observed to help communities to survive. This is not to say that these laws are intrinsic to the universe, independent of any human reference frame, but rather that these laws have been shown to work best for the continuance of the human race. In this way, the moral outrage the founding fathers felt at British colonialism and the modern scientific worldview need not be at odds, as you would have it.

    This is a seductive idea. But it’s fundamentally flawed. The problem is that there is no reason whatsoever why selection should lead to a society in which people would like to live.

    Just to give an example, take rape. Now, we almost universally agree that people have a right to refuse to have sex, and nobody should force themselves on another. Does it change anything if rape is a result of selective pressure?

    Take this just as a thought experiment: consider that we live in a society where some men are able to have sex with women, while other men are extremely undesirable to women and can’t get women to choose to have sex with them. In this society, when a man finds himself in the situation of being undesirable, if he wants to procreate the best way to do so would be to rape. If a man can achieve procreation by consensual means, of course, that’s going to be much better for success, but if that door is closed, then rape seems to provide definitive advantages.

    It is entirely possible, then, that in humans, as we know it is in some other species, rape is an adapted behavior for males who find themselves unable to find a consensual mate. But just because it’s a good strategy for reproduction, does that mean that we should do it? Does that make it okay? Certainly not!

    Simply put, the fact that something is a good trick for survival or reproduction says nothing whatsoever about whether or not we should value something. Instead, living in a good, pleasant society should be just one of many goals that we have, independent of such things like survival and procreation. And when there is a conflict between living a wholesome life and the success of future generations, we should be able to make that choice ourselves with eyes wide open. But we should [i]not[/i] simply assume that selection will automatically result in a society in which we want to live.

  7. applmak says:

    Jason Dick:

    Very well reasoned. I would agree with you wholeheartedly, based on your understanding of my initial comment, but I must admit I misrepresented my original idea. I didn’t mean to imply that this variation on natural selection would be based solely on survival and procreation as Darwin’s original idea is. This is because I believe for a human society to last for a long time, there are more complex factors than simply survival and sex involved, and I assumed that future readers would think the same thing and come to the same conclusions. The variation of natural selection that I introduced would need to reflect the more complex animal’s behavior: taking into account, say, the desire of the individual to be in the society or the happiness of the individual. If we assume that this new law is in effect now and has been over the course of human existence, then we could examine the societies that exist currently, and ask whether or not they now condone behavior like rape. I would argue that lasting cultures forbid such behavior, and actively work to prevent it. Only the cultures that promote certain Good principles would last under the conditions of the Law. That is a way of defining Natural Laws, without being too relativistic nor absolute.

  8. Jay says:

    Awesome post Sean, thanks—the “paradigm” premise especially is something I’d like to take home for future use, and your take on the origins of moral concepts makes at lot of sense too, at least to me. With regard to this topic, I slightly tripped over your choice of Charles Taylor—I might have misread his Sources of the Self, but it had appeared to me that he actually strains himself to resuscitate Platonic ideas so that ethical concepts could indeed be found as “embedded” in nature somehow.

    Again, a great post, and I’m very glad that all of you cover ethical and political topics on Cosmic Variance from time to time.

    ^_^J.

  9. Michael says:

    I think the “ickiness” factor has a deeper explanation as well. Human beings have a completely natural tendency to project themselves onto whatever situation they happen to be viewing or thinking about or surrounded by. People watch action movies in a sense because of the excitement they feel from the projection of themselves onto the roles of the character. The same phenomenon explains the popularity of pornography. The idea of heterosexual sex is always going to be less “icky” because no matter who is thinking about it (gay or straight person), there is always at least one participant to which a person can comfortably project him/herself onto. This is not true in the homosexual case. I think it is thus reasonable to say that homosexual sex is due the same level of “ickiness” as say, sex between two extremely ugly people. I’d rather not think about either. But of course the point of the post was about the morality of it all on which I completely agree with you.

  10. Jesse says:

    Sean-
    You may want to take a look at this fascinating article by Jonathan Haidt. It’s entitled “What makes people vote Republican”, and in it he describes some of the pitfalls in the moral relativism argument. I don’t agree with all of it, but it opened my eyes a bit. I think the main conclusion is in line with yours, but he stresses that to follow the argument to its conclusion can still result in absolutist societies.

  11. Beke says:

    you write “We are occasionally asked why a Physics Blog spends time talking about religion and politics and all that nonsense.”

    who cares about that. i wonder why you so horribly and disgustingly bias and never explain yourself

  12. Sean says:

    Jay– you’re absolutely right about Taylor, I don’t think he reaches the right conclusions from this diagnosis. He seems rather nostalgic about the loss of enchantment, whereas I’m all in favor of accepting it. But I thought he made some sense when trying to capture the premodern mind-set.

    Jesse– I think Haidt’s article is great, and we’re certainly learning a lot about the neuropsychology of belief these days. But I think there is a metaphysical question concerning the status of moral reasoning that is a prior question, which it would make sense to clarify before attempting to draw any lessons from biology or psychology.

  13. spyder says:

    Thank you so much, Sean, for the philosophical critique; it is obviously much needed.

    For those with real questioning minds, and who are willing to reach beyond themselves rather than bask in their own prejudice and bias, i strongly recommend reading this essay by Richard Rorty: HUMAN RIGHTS: Rationality and Sentimentality.

    Serbian murderers and rapists do not think of themselves as violating human rights. For they are not doing these things to fellow human beings, but to Muslims. They are not being inhuman, but rather are discriminating between the true humans and the pseudohumans. They are making the same sort of distinction as the Crusaders made between humans and infidel dogs, and the Black Muslims make between humans and blue-eyed devils. The founder of my university was able both to own slaves and to think it self-evident that all men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. He had convinced himself that the consciousness of Blacks, like that of animals, “participate[s] more of sensation than reflection”2. Like the Serbs, Mr. Jefferson did not think of himself as violating human rights.

    The Serbs take themselves to be acting in the interests of true humanity by purifying the world of pseudohumanity. In this respect, their self-image resembles that of moral philosophers who hope to cleanse the world of prejudice and superstition. This cleansing will permit us to rise above our animality by becoming, for the first time, wholly rational and thus wholly human.

    I submit that some commenting above still feel compelled to purify the world.

  14. spyder says:

    Some how the donors choose link interfered with the proper linkage for the essay.

    http://www.usm.maine.edu/bcj/issues/three/rorty.html

  15. The following is a true story.

    Some time ago a man was arrested in Bangkok for vandalizing public property. He contested the case on the grounds that what he was doing did not in fact harm public property or anything or anyone else. What he was really doing was having sexual intercourse, late at night, with lamp-posts. No, I am not making this up. Many lamp-posts at that time in Bangkok were made of wood and came equipped with…umm…orifices at a convenient height. [He was caught because one of his lovers had splinters, making it impossible or at least very painful for him to escape, so there he was in flagrante delicto the next morning.]

    Note that the ickiness factor here is relatively low, though I apologise to the men out there who are cringing. Certainly a less icky story than anything associated with homosexuality. OK, so far so good.

    It then transpired that the lover of lamp-posts had applied to be a teacher in a primary school. The application was immediately rejected at the behest of angry parents. Why? “Because if he is crazy enough to do that, he is crazy enough to do anything,” said the principal.

    Excellent! Now I don’t want to get into deep philosophical issues here; as it happens, I am fully in agreement with Sean about natural law and all that. All of us can agree, however, that hypocrisy is a bad thing. I think we can also agree that it is a bad thing for people with serious, untreated mental illnesses to be schoolteachers. In particular, I would not want my small son to be taught by a male teacher who gets a kick out of intercourse with public works or animals [*now* we start to get icky] or other men. If they are disturbed enough to get a kick out of subjecting themselves to the most extreme forms of humiliation, then who can say what they might do?

    Now if homosexuals would just avoid such jobs and live quietly and not go around loudly declaring how normal they are, I would say good luck to them, no problem. But that is precisely what they are unable to do: and the demand for the right to be married, this craving for the ultimate symbol of respectability, is suggestive, is it not?

  16. Lab Lemming says:

    Are morals a result of logical deduction, or subconscious reactions that we create rules around to justify?

  17. Jay says:

    Couldn’t help smiling, kind of eureka! moment here—”nostalgic” is indeed le mot juste. Never occured to me. But in retrospect now, yes, there was a trace of melancholy throughout the development of his arguments.

    ^_^J.

  18. applmak says:

    I suppose, I should apply my theory to actually create a point. One on hand, you could ban gay marriage, and create a split in your society between those who are being hurt by the law and those who are not similar to any law that takes away privileges. This split would inevitably be detrimental to society’s progress. On the other, you could choose not to ban it, and continue the current moral arguments for and against. I would prefer the latter.

  19. applmak says:

    Lab Lemming:

    How do we know subconscious reactions aren’t logical deductions? 🙂

  20. masonk says:

    I’m with #3. You make the case for moral relativism powerfully. But the case for moral relativism is not the case for homosexual marriage. (If anything, it’s the case for a ballot referendum.)

    To make your case for homosexual marriage you are first forced to discover your own absolute guiding principle, which seems to be “live and let live”. E.g.: “Most reasonable people… would be willing to allow for almost all kinds of personal behaviors that didn’t affect other people.”

    But this statement, when subjected to scrutiny, marks you as a man with a clear notion in his head of what is right and wrong, and a man with a full set of justifications for your beliefs. Well, to play that game, you have to be a moral objectivist.

    A correlary of your premise is:
    (1) One who does not agree with the live and live philosophy, is [likely] not a reasonable human being

    Also, I want to draw attention to an underlying assumption of the line of reasoning of (1):
    (2) An unreasonable person is not qualified to participate in the work of morally ordering society
    which presumably would be because
    (3) Reasonability is the necessary and sufficient criterion for access to what is objectively true about the world, including any objective moral principles.

    Moral relativism is a hell of a philosophical quagmire. Perhaps it is the case that there is no absolute ethical principle to guide our way. However, I don’t think you have really grappled with the implications of that philosophical position. Because if you believe it, then you wouldn’t think of any temporal moral norm as something that might be able to embarrass or dignify a society. If the arguments for moral relativism hold, then by what criterion could we judge such norms? For any criterion you give, I could repeat the question: by what criterion shall we judge that criterion? Whereas, if what you actually believe are a combination of (1), (2), and (3), then you would be writing a more honest essay by defending those points (which are not self evidently true).

  21. John Yoo Wu says:

    To say we just make up morality is cutting corners given all the great research on intrinsic morality. I haven’t read the relevant pop sci book but I’m not posting blog entries about morality essentials. The relevant pop sci book might be The Moral Animal.

    Cheers!

  22. dylan says:

    It’s much simpler than all that. I recommend that we ban marriage altogether to level the playing field. The world would be much more fun if everyone were single, anyway.

  23. Wonderful post, Sean… and a good discussion in comments to follow. One of the reasons I love Cosmic Variance.

  24. Thras says:

    Very nice. I’ll take you up on your challenge and argue contra gay-marriage, if you don’t mind.

    I’ll start with a physics argument for tolerance: First assume that everyone is sphere…

    Okay, okay. You’ve all heard the joke. But it’s an important point. If we assume that every group is the same, then saying that we are tolerant is very easy. Of course, if people act differently than us, we can be as intolerant of that as we want. The Native Americans on the reservation nearby here drink too much because of their lousy culture, right? So I can be as intolerant as I want of their beliefs, huh?

    In fact, biological differences among groups exist, and real tolerance is being able to say that “Nature has made that person or that group different from me because of sex, genes, and simple accident. I do not judge them for it.”

    Now, on to gay marriage.

    Gay marriage is bad for straights, bad for gay men, and possibly good for gay women. The first group is 97% of the population. The second group is 3% of the male population. And numbers for the third group vary quite a bit, but exclusively gay women seem to be about half as numerous as exclusively gay men.

    Why is homosexual marriage bad for straights? I’ll get to that in a minute.

    Why is it bad for gay men? Because it’s based a biological mating pattern that occurs frequently among heterosexuals and infrequently among gay men. Ask the heterosexual swingers down the street what the rest of the community thinks about them. Marriage isn’t designed for people who live their lives promiscuously; it actually makes their lives harder. One reason marriage exists to punish the promiscuous individuals in society. As a single man, I get a lot of dates, but I pay more in taxes, I get less respect at work or from my peers, etc., etc.

    The biological pattern of male homosexuality is not best served by marriage. To put it more starkly, being for gay marriage is saying that you hate how gay men live their lives. Frankly that strikes me as ugly and intolerant. It’s intolerance arrived at through ignorance, and is as common as ever, I find, even in our ultra-“tolerant” age.

    However, gay marriage has its benefits for gay men: the biggest being health insurance benefits. AIDS drugs are expensive, and a lot of gay men need them. Guarantee health insurance benefits to gay civil union partners, and whatever support for gay marriage that exists among gay men will dry up (not that there is that much). They won’t need to make the devil’s bargain to get what they need to live.

    Gay women, on the other hand, while being half as numerous as gay men, are far more politically orientated. Their mating patterns show extreme amounts fidelity as compared to gay men or heterosexuals. They also tend to be much more child and family orientated. Some sort of marriage may well make sense for them.

    Gay marriage hurts heterosexuals because — for young men — it cheapens the institution. Weddings are already gay enough without them being gay too.

    And take god and good out of the picture, make marriage a ‘lifestyle choice,’ and there are behavioral ramifications. Are these behavioral ramifications bad? Single people, single males especially, seem to leave more unhappy lives than their counterparts, and as a body have undesirable social consequences. So I think that fewer marriages is a bad thing indeed.

    What is my proposal then? Wait 40 years and it will be an academic question. Exclusive homosexuality, is extremely rare in mammals (for obvious evolutionary reasons). The cause is either genetic or pathogenic. Regardless, there will be a technical way to “fix” it within the next few decades. At that point, because of the type of people who tend to have babies, the frequency of homosexuals in the populations will drop down from 2-3% of the population to background noise levels. This may be a bad thing for society as a whole. We will lose a great deal of our art and social heterogeneity. But homosexuality is an unhappy condition, and not one I wish on any individual. Nor will many parents, I suspect.

  25. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    H.M. Amir al-Mumenin … King of the Yemen. on Oct 19th, 2008 at 8:33 pm
    The following is a true story.

    Some time ago a man was arrested in Bangkok for vandalizing public property. He contested the case on the grounds that what he was doing did not in fact harm public property or anything or anyone else.

    —————-

    Last summer here somebody was breaking into the animal shelter and abusing the female dogs. Last month this individual was caught in the act “raping” a female dog, in its cage at the shelter. Maybe “off-center” sexuality might be be best to stop before goats, sheep and dogs.

    As for gay marriage, the solution is simple. Get government out of the whole marriage business. The only thing the government should set up are contractual guidlines between people in cohabitation. The idea that government is involved at all is somewhat recent, beginning with the roundheads or puritans. Before then the King, Duke or margrave of an area could have cared less about who married whom, that was the business of the priest. Maybe marriage should return to being a purely religious or ritualistic process recognized by a church or related organization.

    Lawrence B. Crowell