Whoa, wait. You want gays to marry? What next? Why not marry your own sister? Or your sister-in-law, or your mom? How about you go marry a baby? Or maybe we'll end up getting rid of weddings altogether! Having no marriage at all! Or hell, why not go marry ghosts!
No, gay marriage won't cause any of those things to happen. Specifically, because they've already been happening, because the "traditional" idea of marriage is kind of hazy if you take a look around the world:
Buccina Studios/Photodisc/Getty Images
All this arguing over who can marry whom might make you wonder why we need to have weddings at all. If you love someone, why don't you just go live with them and be done with it? Be a couple, no one's stopping you. What's so special about the wedding itself?
One day to let all the crazy out?
Two words: wedding gifts. Host a wedding, and you get to write up a gift registry. And soon, you and your fiance will be positively buried in platters and linens.
Which brings us to a set of islands near Australia -- the Trobriand islands off the coast of New Guinea. Most cultures have crazy elaborate, meticulously-planned wedding rituals, but the Trobriand clans have no real marriage ceremony at all. Couples meet and hook up -- there's never been any taboo against sex before marriage; islanders play erotic games while still children and start having sex as soon as they hit puberty. Couples move in with each other without any formal marriage and then, one day, the couple sits down on the guy's porch for all to see. And that's how the village knows that the relationship is serious.
Despite having three kids, Dave and Amy only got really serious when they sat on their front deck.
The woman's mother comes by and brings a gift -- of plump and tasty cooked yams. They eat these together. The following day, the guy's family arrives with gifts of clothes: skirts, long skirts for his girlfriend. Because if they're going to be a real couple now, it's time to get rid of the wild, wanton wardrobe she wore as a teen.
Then more people from the woman's family arrive, relatives of each of her parents. These folk bring uncooked yams, raw material for many meals to come. Then the man's family comes by with a Bed, Bath & Beyond's worth of cookware, knives, and curios. And then these relatives receive gifts from the bride's relatives -- more yams, uniting all the families in one glorious yam union.
Yams: like gold and jewels, except their value isn't totally made-up.
If the woman gets tired of the relationship, she just moves out, and, boom, she's single again. Her ex can try and win her back with more gifts (deluxe yams?), and if she accepts them, they're again married. But if she doesn't, they aren't.
These relaxed attitudes may come from how the Trobriand, following their traditional lore, didn't think men fathered children. Children were thought conceived when spirits entered the mother's head. The man's semen merely nourished the fetus. This Spunk of Sustenance theory may also be why Trobriand boys were encouraged to ingest lots of semen during adolescence ... but that's a subject for another article. Or, not.
George Doyle/Valueline/Getty Images
OK, we were joking about marriage being all about the presents -- obviously one of the big reasons cultures make a fuss over marriage has to do with inheritance rights. For instance, in most cultures, the new couple keeps the name of the male, the wife joining the man's family and not vice versa. So if a man becomes wealthy, the expectation was always that all of his land and money stays in the family via his sons -- they inherit everything and eventually have their own sons, the name and wealth of the family living on through this unbroken chain of penises.
But if somewhere down the line a son gets married and then dies, the moment the wife re-marries, the wealth leaves the family. That's why in some cultures a pair of brothers can marry a single woman at once. That way, should something happen to one of the males, they have a spare.
They're like reverse Mormons. Nomroms.
This is polyandry, which is common in some Tibetan and Nepalese communities. Its usual form is just what we said -- two brothers share a wife to keep the house under one family and keep the extended family under one roof. Sometimes, three brothers share a wife. Occasionally, four. Tibetans also have a variation we like to call intergenerational polyandry. A man may marry, have a son, and then lose his wife. He then remarries, and the son marries the new stepmother.
Both of them might sleep with the woman, and if she bears children, no one's exactly sure who the father is. Legally, the son is the father, potentially of his own brother. And the mother's first husband, the father to both sons, would be the grandfather to his younger son.
We haven't plotted the full tree, but someone's probably his own grandpa.
Some women in multiple-husband marriages still have children out of wedlock, and women are perfectly free to stay single or leave their husbands if they wish. There was even one case of a woman leaving all three of her husbands -- for her lover.
As with several items on this list, you'll either be pleased or disappointed that the most horrifying/disgusting explanation doesn't happen to be true -- these were not cases of necrophilia here. The practice of marrying the dead in Onitsha, Nigeria, was all about getting around some rules. In this case, they had women who wanted/needed legal recognition as a spouse but had no living man willing to help. So, it's not like the dead guy is going to mind ...
Plus, wedding rites may keep him from rising out of the grave.
One famous case is Nnayelugo Nnebue Okonkwo, who died in Nigeria's Ogbotu village all the way back in 1931. Thirty years later, his sisters married the dead man to a willing woman. This woman gave birth to six children in the following years, and sources don't mention these kids' biological father because no one cared who he was -- in the eyes of the law, these children were the offspring of Nnayelugo Okonkwo.
This suited the wife and her children just fine, and it suited Okonkwo's sisters fine, too. The only people who weren't too keen on the arrangement were Okonkwo's actual biological children, who suddenly found themselves with brothers and sisters decades younger than them calling themselves heirs to their father's estate.
"They say they own the toy room. They don't know what that really means!"
The original Okonkwo children sued, but the courts had little sympathy. "Marrying the dead" had been an established practice under native law, and people couldn't suddenly try to end it just because it inconvenienced them.
The practice wasn't struck down until that very case reached the nation's supreme court, and the ancient practice was ruled to be kind of weird.