Arranged vs. same sex marriage?

At, David Moloney wonders:

I’m wondering whether there’s a definition of “marriage” that’s big enough to include both gay marriage and arranged marriage.

I should think there would be no problem finding a definition that’s big enough. The world has accommodated arranged marriages and marriages where people pick their own partners for centuries. Arranged marriages are rare in western countries, but our customs can exist side by side with those in other parts of the world. Moreover, western cultures permit arranged marriage. Few American parents attempt to select their children’s spouses. When they do, our laws and customs permit prospective brides and grooms the freedom to decline their parent’s choices. (This is the often the case in nonWestern countries as well.)

Likely, homosexuals would vehemently decline parental choices of opposite sex mates. Likely heterosexuals would decline homosexual partners should their parents select one as their spouse. However, children declining parents choices has nothing to do with same sex marriage vs. arranged marriage. As far as definitions go, the question is this: Do we recognize marriages where the choice of spouse, whether same or opposite sex, is compulsory?

Westerners decided the answer is “no” long ago. Last night, husband and I attended a play which illustrates, in part, the western attitude toward arranged marriages. The young Anne Page elopes with Lord Fenton, the man she loves, thereby avoiding an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t love. Presenting her new groom to her husband, she is asked why she refused to marry Dr. Cauis, her mother’s choice, or Slender, her father’s choice, Anne’s new husband Fenton answers:

You do amaze her: hear the truth of it.
You would have married her most shamefully,
Where there was no proportion held in love.
The truth is, she and I, long since contracted,
Are now so sure that nothing can dissolve us.
The offence is holy that she hath committed;
And this deceit loses the name of craft,
Of disobedience, or unduteous title,
Since therein she doth evitate and shun
A thousand irreligious cursed hours,
Which forced marriage would have brought upon her.

From The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare, who seems to suggest a loveless arranged marriage to Anne’s parents choices would have ended badly.

Considering the acceptance of arranged marriage in other cultures, Daniel Moloney reflects:

….I would be surprised were there large numbers of gay men who would willingly allow their lifelong partners to be chosen for them. Yet hundreds of millions of straight men do just that.

Considering the current lack of enthusiasm for arranged marriage in the western world, I would be surprised if large numbers of heterosexual American men or women would willingly allow their partners be chosen for them. Westerners rejected the idea that children should submit their parents choices for life partners, particularly when they cannot love the partner. Like Shakespeare, many of us consider the custom of marriage without pre-existing love shameful.

All in all, I think the definition of marriage can be easily include same sex marriage, arranged marriage and marriages where individuals choose their own partners. If we wish to bring back the tradition of arranged marriage, simply extend marriage to include same sex partners. Then, kindly parents, interested in promoting their child’s best interest, would be free to suggest candidates who their child could happily wed.

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11 Responses to Arranged vs. same sex marriage?

  1. 1
    Al-Muhajabah says:

    It seems to me that “arranged marriage” is a very broad concept. It can include forced marriage, where the parties to the marriage don’t have any choice in the matter, but it can also include situations where the family help with the selection but the party to the marriage has the final say.

    Forced marriages are wrong, but if somebody wants to let their family help them select their spouse then as long as they have choice in the matter, it’s none of my business.

  2. 2
    NancyP says:

    al-Muhajabah has it right about the range of “arranged marriage”, which in the highly educated classes of Indo-Pakistani origin (the professoriate that I have contact with) seem to be more like old-style matchmaking, with right of refusal of the parties acknowledged (though not without a collosal guilt trip, “you are killing your family…”). Fill me in, but don’t most official interpretations of sharia require consent of both parties to marriage? Not the opinions of the local imam, trying to curry favor with an influential family, but the scholarly opinions?

  3. 3
    lucia says:

    I edited, as I can see from comments I did, indeed, imply all arranged marriages are forced.

    My impression of arranged marriage is the same as Al-Muhajabah’s. It has a broad meaning. Generally, the people I know who have had their marriages arranged were presented with suggested partners, and given lines like “your killing us”. At times the family pressure has been intense.

    Guilt trips get laid in places where marriages are not arranged too!

    As to forced marriages, in places where women have few financial resources, I think the pressure can be particularly intense for young women. For what it’s worth, here is a link discussing a forced marriage: Daily times The School of Oriental and AFrican Studies at University of London

    I am also under the impression that sharia law required consent of the parties for a marriage to be valid — but someone who knows more can tell you for sure. The Catholic church has required consent since…. oh.. the council of trent? I’m not sure. The’ve required consent an awful long time.

    Regardless of how it’s done, whether through intense match making buttressed by guilt trips or actual forced marriages, I don’t see how the idea of arranged marriages are antithetical to same sex marriage! It seems like asking: “How can the definition of dinner be defined to include meat and vegetables? Meat and vegetables are so different from one another.”

  4. 4
    Robert Hayes says:

    I wouldn’t say that most Westerners consider a marriage without pre-existing love “shameful”. Odd, perhaps, or alien. However, most of the fairly traditional Westerners who I have discussed the matter with (sparked by a friendship with an Indian national dealing with some of these issues) find the idea of arranged marriages attractive, if not attractive enough to give up their own free choice. The problem with arranged marriage isn’t about the romantic love; that’s an over-rated commodity, and one that can bloom just fine in an arranged situation. The real issue, as you say in an aside, has to do with whether people have the freedom to reject parental choice. Interestingly, I would opine that in the west, where women are largely able to make a living without the approval of their family, the abusive model of arranged marriages wouldn’t work, but the non-abusive model would work very well.

  5. 5
    kasasagi says:

    I guess it would be technically possible to have arranged same sex marriage? It’s probably not likely to happen any time soon, because the cultures that include arranged marriages don’t tend to endorse same-sex marriage (as far as I know) – but in the future, who knows what could happen?

    There’s certainly no reason they contradict each other, or should be unable to co-exist.

  6. 6
    lucia says:

    I agree that the few parents in cultures that accept arranged marriages would be enthusiastic about arranging same sex marriages.

    Nevertheless, here’s a story about same sex marriage in India
    The couple seeks legal recognition to a marriage.

  7. 7
    acm says:

    log me in the “is this even an issue?” column! even dating services have an uphill battle in this country, let alone arranged marriage. I’m hard pressed to believe that freedom to have arranged marriage is something that is keeping gays up nights!!

    (or did I miss some big news item?!?)

  8. 8
    lucia says:

    The supposed conflict between arranged and ssm is just another “reason” someone posting on suggests we can’t have ssm!

    Note: The wording also suggests that somehow, heterosexual men, and homosexual men are somehow different in their willingness to let their parents pick partners. I somehow doubt this — except in so far as a homosexual man is likely to be less than enthusiastic about marrying a woman.

    Another interesting thing about the”reason”. Click the link. Look for a mention of women in the contribution. ;-)

  9. 9
    Michael says:

    Here I am a non-Indian guy who is in a loving relationship with a beautiful intelligent Indian girl. She is the daughter of a Hindu priest and has been groomed her entire life to be someone’s wife. Our relationship consists mainly of hours and hours talking on the phone at night when her parents think that she is asleep. We see each other at work for a few moments every few days. We have managed to find 4 or 5 hours a week to be together in person mainly out of our area because to be seen together would be the end for her. Her parents have denied her the opportunity to become a US citizen so that they can threaten her with deportation to India if ever something like what is happening with me was discovered.

    We both believe strongly against premarital sex and have not gone down that road, so the typical arguments against a purely sexually motivated love relationship are not valid (although it disgusts me to think of her giving that gift to a stranger instead of to each other). We have been together long enough to know that we do not want to be with any other person.

    In spite of all of this she is so close to her family. With her father in such a public position there is no way that he would ever accept her choosing her own husband. Never would he accept a non-Hindu and definitely not a non-Indian. We dream of being together and having a life full of love and family, but it seems as if this is not to be. So she is faced with a horrible choice: her family or me. To choose her family means a life married to a man that she does not know or love, knowing all the time that the man she does is still waiting for her. To choose me is to alienate herself from her family, but if the choice was us not a day would go by that I would not pursue a relationship with them.

    In a thought that is completely not Indian, I hope beyond hope that if they truly love her they will accept us and keep her. She is so giving and self sacrificing that she will likely give up all that matters to her in our relationship to follow the wishes of her parents, who coincidentally will not have to be forced into a marriage with a stranger, be forced to give themselves to this stranger physically, mentally and emotionally, to be forced to have children that will be raised in a family where their mother has sacrificed her independence, her ambitions and her emotions to please parents that are not willing to change their ways to see their daughter happy with the person that she loves.

    I am trying to understand, and I am living each day trying to express my love to her in a way that will make it possible that there will be a choice and that she can choose us. Arraigned marriage, forced pairing, does affect people negatively by taking away all the freedom and choice that makes us different from plants. It subjects a girl to a life that is not hers, will rob me of the only person in the world that I have ever or will ever love, will rob her future husband of the gift of her entire heart, will rob her parents of ever having a relationship with their daughter where she does not secretly or overtly resent the decision that they have made for her, will keep her children from knowing the joy of being raised by parents that model the ultimate picture of devotion and love.

    So tell me that this is right and I will never believe for a moment that that is the truth.

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