May 2005

Do you, Fido, take this man ...?

By Gail Binkly

While driving to Colorado Springs recently, I stumbled across a “dedication” program on some unfamiliar FM station. Such programs allow listeners to request songs and dedicate them to a special person. “Hi, I’m Tommy, and I’m in high school, and I’d like to dedicate ‘Please Go All the Way’ to my girlfriend,” that sort of thing.

While I listened, a young woman called to request a song for her 21- year-old boyfriend, the father of her 8- month-old son.

The program host delicately asked, “Are there any plans for marriage in your future?”

“We’ve talked about it,” the girl replied, “but we don’t want to rush into anything.”

Her interesting answer got me thinking about the concept of marriage. What does it really mean?

The venerable (or not) institution is the subject of much discussion these days because of the furor over “gay marriage.”

Some opponents have suggested that such unions would be a giant step down a slippery slope leading to complete debauchery.

Colorado state Rep. Jim Welker of Loveland, for instance, recently issued the dark prediction that, if homosexuals are allowed to wed, it will lead to people marrying their pets or livestock. (And after that, maybe their house plants, who knows?)

“Where do you draw the line?"

Welker reportedly asked. “A year ago in India, a woman married her dog.” He added, “A guy in Boulder tried to marry his horse a couple years ago.” (Just imagine that marriage bed: I told you to take your shoes off – now the sheets are torn! And quit eating hay under the covers!)

It turns out that the Boulder incident had to do with a protest, and the “Indian woman” was a 9-year-old girl who temporarily married a dog as part of a weird tribal ritual to ward off evil.

Still, Welker’s remarks made me wonder how many people would really avail themselves of the animal-wedlock option if it became available.

Would the practice ever become widespread?

I myself have a cat that I probably love enough to marry, but I’m not sure what taking that walk down the aisle would improve about our relationship, considering that he’s neutered and I already have a human husband of my own.

I suppose most people planning to enter into holy matrimony with a beast would choose a dog, not a cat. You can’t beat canines for both protectiveness and loyalty.

But how many young women would really want to go to a family reunion and announce, “Aunt Edna, this is my husband, the dachshund?”

If marrying a pet meant that you couldn’t dump it when it became inconvenient and that the animal, in turn, could not ever stray out of your yard or slip off your leash, I guess I might be in favor of that. But would the animals understand what they were getting into? Could they really give consent, as required by law? Somehow I doubt it.

The specter of inter-species marriage doesn’t really seem terribly threatening, given all that. I’d say the danger is greater of people marrying their cars, the way they drool over them in TV automobile ads. Still, the question remains: What does marriage mean? It wasn’t always a holy or romantic institution. In the old days, it generally involved a father paying another man to take his daughter off his hands, a man who then fed her in return for her bearing his children and keeping his house.

Today, that antiquated notion is mostly passé. There are many sorts of marriage: people who stay together for 60 years, flibbertigibbets like Britney Spears who marry on a drunken spree in Vegas and get out of it two days later, people who marry for convenience, money, lust. There are girls like the radio caller who think having a child is less of a commitment than wedlock. There are people in the Fundamentalist LDS Church who marry multiple partners because they believe it’s a ticket to heaven.

Foes of gay marriage argue that gays don’t really need to wed in order to gain most of the legal benefits of matrimony. They can write their partner into their will, for instance, rather than relying on inheritance laws. They can generally rent or buy housing without trouble, they can go places as a couple, they can raise children together.

That’s mostly true, but it’s true for heterosexuals as well. They don’t need to marry to do any of those things, either – to have sex, live together, or even raise children together. In fact, it used to be cool to say marriage was “just a piece of paper.”

Clearly, though, it’s much more.

Marriage remains a symbol of commitment, a pronouncement that no one will leave the relationship without a great deal of thought and anguish.

To me the real question isn’t whom you marry, but why. Are you entering into matrimony for some crass or trivial reason, or because you are pledged to standing by someone through thick and thin, for richer or poorer – even if he insists on wearing an ugly flannel shirt that you can’t stand?

If your answer is the latter, then I say, Go for it. And if your true love really happens to be some furry mammal, well, just make sure it’s vaccinated before you get your marriage certificate.

Gail Binkly has been lawfully wedded, to a member of the species homo sapiens, for 12 years.