Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend and I have been together for 41/2 years and living together for two. We have a wonderful, loving relationship that has progressed at a very natural pace for both of us. Lately, though, I've been wanting to get married, while he doesn't feel any great urgency.

He does want to get married someday, but he doesn't feel our relationship is missing anything by not doing it now. Recently we were debating the topic, and he argued that in a relationship like ours, where we live as a married couple and have the same love and commitment, civil marriage is really just a societal construct that has no real significance for us. He does feel religious marriage would have significance, but totally separate from civil marriage, which I agree with.

The first part I didn't agree with, yet I didn't have any cogent argument for my view besides, "That's just what two people do when they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together." So I've been thinking about it since then and come to this conclusion: Nowadays, with marriage not practically essential for two people to share their lives, it's just something that humans need and put significance on because they're human. Logically, he and I don't need to get married except for some legal and monetary reasons, but nobody is completely logical. People in our position get married because it has some sort of sentimental significance that can't logically be explained. What do you think about the significance and purpose of marriage?

Anonymous

Ask a gay friend.

Those "legal and monetary reasons" directly affect things emotional and life-altering. Who raises children, who inherits property, who qualifies as family, who speaks for you when you get hit by a bus and can't speak for yourself. Before you decide what marriage means to you, be sure about the scope of those legal and monetary reasons. Check your employers' policies and local and federal law. Revisit Terri Schiavo.

Plus, marriage is our society's way of expressing life commitment. If you aren't game to buck society, then you aren't. That's okay.

Something else a gay friend can tell you: The sole fact of being denied something can make it significant.

He's essentially telling you that his rationale carries more weight than your feelings. Ow. Maybe you'll never agree on this, but there are less dismissive ways to disagree.

Not only that -- his "logic" had the neat (and let's call it unintended, give him the benefit of the doubt) effect of forcing you to put your beliefs under hot lights, while his get to sit there unchallenged.

Challenge them.

If civil marriage really isn't significant to your boyfriend, and if he really believes you're together whether you're married or not, then there's nothing keeping him from marrying you for no other reason than to make you happy.

Either this hasn't occurred to him, in which case he should be happy to marry you -- or he wouldn't be happy to marry you because he has a legitimate, as-yet-unspoken reason for saying no. He owes it to you to speak it, even if it isn't a cogent or logical reason, but instead an emotional one. A fear of insignificant social constructs, perhaps.

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