Opponents of same-sex marriage worry that allowing two men or two women to wed would radically transform a time-honored institution. But they’re way too late on that front. Marriage has already been radically transformed – in a way that makes gay marriage not only inevitable, as Vice President Biden described it in an interview late last year, but also quite logical.
We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.
For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children’s unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals. Sometimes, to consolidate inheritances, parents prevented their younger children from marrying at all. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Often, servants, slaves and paupers were forbidden to wed.
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