Marriage: What Is It For?

So who needs marriage today, and why? There's the important question of raising children, of course, which takes up its own chapter in my book. But marriage matters even for nonparents. The purpose of the civil institution of marriage in Western democracies is to apply a just consensus to private disputes. Unfortunately, the history of humanity is the history of disagreement. Without some supervision-whether sending your heavily armed brothers to demand your dower from your dead husband's clan, or having the state instruct a landlord to let a widowed spouse stay in his apartment of twenty years although the lease was in his dead husband's name-disagreements are won not by justice but by strength. Human beings-of whatever sexes-tend to squabble over inheritances, breakups, custody, epitaphs, and much, much more. Given that all human beings occasionally need law's Solomonic intervention, Madeline and I belong.

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