Y’know, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this article on here before, and I really should have.
Because – as a simple matter of contract law – marriage in the Empire and other Societies of Consent does, in fact, permit all the difficult concepts mentioned here and a few more besides, including all of reflexive self-marriage (mostly pointless as it is), really complicated notions of “sex” and “gender”, polygamy, people being simultaneously involved in multiple distinct marriages, the marriage of non-natural persons which can potentially include marriages marrying each other as a distinct concept from multiple marriages merging, intransitive marriages, double-marriages, and asymmetric marriage. Welcome to the bleeding-edge postsophont universe, although for the good of everyone’s sanity, most people stick to the simple options and don’t try and make use of all of these at the same time…
But it gives you an idea of just how eye-wateringly difficult the job of the DBAs over at the Central Office of Records and Archives can be, sometimes.
Hmm… So, in a general sense, if marriage is defined that broadly, what keeps “marriage” from simply being conflated with “partnership” or “cooperative association,” particularly in those cases where it’s an arrangement exclusively between or among legal persons? Is it a difference of kind, or merely of degree?
(Or, in other words, what’s the point of having a separate institution called “marriage” at all? Is there any special property a “marriage” has that separates it from any other consensual cooperative arrangement, or is it simply a matter of what label everyone wants on the paperwork?)
In law, nothing. It is simply one particular subset of the entire possible class of coadunations, that subset labeled “coadunations marital” by lawyers. The term remains useful, though, inasmuch as when you’re looking to draw one up, it gives the obligators somewhere to start in drafting the contract to ensure it comes with all the customary details. (Partnership contracts, for example, typically do not include clauses relating to default conservatorship, medical proxy, or duties to dependent offspring.)
Where the difference is most important is in culture and the Common Social Protocol, in which marriage is much like pornography – one knows it when one sees it.