Alternative Marriage circa 1960

        I am rather proud of my role in this anecdote.   The patient was a lady on a railroad widow’s pension that was designed to self-destruct if she remarried.  Women’s lib has justifiably corrected this quirk in the law long since; but at that time it was the way the pension worked.  When she met an enthusiastic soul mate and wanted to remarry she was faced with a dilemma, the solution to which had never occurred to her.  It was a trumped up tragedy.  I put aside my Aesculapean credentials and put on my Solomon hat to advise her.  My plan was to call clergymen until I found one who would agree to marry her without the government paperwork that normally goes to the courthouse after the ceremony.   So, in the eyes of God they would be married; but in the eyes of the Railroad Retirement Board she would be living in sin and so eligible to retain her pension.  The patient and I both agreed that this deception would serve the Railroad Retirement Board right. The above brings up the question: do we need an alternative form of marriage for people who wish/need to solemnize atypical relationships?  The controversy about gay marriage has called this question to our attention.  Providing  that our new alternative to marriage be available to all adult citizens would take a lot of gay bashing out of the debate.  I have several older couples as patients who like the option of not being held responsible for each other’s nursing home bills.

       I was amazed that the first man of cloth I called on agreed without hesitation to marry my patient according to Solomon’s plan.  The woman was amazed too as the clergyman I called first was her parish priest and she had tried to dissuade me from calling him because “he wouldn’t even consider it”.  It seemed to me a matter of “professional courtesy” to give her personal clergyman the first option on performing the ceremony. I am gratified to report that through the years I have told this story to quite a few clergymen and the vast majority would have agreed to my “ecclesiastical only”  marriage ceremony.  So, it wasn’t just luck that the first one agreed.  Rather, the statistics were quite favorable. 

        My father, who was himself a clergyman, was alive and well for some time after my encounter with the Railroad Retirement Board.   He probably would have performed the ceremony himself,  but I never told him the story.  Perhaps I didn’t want to take the chance of aggravating him in his old age.  Sometimes it is difficult to analyze details of our interactions with parents—no matter how reasonable they may seem and no matter how long after the fact.  However, I know I could have told my mother and had her support for my action.  There seems to be some instinct about such things.

          Here is an interesting sidelight to this discussion: We already recognize gay adoption and are arguing about gay marriage.  Our cousins in Europe have for some time accepted gay marriage but do not permit gays to adopt.  Who among us are illogical, and who are just plain stuffy?  Or, perhaps in Europe it is a matter of supply and demand---plenty of aspiring adoptive parents per available child.  For myself, imagining myself as an orphan, I would choose gay parents over an orphanage any day, a “no-brainer”.  If you are wondering about my motive in writing this, it is to limit gay-bashing. Some long term biological perspectives to limit gay bashing follow.

           Homosexuality is an example of a genetic paradox because  it would seem likely to die out of a population because of reproductive failure.  Yet comparative primatologists have studied chimpanzees and other primates and determined that homosexuality motivates non-dominant males to stick around their natal groups enhancing the survival of their nephews and nieces against the hazards of the jungle including tribal territorial warfare by other troops of chimpanzees—a pre-human biological basis for acceptance of “gays in the military” if you will.  Bonobos, a distinct species formerly called pigmy chimpanzees, have a matriarchal social organization.  They actually have lesbian rituals to defuse conflict among their leaders.  Sexual activity has been used for social purposes other than reproduction for a very long time.

John A. Frantz, M.D.   March 16, 2002. Revised January 16, 2004 and November, 9, 2004