There are few societies in which it is usual for a couple quietly to 'pair off and start "playing house." While this is fairly common in America today, it is not the fully approved and expected '(and therefore not the institutionalized) arrangement. Marriage is the approved social pattern whereby two or more ~sons establish a family. It involves not only, the right to conceive and rear children (who are sometimes conceived as an institutionalized preliminary to marriage) but also a host of other obligations and. privileges affecting a good many people. The. real meaning of marriage is the acceptance of a new status, with a new set of privileges and obligations, and the recognition of this new status by others. Wedding ceremonies and rituals are merely ways of publicizing and dramatizing this change of status. Homosexual _couples in our society would like to be married and recognized as a family. At present, this is legally impossible in any of the United States. A legal marriage legitimizes a social status and creates a set of legally recognized rights and-duties, A homosexual "marriage" creates no new status which others are obliged to recognize, nor are any legally en forcible rights and duties created. Only new laws could do this (and the first faint beginnings of such legal changes are now being made [Time, 118:74, Dec. 13, 1982]).
In matters of marriage our ethnocentrism is conspicuous. To us it is monstrous that parents should arrange and compel the marriage of two persons who may 'never even have met.. How do they know whether they will love each other? Why are not their wishes consulted? Our reaction illustrates the usual error of ethnocentrism-assuming that peopIe with another culture will think and feel as we world think and if transplanted to their Nation. It overlooks the fact that . most people and feel only what their society trust them to'wish and feel. We think of marriage a,romantic adventure with a person we come to 'love, The girl in classical China, .about to enter an arranged marriage with a stranger, eagerly anticipated her,'marriage, as. it desirable status and a full lulling association with, a man who had been wisely Chosen by ~er parents. Each society has viewed the other with an ethnocentric pity we pitied their young 'people for their lack of freedom; they pitied our young people for their lack of parental assistance. In neither case dig, the' young people themselves feel any need for pity. Today, of course, the Chinese family has changed greatly in the People's Republic [Yang, 1959; Huang, 1961; Kessen, 1975, chap. 3; Leslie, 1982,