[extropy-chat] Just curious, it's not natural!

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Tue Oct 31 04:58:15 UTC 2006

Anna Taylor wrote:
> I can't pressume to understand the relationship
> between 2 men or 2 women and who am I to judge what
> "Union" they want but as a heterosexual woman, don't I
> have every right to keep the word "marriage"?.

Do certain groups have rights to words? I don't know... words have
meanings that are defined socially and culturally. Sometimes they often
refer to things one group does, but this may not mean that group has any
more possession of them than anybody else using the term. It is a bit like
how transhumanists might dislike misuse or derogatory uses of the term
transhuman, but that they do not have any moral power over the usage.

The whole marriage-union thing is so parochial. Among ancient romans
marriage was a sacred religious thing and *at the same time* an entirely
informal thing, depending on social class. Patricians celebrated
confarreatio with full pomp, including offerings to the gods and ten
witnesses representing the ten tribes etc. Plebs had usus, where people
lived together as man and wife - but it was not recognized as marriage by
the patricians. It was later outcompeted by coemptio, where the father
sold the bride for a sum of money (manus) - coemptio was seen as better
than usus because it involved property! As marriage evolved, it seems that
it became more and more seen as a private contractual situation, not even
state officials were needed.


I have no problem with people inventing arbitrary new terms. But we will
need a term to refer to all the marriage-like structures that are legally
and socially binding. In the long run I think the best would be to make
sure this term is separate from whatever religious terms are used. Then
people can get usused and coempt to their hearts content.

Anders Sandberg,
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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