Marriage is a fascinating case study in the history of ideas.
The same-sex marriage campaign is interesting in a way. Originally marriages were not registered, that is being married was regarded as a relation between two people. Overtime, legal requirements were created that marriages be registered, and eventually registration itself was taken to constitute, or be, the marriage relation itself. This kind of bureaucratic verificationism, where a thing is increasingly defined by how the state measures it, is a repeating template. Edit: to be clear, in suggesting that marriages were not always monitored by the state in pre-modern societies, I’m not suggesting that in those times, the state played no regulatory functions with respect to marriage.
Very roughly we could say that marriage was originally something the state didn’t record (the first stage), then something the state did record (the second stage), and is now (starting about the middle of the fifteen-hundreds in Geneva) something which most people feel is defined by the state’s assent or otherwise (the third and current stage). In reality of course the picture is more complicated, there is a spectrum of increasing state involvement in the concept.
How telling it is that something we once felt was a natural relation between persons is now defined by the presence or absence of paperwork in some dingy office. How odd that what we demand isn’t the recognition of our marriages (which in many of the most important senses already exist), but the bare allowance that we be permitted to marry at all.
To say a few obvious things- none of this is to say that the gay marriage campaign shouldn’t go on. I have been and will remain an enthusiastic participant in the struggle and I’d urge you to be involved. As long as marriage remains on the books, it’s better equal for a whole range of reasons- from visitation rights to cultural recognition. Sometimes though it’s useful though to remember how much has been taken from us, and must be regained.