On the 10th of December, I married my girlfriend Eleanor, on the grounds of the Australian National University where we had both completed our degrees. The flowers in her bouquet, on my boutonnière and on the arbour behind us were all Australian natives – kangaroo paw, gum blossom, boronia and protea*** – and the ceremony and the evening which followed felt very close to the heart.
Below is a transcript of my groom’s speech.
Tonight, I want to talk about what marriage means to me and what it might mean to an observer looking in from the outside.
In earlier times, marriage was understood as the union between a man and a woman, an act which was often followed by the parenting of children. Typically, the only prescriptions on traditional Western marriages were that they were exogamous (that is, the two parties were unrelated) and that the son or daughter’s spouse came from the right family with the right social status.
Today of course, Western marriage is changing. As a ritual, marriage is becoming increasingly secular and even our definition of it is evolving to include same-sex couples. At first glance, these seem like radical changes and there is even some discussion about whether marriage is still relevant in today’s world. People can have meaningful relationships and raise children without a priest binding them in matrimony.
So what function does marriage serve? Why do we still bother? Why do millions of people all around the world choose to get married every year?
Amongst the Nuer of Sudan, woman-woman marriages commonly occur – so it can’t just be about having children.
Elsewhere, in India’s Kerala State, young girls will often leave their new husbands immediately after marrying them – often acquiring up to six new husbands in the process – so it’s not strictly about monogamous relations either. In India, the tying of the necklace at the tali (marriage) ceremony is the groom’s admission that all the girl’s future children will now belong to him – perhaps the ultimate child support scam. In exchange of course, he joins his young wife’s family.
So you see then, marriage is fundamentally about selecting the right mate – a ritual whose central aim is to give you, your tribe and your offspring, a big step up. The word “tribe” is important here because not only was today’s union about the creation of my new family with Eleanor but it was also about the unification of two tribes – the Edgar-Tucker tribe with the Elliott-Cattanach tribe.
While I share no common blood with approximately half the people in this room, this marriage means that I now share with Eleanor’s family what anthropologists call an “affinity” – from the Latin finis meaning “border” – which is to say that there are no longer any borders between us. Eleanor’s family and I have crossed the hearth of strangeness to become kin. Louise and Brendan may not have raised me – Olivia and Alexandra may not have grown up with me as a brother – but in codifying my relationship with Eleanor, I have joined their tribe and they have joined mine.
This reception therefore, is something of a victory procession for me. I’ve just joined a terrific tribe.
Marching with me on this procession, I have brought along a troop of fine young gentlemen with whom I had earlier formed alliances – my twin Best Men, Chris and Neil, and the other strapping hominids you might be able to pick out in this crowd. Humans are much like chimpanzees in this regard – the troop always comes out to support their boy.
But it is not these handsome apes alone which I bring to the Edgar tribe. I bring also the opportunity for a newfound affinity with the Elliotts and the Cattanachs. I bring to Brendan and Louise’s table my mother’s hospitality, my father’s artistry with a brush, my uncle Lorne’s award-winning humour, and my cousin Finn’s ability to make and have a good time.
So now that I’ve covered the socio-biology of marriage in tribal society, I should talk a little bit about love.
While we know that romantic love is neither universal to the practice of marriage worldwide nor, indeed, universal to all cultures at all, the anthropologist Charles Lindholm concluded that if nothing else “[love] is best understood as a form of the sacred” and though “it can blossom or fade… the impulse behind it is not likely to vanish”.
So I say love is real. It’s as real as it ever was on the day I met Eleanor all those years ago. And so all the details aside, there is one thing which for sure I can say is true. Insofar as I have grown into a world with Eleanor in it, I have fallen in love with that world and I have fallen in love, completely, with Eleanor. Eleanor, you are my best friend and I love you. I’m very happy you said “yes” to joining our two tribes.
So, I propose two toasts – that is, two chinks of your glasses – one for Eleanor and one for our big, new happy tribe.
*** = Here I have to admit to being reminded that botany is not my strong point. A South African friend pointed out the following: “proteas are native to South Africa, waratahs are Aussie natives. Both from the family “Proteaceae””.