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Happiness in a marriage is a choice
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This week, an AJC poll showed 48 percent of Georgians support same sex marriage, while 43 oppose it. About nine percent either "don’t know" or gave no answer when asked. The strongest support comes from 18- to 39-year-old people, while 59 percent of those over 65 are opposed.

Marriage has been constantly evolving throughout history.

The online edition of The Week magazine on June 1, 2012, detailed its intriguing chronology: The earliest partnering between males and females goes back to the Stone Age, the beginning of known human culture. The first record of marriage contracts dates to 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. Polygamy was widely practiced among the ancients, including King Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines.

Ancient Romans treated marriage as a civil union, but in 1215 the Catholic Church in Rome declared marriage to be one of the church’s seven sacraments and required that public notice of intentions to marry — banns — be posted. Come the 16th century, the church declared that marriages had to be performed by a priest with witnesses in public. The article avers that love played no role in marriage "for most of human history." Instead, it was a means to consolidate power, preserve wealth and establish strategic alliances. Marriage was "too serious … to be based on such a fragile emotion. … In fact, love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible."

Rutgers University anthropologist Robin Fox has estimated that the majority of marriages throughout history have been between cousins, and it’s still common in the Middle East. If you track the marital unions among European royalty across time, cousins marrying cousins is no oddity. Stephanie Coontz is the author of "Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered," published in 2006. She writes that monogamy originated in Western cultures between the 6th and 9th centuries, but well into the 19th century, it was acceptable for husbands to have multiple affairs. Non-monogamous wives, on the other hand, were strongly condemned.

Recall Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, "The Scarlett Letter," the story of the severe punishment given to Hester Prynne, who conceived a child in an adulterous affair although her husband was thought to be lost at sea. Coontz posits that "the notion of love matches gained traction" only within the past 250 years or so.

According to The Week, the campaign for women’s rights that began in the late 19th century led to a push by women for equal standing in a marriage, instead of being considered their husbands’ property.

However, Coontz argues that equality in marriage wasn’t a firmly established principle until about 50 years ago. Even into the 1970s in some states, women faced serious legal limits on their standing within marriage. Marriage was also changed over the years by other developments. When young people moved out of their parents’ households and got jobs of their own, they could marry without their parents’ decision-making. Contraception allowed women — wives — the choice to have more children or not. As divorce laws loosened, more and more couples decided to dissolve their marriages. And certainly, when young women were able to get jobs for themselves in the marketplace, marriage became an option, not necessarily the means to survival. Nothing in the natural world ever stays the same, and clearly marriage is an ever-changing institution. Speaking of which, it was the late Groucho Marx who said, "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?"

All three of his marriages to much younger women ended in divorce.

There is no end to humorous, rueful and wise sayings about marriage, all of which provide helpful perspective at various times of need. Many can be found at

Benjamin Franklin said, "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half-shut afterwards."

American poet Ogden Nash wrote: "Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; whenever you’re right, shut up."

Actress Rita Wilson, married to actor Tom Hanks, believes, "The secret to a long-term relationship is not wanting a divorce at the same time."

Comic Rita Rudner says, "I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life."

The never-married author Jane Austen wrote: "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."

I’ll debate that point: Happiness in marriage is a matter of choice and daily work.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at