Does a family have the right to tell you who or what to love and marry?
Rights and Marriage
Many family conflicts arise from misunderstandings of rights and boundaries. The question was posed, “Does a family have the right to tell you who or what to love and marry?” The wording of the question is tricky. Parents have the responsibility to raise their children. During the process of raising a child, parents often direct children in forming their values and choices in marriage partners. The length of time this goes on often varies from culture to culture. The home is where the family’s values are transmitted.
Within some cultures, the parents direct many aspects of their children’s life, even after they have become legal adults. There is always the issue of how to handle children wanting to marry or people wanting to marry your children. By necessity, the parents and family have the responsibility and right to step in with such matters. In many Middle Eastern cultures, the oldest brother often has a tremendous influence on who his sister marries and how she conducts herself. That influence is often recognized by the courts in those areas as well. The families often base their actions on custom, the need to protect and religious teachings. The family indeed has the right to tell the children who or what to love and marry.
Western nations often forget that the whole idea of marrying for love and making that choice independent of the family is a new idea which came about in the 20th century. In previous centuries, the family often had a major say in the decisions about who or what to love or marry. Those families viewed their actions as part of their responsibility and duty. In some cases, families wanted to maintain their wealth or social status. In other cases, it was a matter of health and strength of blood line. The family wanted to make sure that they were marrying into ‘good families’. They understood the importance of strong inter-family connections. In the 20th century, many of these old practices changed.
The more interesting question is not whether the family has the right, which they do. The interesting question is “Where did the right to tell children who or what to love and marry come from?” Rights are legal terms. The law recognizes when people have the legal authority to tell their children such things. Laws and rights are recognized by the courts. The family, by necessity has the right. In some cases, such laws came from moral and religious teachings. In other cases, they derive from laws concerning inheritance and the division of property. As barbaric as it sounds, some cultures viewed women as property that the family passed down and had the responsibility for. Although to a modern reader, such a practice sounds barbaric, those same property laws were instrumental in protecting women from abusive practices as well. The right of families to intervene was used in dealing with underage marriages, and marriages where one of the parties was ‘incompetent’.
When rights come from religious teachings, the people often hold onto them very tightly. Questioning such laws amounts is tantamount to questioning their religious beliefs. When religion is the basis of their rights, the people do not surrender them. They view adherence to them as being a good religious ‘follower’. Another key question that is critical to consider is whether the courts allow the family to directly intervene. In nations where the courts allow the family to intervene, the person considering a marriage that the family disapproves of has serious consequences. In some nations, family members have been known to ‘murder’ those who stray from what the family says. If you live in one of those nations where such murder is allowed, the rights of the family is a matter of life and death.
If you live in a nation where the family has the right to speak out, yet you have the right to act independent of them, the question is no longer a matter of life and death. Going against their wishes may risk being ostracized or criticized, yet they do not have the legal right to physically intervene. Bear in mind, that some families are so controlling, they will intervene whether it is allowed by the law or not. When families are involved, they do not always recognize the authority of the courts when it comes to family matters.
It would be dangerous world if families did not have the ‘right’ to tell you who or what to love or marry. Family members often have a stake in what you do. You may think that it is a choice that only impacts you. They are also impacted by your choices. It is true that you will have to live with who you marry. It is also true that in the event that the marriage becomes abusive or life threatening, they may have to intervene. Your family may also see something in your mate selection that you do not see. It is common for lovers to have blind spots regarding the choice in who they marry. Your family has a right to speak their mind on matters that impact them. If they were not allowed to speak out, then you would not be allowed to speak out either. Removing the right of the family also removes your right to free speech and free choices. Just because they have a right to speak out, does not mean that you are obligated to listen to them.