SOMETIMES it seems there are as many reasons for being married as there are couples tying the knot.
There is love, of course. That's the best reason. Then there's lust, greed, and loneliness.
Marriage can also be dynastic, even in this day and age. It can be an alliance between families. It can be a way of acquiring wealth or property. For someone poor marrying someone rich it can be a route to financial security.
Think about the variety of people who have stood before a priest or registrar in a church, register office, on the deck of a boat or on a beach; underwater or in the air.
Many are young and well matched. But there are middle-aged men with teenage mail-order brides. There are economic migrants anxious to qualify for a visa. We all remember Anna Nicole-Smith, the curvaceous blonde who at the age of 26 married 89-year-old millionaire J Howard Marshall. Last year The 85-year-old Duchess of Alba wed a civil servant 25 years her junior.
Whatever the motivation, they have this in common: once the ceremony is over, they have a legal bond. A marriage is a right and a freedom that is available to all adult citizens – as long as they are man and woman, as long as they are heterosexual.
Now, enter controversy. David Cameron is likely to extend that right, that benefit, to the homosexual community in England. Is he right or wrong?
Whatever your answer, this much is beyond question. He has a fight on his hands. Facing him across the court of public opinion are the church leaders. The loudest voice of opposition is Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
The cardinal has compared same-sex marriage to the legalisation of slavery. It would, he said, shame the country in the eyes of the world. It goes against the natural law, would lead to further degeneration into immorality. "We cannot," he said, "indulge this madness."
His views triggered an explosion of outrage on the twitter website. It was directed at the cardinal, not at the proposed legislation.
After a follow-up interview on the Today programme he was accused of "bigoted, incoherent, hate-speech". One woman tweeted: "Think I'm up too early. Just turned the radio on and it appears to be the 1950s."
The Westminster equalities minister Lynne Featherstone says the Government's job is to reflect society and to look to the future. From across the political divide, Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, condemns the whipping up of prejudice. She supports the proposed legislation.
Judging by the reaction so far, putting same sex-marriage on a legeal footing appears to have widespread secular support. But appearances can be deceptive.
The latest NBS/WSJ poll shows support for gay marriage stands at 49%. That is a sharp rise from 30% in 2004. But it still leaves half the population unconvinced.
There are many people with whom the notion of gay marriage sits uncomfortably.
There are people who value tradition; who believe it underpins the quality of life we enjoy. They are fearful that change will destroy something precious.
They are not, or not all, fuelled by prejudice or bigotry. Some will think same-sex marriage a contradiction in terms. Others will have concerns that extending it to gay couples will dilute its meaning; that the marriage contract will become like any other legal agreement instead of a unique bond between a man and a woman for the procreation of children.
If, by definition, there can be no children, why is marriage relevant to same-sex couples? Isn't civil partnership recognition of that natural difference? What need is there to go further?
It's good that all views are aired. This is a debate for everyone so in some ways it is a shame that, in choosing too intemperate a tone, the Cardinal has set himself apart. Some will hold back for fear of seeming bigoted by association.
The Archbishop of Canterbury put it better when he said that allowing gay marriage would force unwanted change on the rest of the nation.
But will it?
A dozen years ago now, Scotland witnessed the unsuccessful private referendum objecting to the repeal of Section 2A. The clause prevented local authorities from "intentionally promoting homosexuality" in schools. Those fighting for its retention would have had us believe that civilisation as we knew it would come to an end if the clause was repealed. In the event, what happened? Not a lot.
In 2005 more feathers flew with the legalisation of civil partnerships. When they were legalised what we saw was a scattering of bashful couples, dressed in their best, tying the knot. They weren't scary, they were sweet. There was no bogeyman. Official sanction of their relationship didn't wreck society. If anything, these couples are more traditional than their heterosexual peers.
In the light of that experience it seems reasonable (in my view) to go further and permit this small section of the population the right the rest of us enjoy – to be married in the eyes of the state.
Isn't this the point? Marriage is a cornerstone of our society. At its best it encourages stable and caring adult relationships. Surely, it would benefit society if gay couples were able to marry too. An institution that is attracting new recruits is healthy. Why discourage that?
Some people say that marriage is for the rearing of children. They use that argument to preserve it for heterosexual couples. But gays can and do adopt. A gay woman can have a child by IVF. If marriage is the best framework for child rearing, then surely we shouldn't exclude the children of gay parents from its benefits.
In my view that could be called grotesque; the very word Cardinal O'Brien used in his attack on the prospect of same-sex marriage.
Ben Summerskill (chief executive of the gay rights organisation Stonewall) may have hit the nail on the head when he said: "When you read the insulting tone to which Cardinal O'Brien descends -you realise the argument is already lost."
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.