I saw an interesting discussion on live-in relationships on ETV Marathi a couple of days ago. The dicussion was hosted by journalist Nikhil Wagle, and the panel included three very eloquent women whose names, I'm afraid, I do not know/remember.
Since I'm essentially an armchair-anarchist, I pretty much don't care about these stupid issues, unless they affect me in some way.
However, since I'm getting married soon, the question that really interested me was this : What is the marriage process exactly? I mean how would you define a 'marriage'? For that matter, how would you exactly define a 'live-in relationship'? Where does a relationship stop being a marriage and become a live-in relationship?
OK, the traditionalists in the audience must be puzzled. How are live-in relationships the same thing as marriage? And so must the modernists, who want to throw the whole "vivaha-sanstha" out the window.
To me, the difference is a little fuzzy between the two. Why?
I ran a mental checklist of the characteristics of the two, and it all distilled down to this, if we abstract out the details of ritual, cast creed, religion, location, age and other unimportant things (such as sex and feelings ;-)).
Marriage is essentially a three-way contract. Two parties -- the bride and groom, enter into the contract, with a third party as witness, arbiter, judge and sentencer in case of contractual violations (most often, in India, the thord party is most likely to also be the mastermind behind the whole deal in the first place).
With live-in relationships. the first two parties dispense with the third party -- the enforcing authority. So its purely a two-way contract between man and woman.
With this bare-bones definition, the pros and cons of each are easily open to analysis.
In the case of marriage, if the third party enforcer is too strong, bad marriages can stifle the partners. For live-in relationships, since both partners forfeit the protection offered by society/law, the weaker of the two partners is vulnerable to being exploited by the stronger.
But I suspect that most of these people who appear on talk shows and defend or advocate live-in relationships are actually living in a marriage, although they don't know it :-). In their case, social approval is often tacit, and their peer community (people they hung out with in college, their school friends, family) will take on the 'enforcer' role without anybody being the wiser :-).
This gives rise to Anshuman's law of procedural equivalence :-). In short, this law states that all things being equal, a relationship shall be deemed as a wedding as long as it can be proven that a three-way contract exists and is subscribed to by the concerned parties, either explicitly, or tacitly.