I read with interest Dan Olson's defense of the "lost honor and sacredness of marriage" ("Those who'd redefine it think like those who'd despoil the wilderness," Aug. 24). While I think his metaphor is stretched beyond boundaries, he makes some valid points regarding communities, civil and religious.

Olson defines the ideal community as consisting of like-minded, supportive persons who agree to live according to the laws and standards of that community. The wisdom of our Constitution is that they are free to do so as long as the rights of others are not infringed upon.

More so in a religious community. If, for instance, the religious community decides that a particular person or group may not be married in their rite according to their beliefs and scriptures, that is up to them.

f they decide a divorced person may not fully participate in their rituals, that is up to them. In most cases, because the individual members choose to live as a community and abide by these rules, there is an inevitable and harmonious outcome, a sense of stability within the community.

However, to make the illogical leap, as does Olson, that the history of marriage up to the present is the bucolic pastorale he presents is ludicrous.

The history of marriage, including the biblical version, is replete with tribalism. The extreme of this is best viewed today through the lens of the Taliban. Or we can look at it via the Middle Ages and even into the 18th century in the pursuit of power and wealth through the dowry system where women were often traded as chattel.

Even if we go back to the idyllic pre-1960s, marriage can be seen as supporting the dichotomy of Woman on the Pedestal/Woman in her Place, both equally repressive.

I remember such phrases as: "You've made your bed, now lie in it" -- a reminder that an unwed mother was branded as a social pariah.

"This is your cross, now carry it" -- a favorite of the clergy when a woman complained of wife-beating. "A man's home is his castle" -- when she complained to the police. Or "they're just boys having a little too much fun" -- when a girl got "knocked up."

Or the old joke, "Keep 'em barefoot and pregnant." Do we really want to be restored to this?

I would argue that real change evolved when women and others began their long and courageous battle for human dignity. For women, this started with the right to vote, to divorce and receive a fair percentage of the family income, the right to make an informed and conscientious decision as to the number of children she would bear, the right to an education, the right to define her own sexual reality, and the right to equal pay in the workplace.

I would also argue that contrary to Olson's view of the breakdown of the family, a huge and growing financial disparity is more to blame than contemporary sexual mores alone, since statistics show that it is the shrinking middle and upper-middle classes that hews most closely to his utopian view.

I myself came of age in the gauzy idyll of Olson's past, the 1950s. I remember those "good old days." Not so good for many, but I was lucky.

My husband, Herb, and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. And though we have yet to Twitter or tweet, we do welcome into this great national tent those seeking to love and be loved, however this is defined in a civil society.

Really, if one is comfortable in one's own beliefs, what is there to fear?


Patricia A. Rorke is a writer in Minneapolis.