The Sun has published a number of letters and commentaries that illustrate a degree of confusion about marriage, family and the nuclear family in particular. The word family comes from the Latin word familias, which originally meant the household property of a man, including his wife, his children and his domestic servants and slaves.

Throughout the world there have always been multiple, culturally defined norms of what both families and marriages are. A few have been matriarchal, but the majority, particularly in modern times, have been patriarchal. The Western institution of marriage has always been about property rights.

American marriage laws had their origins in English property law. There is nothing "natural" about any of it. Anyone who thinks our culture has moved beyond thinking about women and children as marital property should consider why so many people still have a hard time grasping the concept of spousal rape. After all, doesn't a wife "belong" to her husband?

People say they fear that so-called "traditional marriage" could be changed forever in Maryland if same-sex unions became legal. I don't think that will happen, but I wish it were so. The world would be a much safer and healthier place if no one were viewed as the property of another.

Sandy Covahey, Baltimore