Reputed heterosexual Rodney Dangerfield once said: "My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met." Now homosexuals are gaining the same chance at misery or bliss. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Vermont this month and is scheduled to begin in Iowa at the end of the month. Here are 10 facts about the wedded world:
1. Widowers in Britain once were banned from marrying their dead wives' sisters. The law was supported by the Anglican Church and many politicians to protect what Prime Minister William Gladstone called "the purity of sisterly love." Even after that ban was lifted in 1907, a widow could not marry her dead husband's brother until a similar ban was dropped in 1921. Britain's marriage laws also intruded into the classroom: Until 1944, a female teacher could be fired if she got married.
Paul McCartney said that when he was considering whether to pursue a relationship with Heather Mills, he heard the sound of an owl and took it as a sign from his late wife, Linda, that she approved. Today, nearly a year after the bitter Mills-McCartney divorce was finalized, the owl still has not been brought to justice.
3. About 3 percent of Americans marry three times or more.
4. The Mosuo ethnic group in the Himalayan foothills of southwestern China follows a custom called "walking marriage." The man visits the woman at night for sex but does not live with her and has no legal commitment to her. The woman is free to entertain a variety of men in her bedroom, and the children from these relationships are raised by the mother and her extended family.
5. At a hearing on same-sex marriage in 2004, New Hampshire state Rep. Richard Kennedy seemed to be trying too hard to express his heterosexuality. "There are times when I see some comely young lady I would love to have as a house pet," he said. "But my wife won't let me, damn it. And I bought her a gun! That shows you how smart I am."
6. A recent Associated Press story out of Ohio began memorably: " James Mason had known his wife since she was a little boy." The story went on to explain that when the boy grew up, he had a sex-change operation. The boy-turned-girl, in her 30s, wed Mason, who was in his 70s. Their marital relations were perfectly legal, except when she forced him to exercise for more than two hours in a pool despite a heart condition. She was caught on videotape blocking his path 43 times as he tried to get out of the water. The old man collapsed and died, and his wife pleaded guilty to reckless homicide last month.
7. Why was it OK for Fred and Wilma Flintstone to sleep in the same bed in "The Flintstones" but not Rob and Laura Petrie on "The Dick Van Dyke Show"? Did cartoon characters have sex in the early '60s but real people did not? Some say "The Brady Bunch" or "The Munsters" was the first TV show to depict married couples sharing a bed, but in fact the first such program was "Mary Kay and Johnny," which began on the DuMont Television Network in 1947.
8. In the mid-1800s, Rumanika, the king of Karagwe in what is now Tanzania, had a special way of keeping his wives at home. The king fed them a steady diet of milk through straws, and if they resisted, a man with a whip forced them to keep sipping. As a result, the wives became so obese that they could not stand up on their own and instead wallowed on the floors of their huts.
9. Less than a century ago, boys could legally marry at age 14 and girls could wed at age 12 in Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky.
10. LaRae Lundeen Fjellman was threatened with the loss of her massage therapist license for violating a Minnesota law banning people in her profession from having sex with former clients for two years. The man she had sex with was her husband, whom she married more than a year after he stopped being her client and started being her date. The state health department relented in the case in 2007 after three years of wrangling, and agreed to pay $5,800 of Fjellman's more than $13,000 in legal fees and expenses. Which meant that the state fined Fjellman at least $7,200 for having sex with her husband.
Sources: "The White Nile" by Alan Moorehead; "Divorce With Decency" by Bradley A. Coates; "Commentaries on the Laws of England" by William Blackstone and William Carey Jones; "Family Law in the Twentieth Century" by Stephen Michael Cretney; "The Marriage Revolt" by William E. Carson; Newsweek; The New Yorker; The Globe and Mail; China Daily; anecdotage.com; snopes.com; and Tribune news services.