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NYTimes: In Europe, Lovers Now Propose: Marry Me, a Little

MARSEILLE, France—Nathalie Ramirez and Djillali Antar have been together for eight years. But like many modern couples whose relationships are shaped by practicality and logistics as much as romance, they are not sure what they want in the future. Marriage, so far, has always seemed like a goal too much.

So two years ago, they presented themselves to a court in Aix-en-Provence and signed a pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS, as they are popularly known, giving them many of the same legal rights as married people but not, Ms. Ramirez explained with some relief, committing them to be together forever.

Today they are happily, if somewhat ambivalently, "PACS'ed" in an arrangement that Ms. Ramirez, 28, and Mr. Antar, 31, say does not feel like conventional marriage, but a light approximation of it. They do not wear wedding bands. They still refer to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. When they visit her parents, Mr. Antar does not spend the night. He has not even told his parents, who are originally from Algeria, that he got PACS'ed.

"They wouldn't understand," he said. "For them, it is marriage or nothing."

Even as President Bush is proposing to spend $1.5 billion to promote marriage in the United States, European countries are moving in the opposite direction. They are granting new status to couples looking for some legal rights in the broad gray area between living together casually and "till death do us part."

What European laws have in common, said Kathleen Kiernan, a professor of social policy and demography at the London School of Economics, is that they take a pragmatic approach to their populations' changing attitudes about the role—and even the relevance—of marriage in contemporary life. article link (free registration required)

Fascinating idea. At the same time the US is convulsing over bared breasts and gay marriage, to the point that President Bush has said he'd support a Constitutional amendment codifying marriage as a union between one man and one woman, Europeans have experienced a mass attack of sensibility and are recognizing that the world's changing.

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