Turk/Greek marriage an act of resistanceTwo lovers bravely crossing social lines of family ties, class, ethnicity, race, religion, and more, all in the name of love. It’s the time worn story of Romeo and Juliet. The latest media rendition of this story comes from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a land of both love (considered to be “the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love”) and war (literally divided by ethnic warfare between Turkish and Greek Cypriots for more than three decades.)

Here’s a clip from the news story about Murat Kanati (a Turkish Cypriot) and Georgia Chappa (a Greek Cypriot):

…like the other 800,000 Greek Cypriots and 200,000 Turkish Cypriots, Chappa and Kanatli grew up in total isolation from each other, on an island less than half the size of New Jersey (a third the size of Belgium).

Change came in 2003, when Turkish Cypriot authorities opened four checkpoints to allow movement between the two sides. One of those who came across was Kanatli. He met Chappa at an inter-communal gathering in Nicosia the following year.

They quickly discovered they had a common interest — breaking down barriers. Chappa, 38, a clinical dietitian, is involved with a women’s group, Hands Across the Divide. Kanatli, 36, leads the New Cyprus Party, a small leftist group that preaches rapprochement.

Romance followed, and so did trouble.

At first they kept their families in the dark, and when they finally let out the secret, there were misgivings. “Both sets of parents I guess, they tried not to meet, or to get to know, find out about the person their child was going out with because it was easier to keep to … the stereotype,” … said Chappa…

But things gradually eased up. “The last family meetings for both parents, it’s more relaxed,” says Kanatli. “They get it as a relationship between one girl and one boy…we’ve come to that stage.”

Stories like this have fueled the likes of William Shakespeare and Walt Disney for eons.  However for those looking for an analysis of these stories, Sociologist William Goode’s classic 1959 article, “The theoretical importance of love” (American Sociological Review) continues to be a valuable guide.

Goode is one of the first to offer a global theory of love – specifically, on the social regulation of love (and hence, sexuality). He (and later social historians such as Stephanie Coontz) explains that historically, economic alliances, not love, were the basis of marriage. Sexual unions were a separate matter from both love and marriage. But the control of love and sexuality becomes particularly important when property and social status is at stake. Since love alliances are potentially disruptive of lineages and class strata, they must be regulated.

Goode labels and describe 5 types of love regulation seen historically and globally: child marriage, kinship rules, social isolation, close supervision, and “formally free.”

Regardless of the severity of regulation, the regulation of love and sexuality works to maintain distinctions between outsiders and insiders. It also maintains class, race, and gender hierarchies (with people “higher up” being more concerned with love regulations).  Based on this principle, we can predict that highly stratified societies (by class, race, religion or other criteria) will be more concerned with love regulation than less stratified societies.

As Cyprus becomes gradually less stratified between Turks and Greeks, the regulation of love between those groups will loosen. Ironically enough, though, it is possible that the loosening of this ethnic regulation may be facilitated by the rising visibility of a new “outsider”:  the gay Cypriot.  As the groom in this story states: “They get it as a relationship between one girl and one boy…we’ve come to that stage.”