What is the meaning of marriage today?
How old is marriage?
What were its original purposes?
How long has it been associated with religion as a sacrament instead of just a sensible way to have and care for family members?
What are marriage’s ties to religion?
Does history reflect only heterosexual marriages?
These and other questions come up when discussing the history of marriage, and especially when discussing same-sex marriage. Many use religion as the
reason that same-sex marriage should not be legal. They claim that marriage is a religious institution. However, marriage (the union) pre-dates
religion, and therefore does not belong to the church. In fact many are married today without a church in sight or a religious word spoken.
Marriage has changed over thousands of years to suit the particular society’s needs at the time. A man used to go the neighboring tribe and just
grab himself a wife or two. At one time, the Mormon religion expressly allowed and encouraged polygamy. Today, marriage in the USA is regulated by the
Varieties of Marriage
Some varieties of marriage are:
· polygamy Having more than one spouse at a time, such as one man with several wives or one woman with several husbands.
· polygyny Having several wives at the same time.
· polyandry Having several husbands at the same time.
· endogamy The requirement to marry someone who belongs to his or her own social group, family, clan, or tribe.
· exogamy The requirement by law to have to marry someone from another geographical area, social group, family, clan, or tribe.
· common law marriage A relationship that is created by commitment and agreement to cohabitate rather than by a religious or civil wedding
· monogamy The practice of remaining faithful, sexually, to one person at a time. Also refers to having one spouse at a time.
The notion of marriage as a sacrament and not just a contract can be traced to St. Paul who compared the relationship of a husband and wife to that of
Christ and his church (Eph. v, 23-32).
How old is Marriage?
"The best available evidence suggests that it’s about 4,350 years old
. For thousands of years before that, most anthropologists believe,
families consisted of loosely organized groups of as many as 30 people, with several male leaders, multiple women shared by them, and children. As
hunter-gatherers settled down into agrarian civilizations, society had a need for more stable arrangements. The first recorded evidence of marriage
ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into a
widespread institution embraced by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. But back then, marriage had little to do with love or with
A History of Change
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court
struck down the remaining interracial marriage laws nation-wide. A Virginia judge had upheld that state's ban
on interracial marriages, invoking God's intention to separate the races. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his decision, declaring that:
· the “freedom to marry” belongs to all Americans;
· marriage is one of our “vital personal rights” and
· the right to marry is “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by a free [people].”
The Future of Marriage and Its Past
People had been marrying without official recognition for a very long time. If a couple said they were married, then they were married. However,
marriage slowly changed from being a custom to being a law. This happened because the secular, private marriage between two people was messy when
folks wanted to dissolve the relationships. The courts at the time didn't have much to go on except people's word.
The Catholic Church got involved around 1215 and defined marriage as a sacrament. Even then, though, the rules of the church were fuzzy because folks
used the "private consent" option, which created problems in the ecclesiastical courts. So Protestants required that marriage would no longer be a
private institution. It became one that was done publicly with a ceremony, priest, witnesses, and parental consent. They also started registering
births, deaths and marriages. In the 1500's, different governments and nation-states started controlling the legality of marriage.
Same-sex marriage court cases
As Americans, we have seen changes within the institution of civil marriage. Many of us have seen these changes in our lifetimes. The status of women
within marriage has changed and continues to evolve to reflect the equality of spouses. The status of ending a marriage has changed with the Supreme
Court's recognition that states have to honor each other's divorces. But eligibility to marry, particularly based on race, present the most recent
and vivid example of change within marriage.
At one point, 40 states in this country forbade the marriage of a white person to a person of color.
In other words, people could not marry a
person of the "wrong" race. Marriages between whites and persons of color were decried as "immoral" and "unnatural"
. Overwhelming numbers
of Americans agreed. A Virginia Judge upheld that State's ban on interracial marriages saying, in a language with the same rhetorical tone as used
against gay people today:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And for the interference with his
arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
The State does not require either the capacity to procreate or an intention to procreate before it issues a marriage license to non-gay couples.
In fact, the ability to reproduce has never been required in marriage…
Civil Marriage vs. Religious Marriage
The debate over the freedom to marry is about the right to enter into the state-created institution of civil marriage only. Civil and religious
marriage are not the same thing.
From another thread:
Originally posted by Skadi_the_Evil_Elf
For starters, the idea of gay unions is new.
No, actually, it isn't at all new.
The History of Gay Marriage:
In some societies marriages between gay men were officially recognized by the state, as in ancient Sparta, and on the Dorian island of Thera. Much
later, in 2nd century Rome, conjugal contracts between men of about the same age were ridiculed but legally binding.
Let us now leap across the waters to look at gay marriages among the American Indians, particularly the Sioux and the Cheyenne.
History's view on gay marriage
The truth is that same-sex marriage has a long and distinguished history. Judaic scripture, for instance, indicates that same-sex marriages were
recognized in ancient Egypt. Of course, it's no secret that the ancient Greeks and Romans recognized homosexual marriage, not to mention imperial
China and some Native American tribes and a host of other peoples living around the world.
But here's a curveball for you.
There's even evidence that the Catholic Church recognized same-sex marriage in the early Middle Ages. Scholars dispute whether these unions should
actually be called marriages, but there is no doubt that the Church conducted formal ceremonies to recognize the bond between same-sex partners. The
Church endorsed sexual union between members of the same sex!
Why not a Civil Union?
This chart represents the differences between marriage, a civil union and non attached people. Next time you ask, “Why don’t gay people just
settle for a civil union”?
Look up this chart and ask yourself if you’d be willing to settle for that.