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The Long History of Marriage (Straight and Gay)

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posted on Nov, 18 2005 @ 03:53 PM
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 state.

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 ceremony.
· 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 religion."

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.

posted on Nov, 18 2005 @ 06:21 PM
That is some very good research and historical information on the meaning of marriage.

funny to point out that only some religions are the wants to make the fuss as what is considered rightful under their believes.

Occurs as usual we always going to have some that will define marriage for the rest of us.

posted on Nov, 23 2005 @ 12:58 PM
I haven’t drawn any conclusions just yet, but its clear my understanding from a historical point of view is flawed, however I would encourage you to encompass the time period and structure of society during these times.

In China, especially in the southern province of Fujian where male love was especially cultivated, men would marry youths in elaborate ceremonies. The marriages would last a number of years, at the end of which the elder partner would help the younger find a (female) wife and settle down to raise a family.

There has been a long history of same-sex unions in the western world. That many early western societies tolerated, and even celebrated, same-sex relationships is well-known. Evidence of same-sex marriage, however, is less clear, but there exists some evidence, often controversial, of same-sex marriages in ancient Rome and Greece, and even in medieval Europe.

In ancient Rome, for example, the Emperor Nero is reported to have married, at different times, two other men in wedding ceremonies. Other Roman Emperors are reported to have done the same thing. The increasing influence of Christianity, which promoted marriage for procreative purposes and the Roman use of sexuality as a form of dominance as well as a means to conquer through rape a male enemy has been linked with the increasing intolerance of homosexuality in Rome.

The Hopis (Indians) used to hold a ritual in which a 16 year old male-bodied Two-Spirit was dressed as the Corn Goddess. All the men of the village then performed anal sex with this individual in order to bring fertility to the corn crop for the year. Subsequently a huge feast was held in the youth's honor.

In Africa, among the Azande of the Congo, men would marry youths for whom they had to pay a bride-price to the father. These marriages likewise were understood to be of a temporary nature.


While it is clear that homosexual unions did exist throughout history it is not clear that they were “marriages” as we know them.

Rites of 'same-sex union' occur in ancient prayer-books of both the western and eastern churches. They are rites of adelphopoiesis, literally Greek for the making of brothers. Boswell argued that these were sexual unions, but other scholars assert that they were instead rites of becoming adopted brothers, or "blood brothers".


John Eastburn Boswell (whom most of your links refer to) (March 20, 1947 - December 24, 1994), was a prominant gay historian and a professor at Yale University. This is one historians point of view verses another. If homosexuality was as prevalent as you lead on we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now. Again I am at work and I will respond in detail the more time I have.

[edit on 23-11-2005 by CogitoErgoSum1]

posted on Dec, 3 2005 @ 01:06 PM
How about this type of marriage?

Newly-mets become newly-weds in radio marriage

By Evelyn Ring
JUST seconds after they laid eyes on one another, two strangers took the plunge and became husband and wife in Dublin yesterday. Bernadette Coleman joined Patrick Dunne to say 'I do' in front of 180 guests in Clontarf Castle.

The bride wore a pearl-encrusted veil over her face and only lifted it when she saw the groom at the altar. Bernadette is a 30-year-old accountant from Raheny, while 34-year-old Patrick, who is from Crumlin, works for Securicor.

Both have their own homes but felt something in their lives was missing, so they entered a competition, 'Two Strangers and A Wedding' on radio station 98FM.

While Bernadette and Patrick did exchange wedding vows, their marriage is not legally binding. It won't be official until they decide to obtain a marriage certificate from a Registrar of Civil Marriages.

But their big day, broadcast live on radio, was well worth it. They got a prize package worth €50,000 that included the wedding, a honeymoon at an Austrian ski resort and a year's use of two cars.

More than 200 women expressed an interest in becoming a bride and in excess of 100 completed the application process.

If that doesn't make marriage a mockery. I dont know what does.

posted on Dec, 3 2005 @ 04:04 PM
Excellent, excellent research post Benevolent Heretic!

It's so sad that marriage has indeed become the latest victim of conservative intervention for the cynical purpose of a power grab. To redefine and reframe that which is not only common sense, but the highest form of human expression.. LOVE; as but a mere base sex act for their perverted agenda of reducing loving commitment to their narrow definition of complimentary sex organs is among the most disgusting thing modern politics has regurgitated to date (and that includes Newt Gingrinch).

Shame on the fear mongering opportunists, Karl Rove, Frank Luntz, the entire Republican Party and everyone that turned out to vote for those "feel bad" inititatives.

Let people love each other. Nobody hates like a Republican.

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