Well, it looks like my friend from
My regulars know the drill: today is women’s prison workshop day. See you all later.
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It’s really quite simple: if you’re against gay marriage -- don’t marry one.”
In reading my friend Jana’s post on gay marriage and the responses, I was reminded how I’m always struck by the basic assumptions we all have regarding marriage. I believe that as Americans™ we tend to perceive reality with little sense of history. I have noted this tendency of Americans to see things as static, as having always been so – without context.
In the case of gay marriage, what’s often brought up is the so-called sacrament of marriage. There is this popular belief that humans have lived in monogamous marriages ordained by God since the time of Adam and Eve.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let me start by offering a rather simple definition of marriage. Yes, I am aware that there are competing theories and many different ways of defining marriage, none of which could be properly addressed in a one-page MS Word document. For now, I’ll submit that marriage is a verbal or written contract that implies some sort of emotional or financial commitment between two or more people.
Notice there is no mention of God or religion in the above definition. That’s because for the vast majority of human history marriage and religion haven’t been linked as it is today. In the ages preceding Christianity, after the elevation of marriage to a ceremony, it could be a solemn religious ordinance or a purely civil contract. Even within Christianity, marriage and religion haven’t been as seamlessly linked as conservatives and other gay marriage opponents would have us think. Of course, this is the major sticking point for intolerant Christians: that gay marriage is an affront to the sacrament of marriage.
Marriage customs, like all others, change slowly, and it wasn’t until the Council of Trent, in the middle of the sixteenth century, that the canon was drastically revised. It was then decreed that a Catholic marriage, to be valid, must be celebrated by a priest in the presence of two or more witnesses. Up until the Council of Trent, the marriage ceremony was one that the couple themselves would perform, and this “unconsecrated” marriage was completely valid. Therefore, my dear friends (and contrary to the hype), for the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity – for three-quarters of the entire Christian era – there was no religious edict of the “sacrament of marriage.” It was good enough that a Christian couple simply ask a priest for a blessing (probably followed by an exchange of money). Even this was not necessary to make the tie valid in the eyes of the Church.
In addition, the founders of Christianity did not prescribe any particular ceremonies in connection with marriage. Most of the customs of the modern-day marriage ceremony have nothing to do with Christianity and a lot more to do with superstition and ancient customs such as bridal capture and bridal purchase. Marriage has grown through what I see as three general stages of evolutionary development. Each of these developments has contributed its share, which are easily recognizable, to the modern-day marriage ceremony.
The first important stage was marriage through force or capture. This was literally stealing and carrying off a desirable woman (
Marriage through contract or purchase succeeded marriage by capture. One stage gradually overlapped another. It is probable that as tribes grew in number and strength, more of an effort was made to avenge the women stolen from the group. In order to avoid a disastrous war, the concept of compensation was created, ostensibly arranging payment, or more frankly, buying the bride. The custom of “giving the bride away” in the modern-day marriage ceremony is a symbolic survival of the time when a bride was literally sold. The bride’s veil is a modified relic of the days when she was literally covered from head to toe. The “best man” is the modern counterpart of the fellow-warrior who assisted the would-be bridegroom to carry off the bride. The honeymoon symbolizes the period during which the bridegroom found it necessary to hide away with his “prize” until her family or male relatives grew tired of searching for her.
One study noted that monogamous marriage as a pattern of mating is relatively new and occurs only in 16% of 185 societies studied. In addition, the Church did not ban polygamous marriages until the 16th century.
Consensual monogamous marriage, or marriage through mutual love, was the next great stage of marriage. An undying theme of countless poets and singers down through the centuries, the stage of marriage through love has not been completed at this late date. In fact, it has only existed for the last couple of hundred years in Europe and the
My point is to emphasize that, contrary to the hype of religious fundamentalism and intolerance, marriage is a purely social creation. It’s historical connection to religion is tenuous at best and as a society we make the choices that allow us to become an enlightened and tolerant society.
If you have an over riding need to find gay marriage immoral, that’s your personal choice, no one will force you to marry a gay person. In fact, if you want to live in a society based on religion, there are quite a few number of such societies. I would suggest you relocate to such a society. This government is not based on religion.
I feel so strongly about this that I would say that to deter another human being the same rights the rest of society enjoys is despicable. I find even the “discussion” of allowing gay marriage distasteful, misinformed, and unsophisticated. To deny another human being equal rights simply on the grounds of sexual orientation is criminal.