Let me first start off by saying that I love my gay friends and I love my heterosexual friends equally. I love my conservative friends and my liberal friends equally. That said, those who love me will know my opinion on this and love me anyway, so I don't feel the need to express my personal opinion. Rather than opinion, what I have below are the facts taken from numerous historical websites about the history of marriage. From traveling to different parts of the world with different cultures, it's always fascinating to me to see just how small we are. Including our religions and beliefs. It's easy to see how confined to one small space we come to believe that the entire world thinks like we do, or should. Christianity is one tiny puzzle piece in a HUGE puzzle that spans the world. It is a puzzle piece that is shaped only to fit it's place in the puzzle and cannot be molded to fit into another space. Myself, I tend to enjoy taking in the entire puzzle at once, with open eyes, and not just focus on one little piece...
History of Marriage
"Most ancient societies needed a secure environment for the perpetuation of the species,a system of rules to handle the granting of property rights, and the protection of bloodlines. The institution of marriage handled these needs. For instance, ancient Hebrew law required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother's widow. Some varieties of marriage are
Ancient Egypt, in theory, gave women equal rights, but it wasn't always practiced. Medieval women faced dual responsibilities to religion and marriage.
Throughout history, and even today, families arranged marriages for couples. The people involved didn't and don't have much to say about the decision. Most couples didn't marry because they were in love but for economic liasons.
Some marriages were by proxy, some involved a dowry (bride's family giving money or presents to the groom or his family), some required a bride price (the groom or his family giving money or a present to the bride's family), few had any sort of courtship or dating, but most had traditions.
One nearly universal tradition is that of the engagement ring. This custom can be dated back to the ancient Romans. It is believed that the roundness of the ring represents eternity. Therefore, the wearing of wedding rings symbolizes a union that is to last forever. It was once thought that a vein or nerve ran directly from the "ring" finger of the left hand to the heart.
The notion of marriage as a sacrament and not just a contract can be traced St. Paul who compared the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and his church (Eph. v, 23-32).
Joseph Campbell, in the Power of Myth, mentions that the Twelfth century troubadours were the first ones who thought of courtly love in the same way we do now. The whole notion of romance apparently didn't exist until medieval times, and the troubadours.
The statement of Pope Nicholas I in which he declared in 866, "If the consent be lacking in a marriage, all other celebrations, even should the union be consummated, are rendered void", shows the importance of a couple's consent to marriage. It has remained an important part of church teaching through the years.
There appeared to be many marriages taking place without witness or ceremony in the 1500's. The Council of Trent was so disturbed by this, that they decreed in 1563 that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses. Marriage took on a new role of saving men and women from being sinful, and of procreation. Love wasn't a necessary ingredient for marriage during this era.
Years later, the Puritans viewed marriage as a very blessed relationship that gave marital partners an opportunity to not only love, but also to forgive.
Many people hold the view that regardless of how people enter into matrimony, marriage is a bond between two people that involves responsibility and legalities, as well as commitment and challenge. That concept of marriage hasn't changed through the ages.
The institution of marriage has had a long and sordid history. Not always referred to as marriage, which is a word from the 14th century French (marier) to marry, this sacred state had slipped through history under many guises and forms.
Monogamy – describes a union of male and female or (today) same sex couples, so long as the partners are only sleeping with each other. Until only recently in the long history of humankind, marriages were arranged according to lineage and economics. Kingdoms united through members of each royal family. Countries aligned with arranged partnerships. Bloodlines blended throughout history, in the belief that it made them more royal or enduring. Arranged marriages in tight royal bloodlines, often came about because of the sometimes humiliating and always detrimental outcome of too much inbreeding in a family line. Try as they might, attempting to keep the blood pure was not conducive to strong rule.
Polygamy – is the practice of one man or woman with several spouses of the opposite sex. Often, the need for this type of arrangement came from times of war, plague or other disaster. Women left with children and no husband to provide for them were taken as second wives to a brother-in-law or other adequate provider. The idea of multiple spouses as a show of love was virtually unheard of.
Polyamory – is a multiple-partnered marriage whereby the partners get together out of love. Polyamory was sometimes practiced in the Polynesian Islands prior to missionaries and their stodgy ideas of Christian marriage. In these areas, the expression of sex and desire was a gift given by the gods to ensure a strong race. Just as much of the parenting was done in a communal type atmosphere with many mothers and many fathers, so too, were the relations that developed among members of the village. Partnering with one person was entirely foreign to this area, as with many areas of the world.
Common-Law – is the relationship of a couple without legal ceremony or license.
For most of mankind’s “civilized” history, a woman was considered a possession of first her father and then her lawful husband. She had little voice in where they lived, what her husband did and her own duties. She (post-Christianity) must devote herself to her husband, family and faith. Aside from that, her time was her own.
There were exceptions. Many countries, prior to Christianity or missionary outreach, believed the women to be the spiritual advisors, warriors on equal footing and often times judge and jury. Women’s councils were commonplace, for everything from healing and midwifery to dream interpretation for the community.
The ancient world had practices that set women up as trophies of war, competition and feats of strength or bravery. Like a gold statue, a chariot, a horse, farmland or other prize, officers and victors were awarded wives into the bargain. Armies would often return home with women as booty from a raid or battle won. These women were either enslaved or married off to the soldier who brought her home.
Monogamous marriages rose to their peak during the Victorian period in British history. The Puritans moved marriage to a point where love counted and delighting in the state of marriage became commonplace, yet extremely committed. The Victorian period dragged marriage into the closet. Sex was something embarrassing and improper with a quiet understanding that married couples engaged in marital relations, without pleasure and as duty and God dictated.
Until as recently as twenty years ago, in some areas of North America women still needed a husband’s signature to obtain a credit card or mortgage. As in ancient Rome, women went shopping in the marketplace, but they carried no money. They had a manservant to carry it for them. Things have certainly changed. You don’t see many manservants in the local supermarket.
Some argue that marriage is defined narrowly as only being between a man and a woman, so gays can’t possibly marry. The fact is, though, that the nature of marriage has changed in definition and make-up many times over the centuries. Marriage today isn’t at all like what it was two millennia or even two centuries ago. The changes in marriage have been broad and fundamental, so what are traditionalists really trying to defend? What is “traditional” about modern marriage?
Most of these changes have moved power in marriage away from the families and to the couples, as well as making women more equal. Let’s look at just a few of the most significant changes in marriage in the West over the past centuries:
Why was it acceptable in the past to make so many reforms in the nature of marriage that ultimately benefitted heterosexuals and women, but not acceptable now to make one reform that benefits gays? Is there any reason to think that all of these other reforms were somehow more “minor” or “superficial” than legalizing gay marriage? No — making women equal in marriage rather than property, eliminating polygamy, and allowing people to marry for love are all at least as significant as allowing gay couples to marry, especially since gay marriage is not unheard-of in human history.
The last change in the list above is the most important: throughout of Western history, marriage has been primarily about unions which made good economic sense. Rich people married other rich people in order to solidify political alliances and economic futures. Poor people married other poor people with whom they thought they could create a livable future — someone who was a hard worker, reliable, strong, etc. Love existed, but it was a minor consideration next to simply surviving.
Today, the relative positions of the two have switched. Economic issues aren’t totally irrelevant and few people rush to marry someone who appears unreliable and with no economic future. At the same time, though, romantic love has been made the most important basis for marriage. When was the last time you saw someone praised for marrying for economic considerations? People marry for love and personal fulfillment — and that’s what’s driving divorce, because when love disappears and/or one no longer feels personally fulfilled, they see little reason to continue the marriage. In the past, such changes would have been irrelevant given the importance of economic survival and familial pressures.
In 1886, a Judge Valentine ruled that two free-love activists, Lillian Harman and Edwin Walker, did not have a valid marriage even under common-law rules because their union did not fulfill the traditional characteristics. The “essentials” of marriage which Valentine listed included: life-long commitment, a wife’s obedience to the husband, the husband’s absolute control over all property, the wife taking the husband’s last name, the right of the husband to force sexual intercourse on an unwilling wife (that would be rape, by the way), and the right of the husband to control and have custody of any children.
Valentine's decision mirrors the arguments made by opponents of gay marriage today. His sincerity and conviction were no less than the sincerity and conviction of those who claim that a valid marriage, by definition, cannot exist for same-sex couples. The things which Valentine regarded as absolutely essential and indispensable to marriage are today unnecessary for most who marry. Thus it's not enough for opponents of gay marriage to simply assert that it would be contrary to the definition of marriage. Instead, they must explain why it is essential to the definition of marriage that a couple must consist of different sexes, and moreover why a change to include gay couples would be any less valid (or any more of a danger) than the changes we've experienced since Valentine's day. "