Marriage: Why Folks are Fightin’ 052312

Fringe Elucidation


Marriage, and the freedom to marry whomever you choose, is one of the issues we’ve chosen to be divided on, though a thoroughly impartial, completely uninvolved onlooker might be confused about the division. 

We’ll have to neglect most of what there is to discuss about marriage, the broad definition of that concept across cultures in terms of the expectations of permanency, exclusivity, residence and the degree to which religion enters and controls marriage.  The shape of marriage in a culture is determined almost always by a few simple things: wealth, the importance of bloodlines, and fecundity.  Some cultures don’t have marriage at all, and a man’s responsibility is to his child, not the child’s mother.  In those cultures there is nothing to inherit. In most of its many manifestations marriage is about reproduction and inheritance.  Hence, in some places where women can’t own property and wealth is highly concentrated, there are often more marriageable women than men with the resources to marry, and we find polygamy.  In places where resources are scarce and women control some of their own wealth, we find polyandry, where brothers or best friends will marry the same woman and treat children as offspring of both.  Always, marriage is part of the context of a culture. 

In the U.S., being largely a European nation, most rules of marriage mirror those of other Enlightenment nations: the registration of marriage and permission to marry comes from the state, and the “sanctity” of the institution is left to religion.  It’s the perfect separation of church and state as long as the state doesn’t legislate morality, which is the purview of religion. 

Attempts to constrain marriage to one man and one woman are evidence of legislators confusing that separation.  The ironically named “Defense of Marriage Act”, passed in 1996 and signed by Democrat Bill Clinton, is a great, and unconstitutional, example of that confusion.  As always happens when individual freedoms are at stake, it was the Republican party, the party of yesterday, which pushed the DOMA through, and acted to defend the law when the executive branch wouldn’t do so.  The GOP was reacting to “activist judges” though when the Supremes ruled that corporations were people and money was speech, it wasn’t possible to get a Republican to utter the phrase.

Religious fundamentalists of every sort have strong views on marriage, probably because religious fundamentalists of every sort love to control the minutiae of life, to decide whether it’s allowable to have a drink or rescue a bull from a well on Sunday, that sort of thing.  Interestingly, RFs don’t at all agree on what constitutes marriage.  Some allow and fiercely defend polygamy; others endorse the practice of child brides; others encourage an adulterous wife be buried to her neck and then stoned.  For fun and imagination it’s hard to beat religious fundamentalists.  Religious leaders are, after all, bureaucrats with nothing to do but defend and increase their territory. 

Jesus said very little about marriage, but over the last two thousand years a lot of hay has been made from those words.  Here’s a great example of a thoughtful examination

Fortunately for Christianity, Christians are little constrained by the words of Jesus, and mostly concern themselves with the hay.  Imagine a religion in which the adherents, instead of involving the world in centuries of war, genocide and bigotry, actually practiced the religion Christ taught!  What some cool and pious and tolerant people they would be.  Judge not; the least of these; my Father’s house.

But, instead we have religious bureaucrats, acting as all bureaucrats do.  And, we have the “faithful”, who ideally don’t question God’s representatives on earth.  As a result, and though the trend is changing, most Christians don’t think believe in same sex marriage. 

Some make a case by carrying the argument to its extreme: if we allow marriage between same sexes, why not allow people to marry animals?  Why not marry Fido (provided he’ll agree to raise the puppies Orthodox)?  Why not allow children to marry (as in some cultures)?  Not only useless questions, it demonstrates they don’t understand the answer.

In the U.S. it is the Roman Catholic Church and the other more fundamental churches who continue to pressure law to exclude marriage freedom.  This is odd given that the early Christian church, far from “defending” marriage, was cool at best toward marriage, and discouraged it generally.  Had the church continued like that it would likely have passed as did contemporary religions like Mithraism, which also thrived in the 1st to 4th centuries alongside Christianity.  Mithraism was a strictly male religion, and so lacked full control over the reproduction of its members.  Christians accepted women early on, but didn’t formalize marriage.  For much of the first few centuries the position was that people, men and women, should remain celibate and spend their time spreading the Word.  In the 1st Century there was a stirring of interest, and then it was to extend the power of Bishops to bind the marriage in heaven.  Some felt that reproduction simply prolonged the agony, and if humans stopped having kids everyone would die and the return of Christ would happen all the sooner.   It wasn’t until the 2nd and 3rd centuries that the Christian Church took an interest in marriage.  The Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church which arose about 330 AD when Emperor Constantine created his New Rome in Byzantine has always considered marriage to be an ordination, a surrender of each to the couple, a sacrament like the priesthood.  The Roman Catholic Church was slower to catch, and Roman citizens celebrated marriage differently, depending on their class.  What distinguished Christians is that a Roman husband essentially owned his wife and children, and could kill his wife for certain transgressions; Christians tended to view the sexes more equally.   Eventually the Roman Catholic Church registered and permitted marriage but it still wasn’t considered a “sacrament” and it was still performed outside the church building.  As the Church gained in authority it also extended that power over marriage, declaring that marriage was a sacrament, and returning to Christ’s words about divorce.  The monopoly of Rome over European marriages eventually vaulted the Anglican Church away from the Church of Rome, when the Catholic prohibition against divorce ran afoul of King Henry the 8th.   

The Protestant religions variously allowed divorce, though the more traditional only in the case of adultery, the exception which Christ allowed for divorce. 

In the U.S. marriage and divorce are largely controlled by state law; at one time most states required extreme circumstances, such as adultery, cruelty, or mental illness which held one spouse to be at fault.  However, by the 1990s most states allowed “no fault” divorce, meaning marriage was about as easy to get out of as it was to get into.

Currently, the contention over marriage is not over divorce, it’s over marriage equality.  It’s a subject which can bring out the worst in people, good Christians, who call for gays and lesbians to be killed.

There are some who claim Christians must be against homosexuality.  Others claim (link)  that early Christians accepted same sex relationships. 

Most Biblical scholars maintain that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.  Recently Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Huffington Post, reminded Christians that Jesus had very little to say about sexuality in marriage, or homosexuality at all.  He stopped short of calling the union “marriage” but maintained that good Christians could be gay.  Carter has recently published a book on the Bible in daily life.

Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -– he never said that gay people should be condemned.  Jimmy Carter, HERE 


The Methodist Church this month considered marriage freedom, but concluded by a small majority that homosexuality is incompatible with being a Methodist.  The discussion reportedly fell out along class and culture lines, with Methodists from the Southern U.S. states and those from poor countries abroad insisting homosexuality was contrary to Christianity, while more well off and urban Methodists spoke for accepting the possibility that God loves even fags, even when they hold each other at night.

The Episcopal Church has created liturgy for same sex marriages, and are performing same sex marriages now where legal.  The Church of Christ, and the Anglican Church of Canada support marriage equality. The Unitarian Universal church has supported marriage equality the longest of modern Christian Sects.

But more fundamentalist Christians continue to bitterly fight against marriage equality, to the point of engaging in disturbing hate speech (link). Even more moderate Christians insist that gay and lesbian “civil unions” are acceptable, but not actual marriage, and claim CUs can give registered partners, gay or not, nearly all of the privileges of marriage.  That argument is specious, though, because many state and federal privileges and benefits do not accrue to civil unions, only to recognized spouses.  Some hospitals, for example, don’t give civil partners the same access as spouses. 

But those remaining shortcomings to civil unions don’t seem to explain why pro- and anti- marriage equality supporters continue to disagree.  I think the answer is simple.  It’s a battle over legitimacy. 

Marriage, in most European cultures like ours, is more than just children and inheritance.  It’s about community, about social recognition.  Gays and lesbians want their passion and dedication to be recognized as anyone’s is, to stand up before friends, and God, and pledge to care for each other.  Fundamentalists want someone to be superior to.  Maybe they can’t stop people from decadent behavior because of that pesky separation of church and state issue, but they can prevent them from being accepted as “decent” people.  The fundamentalist view, which maintains that homosexual couples can’t be married because God’s purpose for marriage includes reproduction, ignores the very values they claim to protect when they deny gay and lesbian couples the right to raise kids.  It would seem that a lesbian couple raising children is closer to God’s intention that a barren heterosexual couple, where in some cultures, in societies more religiously fundamental than ours, the man would simply kick his wife out and get one that could bear children.  Here, at least, he would have to pay alimony.

I’ll propose that a nation that has as its foundation the ideals of individual liberty simply must recognize marriage equality.  My proposal, (I’m not the first to suggest it and indeed it is already the case in some more advance nations, is simply that everyone gets a civil union, which entitles partners to all the privileges now ascribed to spouses.  Then, if the couple is religious and their religions allow it, they can be “married” in church.  However, that “marriage” has no force of law, it’s simply religious.

Let’s finally do what even King Henry the 8th failed to do: separate church and state over marriage.


Give each other a hug for me!

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