Marriage is not defined, it is described. It has been a foundational feature of natural order. It is not a religious institution. It is not a governmental institution. It is an attribute, or characteristic, of human flourishing since we began walking on this earth. I believe marriage to be a created institution, but I will argue this from a secular perspective.
Changing the language or the laws does not change the natural order, or the necessary characteristics for marriage. Greg Koukl has pointed out that as a rule, as a group, and by nature, heterosexuals produce the next generation.
Children/families were the natural outcome of marriage, and in ancient times for a couple to be childless was considered a great misfortune. If this childlessness continued, the man could divorce or take on a 2nd wife to give him children. Of course, the problem, (infertility), may not have been with the woman, but my point being that ancient cultures recognized the importance of children.1 So much so, that even in ancient times, cultures had marriage contracts between the couple and their families.
This papyrus marriage contract housed at the London British Museum is dated B.C. 172 from Egypt. Written in demotic script, (Egyptian writing in and around the Nile Delta), this particular contract states the husband must return a certain amount of money within 30 days if there is a divorce. Reasons for a divorce could include adultery by either party, or the failure to produce children. On the back of this papyrus are listed eight witnesses.2 Some recorded marriage contracts date back to B.C. 661. Why have a marriage contract? Commonly because the bond was for procreation, to produce the next generation, and ancient cultures recognized the importance of this, no matter how crude the marriage contracts or the methods they used.
Different relationships serve different purposes, and the government is not under any obligation to give all relationships the same rights and benefits as others. Heterosexual relationships have the unique and primary role in society of producing the next generation, so it is understandable that the government would want to be, and has been, involved in encouraging those kind of relationships for thousands of years.
Herodotus, who many refer to as ‘The Father of History’, wrote that every woman, at some point in her lifetime, had to sit outside the temple of Ishtar and have sex with any man that would choose her. This practice would insure the flourishing and prosperity of the community.
Herodotus also wrote about the bride market, “Once a year in each village the young women eligible to marry were collected all together in one place; while the men stood around them in a circle. Then a herald called up the young women one by one and offered them for sale. He began with the most beautiful. When she was sold for a high price, he offered for sale the one who ranked next in beauty. All of them were then sold to be wives. The richest of the Babylonians who wished to wed bid against each other for the loveliest young women, while the commoners, who were not concerned about beauty, received the uglier women along with monetary compensation…All who liked might come, even from distant villages, and bid for the women. This was the best of all their customs but it has now fallen into disuse.”3 Yes, best for those with money and who lived in a culture that viewed women as property.
The church really did not get involved until 1563, when the Council of Trent stated that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two other witnesses. Reason being was that marriages seemed to be lacking glue and the church wanted binding agreements between the couple. An argument could be made for the churches involvement going back much further if you look at Paul’s comments in Ephesians 5:22-33, but my point is simply how far back cultures and the church recognized marriage and its purpose.
Some will say that homosexual couples were not given the same advantages or benefits as heterosexual married couples, however, same sex couples could express love, have weddings, share in a home, and have sex, (see Lawrence v. Texas where the Supreme Court ruled consensual sex between adults of any sex is legal), receive inheritance, and spend their lives together, just as married men and women. The difference is that same sex couples wanted to be recognized or legitimized by the government.
What will follow from the new Supreme Court ruling? Alan Shlemon points out two things, first, “Anyone continuing to make the gender distinctions dictated by nature will come into conflict with the law dictated by man.” And second, “The boundaries of marriage will continue to expand as the state continues to tinker.” 4
Amy Hall, in her Stand To Reason blog, quoted G.K. Chesterton, “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”5
If the purpose of marriage is to raise a family, that is to produce the next generation, and the state has changed that purpose to, well, if you think about it, marriage now has no purpose. In a Live Science article, Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage said, “One of the reasons for the stunningly rapid increase in acceptance of same sex marriage is because heterosexuals have completely changed their notion of what marriage is between a man and a woman,” Coontz said. “We now believe it is based on love, mutual sexual attraction, equality and a flexible division of labor.”
Coontz is wrong, we have marriages every day that are simply over money. No one quizzes the partners to see if they ‘love’ each other before they sign the marriage license. In April of this year, the New York Times reports one woman had 10 husbands between 1999 and 2002. “Most of her husbands immediately applied for citizenship and some, when denied, divorced her and refiled with different wives…”6
A little research and you can find hundreds of cases like these each year, where the ‘marriage’ was for anything but love. For example, economic benefits, (tax breaks), citizenship, power, status, name, convenience, pressure in the case of an unexpected pregnancy, and a host of other reasons that have nothing to do with love.
So what is next? Many in the LGBT community don’t want to get married. Though it has been redefined by our government and will continue to be redefined, those in domestic relationships will start pressing for equal rights. In a very recent NPR article one reporter wrote, “In some cases, couples don’t want to get married, they would prefer to have the domestic partnership. And that can be for ideological reasons, they may not…like the institution of marriage.”7 Those currently in domestic relationships want the same rights as those who are married. If you have any doubts, just start looking at headlines and reports on domestic relationships just since same sex marriage has been legalized.
The gate keeper, as in marriage between one man and one woman, has been removed. We have entered the slippery slope of questioning where to draw the line on the description of marriage. Will it be just a domestic partnership between two loving individuals? Is love a requirement for marriage? Obviously not. Could marriage be defined as simply a domestic relationship? If so, then the government will be pressed to provide the same benefits to domestic relationships as they now define marriage relationships.
Then the question, how would the government define a domestic relationship? How would the state define a family? Why limit it to humans? Some people have married animals, but it is not recognized by our government. Yet every year we have evidence that suggests people prefer pets to humans.
ABC News reported in 2011 that a elderly woman in her 90’s left 13 million to her pet cat. “As her health began to fail two years ago, Assunta, who had no children, began to seek out a way to see that Tommaso was properly cared for after she died. In November 2009, she bequeathed her entire estate to the alley cat that she’d rescued.”8
Mother Nature Network reported, “Between 12 and 27 percent of pet owners provide provisions for their pets in their wills, according to the Washington University School of Law. In fact, pet trusts have become so popular that 39 U.S. states now have statutes outlining them. In most cases, these trusts are relatively small — typically in the $30,000 range — but some pampered pets inherit millions of dollars, in addition to property, jewelry and a lifetime of prearranged pampering.”9
Why the examples of pets receiving outrageous inheritances? If people are willing to leave so much for their pets, as opposed to family and friends, it is obvious they care more for their animals than their human relations.
I am a huge dog lover and I would want my dog to be cared for after I die, but I could never countenance leaving an inheritance to animals when it could be used to help local schools, feed and shelter the homeless, fund crisis pregnancy centers, or benefit family or friends.
If marriage is not a contract between families, if it is not about human flourishing, if it is not about love, if it is not about sexual attraction, if it is not between a man and a woman, then what is it?
According to Tylenol, the new Beser Carr Schneider Musich Family commercial, “Family is what you make it out to be.”10 This is clearly a pluralistic view. You can define a family and a marriage anyway you want. There is no right or wrong way to look at a family and marriage. One is just as good as another, whatever works for you, whatever floats your boat, just don’t judge. Marriage and family will be defined by the winds of the current culture.
In the coming years, our culture will continue to ‘tinker’ with redefining family and marriage. Marriage has simply been reduced to the inclination or desire of the individuals who live in the same domestic location, their reasons for it are irrelevant, much like the relationship between a shark and his Remora, a commensalism relationship, which means one organism benefits from the other without affecting it.
1. Mark, Joshua J. “Love, Sex, and Marriage in Ancient Mesopotamia” Ancient History. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 16 May 2014. Web. 29 June 2015.
2. Stead, M. “Papyrus marriage contract between the priest Pagosh and Teteimhotep” The British Museum. Britishmuseum.org, n.d. Web 28 June 2015.
3. Herodotus, The Histories, trans. A. D. Godley (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920), Perseus Digital Library.
4. STRvideos, “Same-Sex Marriage: Is Same-Sex Marriage a Good Policy Decision?” Youtube, 19 July 2015, Web, 29 June 2015
5. Stead, M. “Papyrus marriage contract between the priest Pagosh and Teteimhotep” The British Museum. Britishmuseum.org, n.d. Web 28 June 2015.
6. Newman, Andy. “Woman Admitted She Married One of 10 Men for Money, Prosecutors Say” New York Times. Nytimes.com, 10 April 2015. Web. 30 June 2015.
7. “After Marriage Equality, What’s Next For The LGBT Movement?” National Public Radio. NPR, 28 June 2015. Web. 29 June 2015.
8. Dolak, Kevin. “Woman Leaves $13M Fortune to Pet Cat” abcNews. Abcnews.go.com. 12 December 2011. Web. 30 June 2015.
9. Moss, Laura. “Pets that inherited a fortune” Mother Nature Network. mnn.com. 16 September 2011. Web. 30 June 2015.
10. Tylenolofficial. “Beser Carr Schneider Musich Family |For What Matters Most| TYLENOL. Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube.com. 12 December 2014. Web. 30 June 2015.
Marriage Market by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com.