The Sanctity of Marriage?
Its an exhilarating day for the couple; Adam, decked out in a charming tuxedo and bow tie, and Eve, dressed in a floral gown looking all glamorous and splendid, walking down the aisle in a church.....ah, the very definition of marriage. The bride and the groom, the one and final bastion in the institution of marriage, so romantic, and so.....ok, you get the point.
One of the most perplexing claims pandered about by religious folks of the Christian-Judaism variety is the "Defending the Institution of Marriage" campaign: It is often claimed that marriage in the form of the "one-husband-one-wife category" is the sole, legitimate family format, passed down through generations from the time of antiquity, sort of like a family heirloom. This type of rhetoric has become the basis of most arguments against gay and lesbian marriages.
In this post, I shall attempt to demystify the definition of marriage and how it has evolved through time and across a myriad of cultures and religions.
The Definition of Marriage from a Modern Point of View
Marriage, by today's secular definition, is a tripartite contract; the State serves as a key witness to a civil union between a couple. A marriage contract is signed, and it entitles, amongst other things, properties, kids (if any) and the type of privileges both parties are expected to be entitled to, during the period the contract is binding or after, should a divorce to terminate the contract is activated.
Such a strictly litigious mode of marriage, however, is often not mentioned or highlighted in the media or any other form of official medium; rather, a more romanticized version of marriage is pandered about as if it were the ultimate, orgasmic experience: A holy union of two loving couples, tying the knot in the presence of a priest and an unseen, ubiquitous God-Almighty.......A happy family, flanked by loving, adorable kids, and yes, love is generally in the air. Ah, such bliss.
If history and modern trend is of any guide, this utopia version of marriage is so totally screwed.
The Purpose of Marriage
Throughout history, marriage is often regarded as a bridge between two families, usually of a similar social class of people. For example, if you are a businessman and your business partner has a financial arrangement with you, you might want to further cement that relationship by marrying off your daughter to his son, or taking his daughter to be your son's wife. It is a amiable arrangement to tie families together to forge an alliance, and from a political point of view, such arrangements are commonplace; conduct a cursory study of all the noblemen, kings, and princes of Europe and one would not miss out the intimate relationships of royalty amongst Europe's leading monarchs. It didn't matter whether you exhibit any fondness for your perspective partner; if your parents have agreed with the other party you will have to tie the knot.
It is also the standard norm for the men and women of a poorer class to aspire towards marriage to members of the rich in order to attain a better, comfy life; it didn't matter if the guy or girl is fat, obnoxious and hideous, as long as he or she is loaded with cash. In this case, marriage becomes an indirect form of sex-for-cash transaction.
In short, marriage wasn't about free love and free choice in many societies: You marry whoever your parents or some higher authorities wanted you to marry, or under tough financial circumstances, and you can be damn sure that romance isn't part of this equation.
Types of Marriages
In many prevalent cultures since the dawn of civilization, it was not an uncommon practice for a man to have many wives: It was a sign of status for a guy to have multiple wives, particularly so if it was approved by religious institutions. Islam, for example, allows a man to have up to a maximum of four wives at any one time. Rather than being viewed as a symbol of infidelity, marriages of this sort were not frowned upon, and there was no limit with regards to how many wives a man can procure or even how old his respective wives were.
In such marriages, there is usually a system of hierarchy amongst the harem of wives; the first wife is usually the matron of the harem, followed by the respective concubines.
The idea of polygamy was not lost amongst the rich and the powerful; several monarchs, particularly King Henry VIII, was particularly fond of multiple marriages, and most Chinese Emperors in ancient China had harems filled upwards of a few hundred wives!!!
Talk about the sanctity of marriage.......damn are we so screwed!!!
In some societies, it is also prevalent amongst womenfolk to have multiple husbands! While this is a rarity particularly in conservative, eastern cultures, some Polynesian tribes do practice this form of polygamy, even if it seems a tad strange to us and most male chauvinists.
Of course, there's always the odd gay marriage or two: If you think gay marriage is only a recent phenomenon, think again:
1. From the Ming dynasty onwards, it was not uncommon for lesbians and gays to tie the knot under the auspices of ancient Chinese marriage rites.
2. In the ancient Roman empire, rich Roman citizens often cavorted with male slaves and yes, pederast relationships between men and boys leading to marriages were not banned.
In short, there has never been one mode of marriage in history; marriage comes in all shapes and sizes, and yes, people generally married in accordance to the customs of their respective societies.
The Sanctity of Marriage is Bullshit
Many religious fundamentalists want us to believe in the sanctity of marriage as if it is a standard norm throughout history. The truth is there has never been one strictly conformist code of practice in marriage, and gay and lesbian marriages are not abominations of society as so unctuously proclaimed by these morons.
Today's marriage mode is almost akin to a financial arrangement and a life-time contract: You marry your spouse, he or she is entitled to certain rights, you stick to them until one of you croaks and bites the dust, or failing which, the marriage succumbs and breaks down in which case a divorce, along with its whole set of litigious bullshit, pertains to the annulment and separation and the division of property and monetary assets. It is as simple, and at the same time complicated, as that.
Personally, I view marriage with as much skepticism as I would with regards to religion: I don't really have any aspiration towards lifetime contracts of this sort, and it baffles me as to why gays are getting all worked up and bothered about getting married (it isn't as if you need to get hitched to have hot monkey sex anyway), but I respect human rights, and if these group of people are willing to get themselves tied down to marriage contracts, by all means let them have it.
Just don't give me the bullshit about the sanctity of marriage.