|Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum (Egypt)|
We also hear time and again about the "sanctity of marriage," and that marriage was designed by God, and is therefore a religious institution.
These notions are simply not true. Anyone with a basic knowledge of human history would know these claims don't float.
Let's have a quick look at some examples from history which shed some light on how marriage has been defined, and re-defined, over time:
• Abraham (founding forefather of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) had his wife Sarah sleep with both the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Semitic King Abimelech for political positioning and increased riches. Unable to provide Abraham with an heir, Sarah encouraged Abraham to marry her Egyptian slave as his second wife (polygamy), which resulted in the son Ishmael.
• A wife was considered her husband’s property. Marriage was used to strengthen a family’s financial or political position.
5th Century BCE thru 1st Century BCE
• In Athens, “Marriage was respected as an institution that provided progeny and good housekeeping; it was not expected to fulfill one’s longing for a soul mate.” The ideal union was considered to be between an adult man and an adolescent boy.
• Marriage was a contract made between the bride’s father (or brother) and the groom.
• Toward the end of this period, “Roman marriage laws began to require the consent of the bride and groom.” The requirement for mutual consent between the bride and groom began spreading throughout the Western world and helped to change a wife’s position from a piece of property, like cattle, that could be given by the father to her husband.
1st Century CE thru 14th Century CE
• The early Christian church was hostile to marriage, believing that marriage and family were distractions from the path to salvation. To remain single and celibate was the ideal.
• Nero married two men, Sporus in 54 CE, and Doryphorus in 68 CE.
• Same sex weddings took place in increasing numbers over a period of time, but were outlawed in 342 CE.
• Basil I, founder of the Macedonian dynasty, entered into three same-sex unions, first with Nicholas, a monk of the church of St. Diomede; then to John, son of a wealthy widow in Achaia, Greece; and then later to the Emperor Michael. After Basil entered a formal union with Nicholas it was reported that “they rejoiced in each other.”
• “Canon law made two changes that were to have long-term effects. First, the church pressured individuals to marry in the presence not only of witnesses, but also of a priest, and to perform this ceremony ‘at church.’ Second, it downplayed the need for parental consent, and foregrounded the mutual will of the intended spouses as the major criterion in the making of a valid marriage. This revolutionary doctrine would endure and flourish over the centuries.”
• Love preceding marriage began to take hold in Europe, when previously affectionate feelings or familial devotion was expected to develop after marriage.
15th Century CE thru 18th Century CE
• Although mutual consent and love preceding marriage had taken hold, marriage retained elements of its former status as a property arrangement. Once a woman was married, her husband became her legal guardian. Her husband legally owned all the property she brought to the marriage.
• Governments and Churches in greater Europe successfully enforced a rule requiring church ceremony to validate a marriage beginning in the 16th century. This requirement came to England a bit later in, in 1735.
19th Century CE
• 1801 Murray Hall, a prominent Tammany Hall politician in New York, was posthumously discovered to have been a woman. Hall dressed in men’s clothing, lived as a man, and was married twice, both times to women. Hall also voted in elections, which was illegal for women at the time.
• The Oneida Colony in upstate New York, founded by John Noyes in 1848, cultivated a form of group marriage called "complex marriage" in which theoretically every woman was married to every man. The community also practiced "scientific breeding" in which potential parents were matched by committee for physical and mental health.
• If a woman worked outside the home, everything she made belonged to her husband. Her children also belonged to her husband. If she divorced him, he kept all of her earnings and their children, even if he was a drunkard who beat her.
• Biawacheeitchish, also known as Pine Leaf and Woman Chief, became a renowned war and camp leader among the Crow Indians. She dressed as a man when she went to war and had a number of wives.
• Henry James’ novel The Bostonians contained themes of feminism and led to the coining of the term “Boston Marriage” to describe romantic friendships between women, which often included holding hands, cuddling, sharing a bed, and making open expressions of love for each other.
20th Century CE
• Sephardic Jews in the Middle East maintained the right to polygamy until an all-inclusive ban was pronounced in the mid-twentieth century, after the formation of the State of Israel.
• 1967 In Loving v. Virginia the United States Supreme Court declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, thereby ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. The court’s decision was based on the due process and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
• In 1969 in California, Troy Perry presides over the "holy union" of two women, Neva Heckman and Judith Belew — the first public same-sex marriage ceremony in American history.
• 1989, Denmark – The first government-recognized same-sex union in modern history takes place.
Dawn of the 21st Century CE (2000s CE thru the present)
• 2000, Vermont – Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to grant civil unions to same sex couples. Civil unions are intended to grant all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, although they are not recognized by the federal government. The legislation that created civil unions came about as a result of a state Supreme Court decision, in which the court ruled that denying marriage rights to same sex couples was unconstitutional discrimination.
• 2001, The Netherlands – Same-sex marriage becomes legal for the first time in modern history.
• 2003, Belgium – This country became the second to legalize same-sex marriage.
• 2003, Massachusetts – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples should have equal rights to marry under the state constitution. Their decision is based on the grounds of due process and equal protection).
• 2005, Navajo Nation – Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo President, vetoed a bill by the tribal legislature that banned same-sex marriage on the reservation.
• 2005, Connecticut – The Connecticut state legislature became the first in the U.S. to pass civil unions legislation without pressure from the courts.
• 2005, Spain – Same-sex marriage became legal.
• 2005, Canada – Our neighbor to the north becomes the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage..
• 2006, Arizona – The state’s voters become the first to reject a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
• 2006, New Jersey – Under circumstances similar to those in Vermont in 2000, the New Jersey state legislature enacted civil unions in response to a state Supreme Court order that same-sex couples be granted the same rights as married couples.
• 2006, South Africa – Same sex marriage becomes legal.
• May 15, 2008 , Sacramento – California Supreme Court issued a decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Noting that the state’s domestic partnership law falls short of full equality, the ruling also holds that any discrimination based on sexual orientation must pass “strict scrutiny,” the same standard that applies to race and gender (In re Marriage Cases). Chief Justice Ronald M. George, an appointee of Gov. Pete Wilson (Dolan), writing for the majority stated that “An individual’s sexual orientation – like a person’s race or gender – does not constitute a legal basis on which to deny or withhold legal rights” (In re Marriage Cases).
• May, 2008, New York – Following an opinion by legal counsel, Gov. David Paterson directed all state agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages that are performed in other jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, California, and Canada.
The source of the above information, Labmda Archives San Diego, has not updated their timeline in a while, but you get the idea (I have also edited out numerous entries for the purpose of this post). It is important to note that marriage laws in the US, and elsewhere, continue to be challenged, and altered. Right now we are in the middle of several high profile same-sex marriage battles, including California, New Jersey, Washington State, North Carolina and elsewhere.
The point is this: Marriage has not always been a union between a man and a woman. Furthermore, marriage has not always been a union designed, or endorsed, by God or the church.
Here's the big one, folks: Marriage predates monotheism. Fact. In other words, marriage predates the God of Abraham -- the same God who supposedly designed marriage.
Marriage has been evolving over the course of human history, and it will continue to evolve until humans no longer walk the earth. Marriage has been re-defined over and over, and will continue to be re-defined.
To characterize marriage as "the union between a man and a woman as designed by God," is, quite simply, to freeze the definition of marriage at the point in human history that suits your idea of what marriage should be -- with total disregard for how marriage came about, how it evolved, and how it will inevitably continue to evolve.