Saturday, June 1, 2013

Marriage Did Not Begin In The Church

How has this myth that marriage began as a religious institution managed to take hold in our collective consciousness when even a casual look at history would quickly dispel this fallacy? There are even many atheists who believe it. The earliest records we have of marriage began 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia as little more than a way for a man to make sure that the child he was caring for was his own and not one of the other tribesman's. This was pre- Maury Povitch. It was used as a way for families to acquire land and wealth, and forge alliances with other families. It was primarily an attempt to assure female, but not male, fidelity. Later, it became a business transaction between a man and a woman's parents.  "I'll give you four cows for your daughter." In ancient Greece, a father would then sell his daughter with these words "I pledge my daughter for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring" and that was it. No church involved. In Ancient Rome, marriage was governed by Imperial law up until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.  Men had wives solely to produce children and secure alliances with other families yet it was still acceptable to have several concubines and even to employ prostitutes and young boys for the purpose of sex. To quote one ancient Roman, Demosthenes, the orator, "We have prostitutes for our pleasure, concubines for our health, and wives to bear us lawful offspring."  If a woman failed to produce children, it was perfectly acceptable to divorce her. That is traditional marriage. The selling of women into domestic and sexual slavery by their fathers. Is that the institution conservatives wish to preserve? 

In most cultures, these business transactions took place between a man's family and a woman's family with the young couple having very little say in the matter. They were arranged marriages with the families choosing the most advantageous relationship based on economic, political, or social status considerations. Ancient Hebrew law permitted multiple wives. The bible has several examples of polygamy, including King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Perhaps this is the traditional marriage modern Evangelicals lament the erosion of? In fact, monogamy was actually pretty rare in the ancient world, with polygamy being the most common form of marriage among most cultures of the world. "If you're talking about the history of the world and not just the last two centuries, the proportion of the world populated by monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion — just Western Europe and little settlements in North America," said Nancy Cott, professor of history at Harvard University.

In fact, it wasn't until the eighth century AD that the church got involved in marriage at all and, according to an article in the BBC News "Ten Key Moments in Marriage History by Lauren Everitt", it wasn't until the twelfth century that marriage came to be considered a church sacrament rather than merely a social or business contract and as late as the fifteenth century, in the Council of Trent, that marriage was written into church canon. So, in the 4,000 year history of marriage, the church has been involved for less than a fourth of that time. Far from the originators of marriage, they were actually late adopters. And here's something I bet you didn't know, these religious marriages once permitted same-sex unions. According to an article in

"Until the 13th century, male-bonding ceremonies were common in churches across the Mediterranean. Apart from the couples' gender, these events were almost indistinguishable from other marriages of the era. Twelfth-century liturgies for same-sex unions — also known as "spiritual brotherhoods" — included the recital of marriage prayers, the joining of hands at the altar, and a ceremonial kiss. Some historians believe these unions were merely a way to seal alliances and business deals. But Eric Berkowitz, author of Sex and Punishment, says it is "difficult to believe that these rituals did not contemplate erotic contact. In fact, it was the sex between the men involved that later caused same-sex unions to be banned." That happened in 1306, when the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II declared such ceremonies, along with sorcery and incest, to be unChristian".

So, no, the institution of marriage did not begin with the church and it is not owned by the church. No one is trying to force your silly little church to perform same sex marriages. And if you belong to a church that begins performing same-sex marriages, and you disagree with the practice, leave that church and join one that shares your same brand of bigotry and intolerance. But one thing you cannot do, is claim that you have a philosophical or historical leg to stand on. Marriage has been in a state of flux since its inception. It has gone from a slave contract with a woman's family selling her to her husband, to a state sponsored business contract, to a religious ceremony. In the 17th and 18th centuries, love finally entered the picture and once again transformed marriage into its more modern concept, as a romantic contract between a man and a woman. With the advent of birth control, marriage changed yet again. Children were no longer the central focus of marriage. Marriage became a commitment between a loving couple to love and care for each other until death. You need neither a vagina nor a penis to love. With this being the case, no sensible argument can be made for why marriage should remain between members of the opposite sex. Basing this opinion on the bible is about as rational as basing it on a comic book.

The fact that so many Black people, deluded by the bible, are discriminating against homosexuals, is absolutely sickening. How a people that have been oppressed with the full sanction of the church and the bible itself could then turn around and oppress another group using the same justifications that were used to keep us enslaved for hundreds of years, is astonishing. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Right now, mega-churches in Chicago are mobilizing to defeat a same-sex marriage bill. Many of these are predominantly Black churches. Many of these are filled with both open and closeted homosexuals, praising Jesus right along side their condemners. What twisted irony! Many of them believe this myth of the religious origins of marriage and have come to accept that they will never be allowed to marry. Praise Jesus! This is not right. This is not okay. This is a destructive myth that must die. Modern marriage is about love and commitment and tax breaks and medical, property, child custody, and death rights. It has nothing to do with imaginary deities accept in the ceremonial sense. At its core, marriage is still what it was thousands of years ago, a business contract, the only difference now is that this contract is made between the loving couple and local, state, and federal government. As such, it is genderless and all these ridiculous religious arguments against same-sex couples marrying are moot.


  1. Marriage is a word used in English to designate the social recognition of the joining of two opposite sexual beings that will form a family with the purpose of bringing together a child or children. All other definitions are objective and incorrect.

  2. I'm sorry, did you not read the article? The writer specifically explains that the institution of marriage pre-dates the English language. The use of Old English began at about the same time that marriage was adopted by the church. So of course the English definition for marriage is going to be what you said. He's not talking about the word, he's talking about the institution (or the act of, if you don't understand what that means). Hopefully you can do math better that you can read, and you'll be able to add all this together.

  3. I believe that the Church are not claiming marriage that pre-dates the Church and indeed that they are not ignoring it. However, I believe that the Church are claiming, rightfully, the way that their God wants marriage to be performed. This is when a hetrosexual couple, before God and each other commit to each other 100%.
    I do not believe that those who are not Christian should not be in a committed relationship, or indeed marriage. However, I do believe that those who are not Christian, should not be in, and why would they want to be in, a Christian marriage.
    As a Christian I want to enter marriage as a commitment to God and to another that I will love them unconditionally, through highs and lows. I also want to see other people of no faiths and other faiths in happy, committed relationships. But I do not see the need for this to be a marriage that is performed in a Church under Christian practices.

  4. Wow Christians on an atheist blogs. You have to be insane to read the bible and take it for anything other then myth. It should be treated like Roman and Greek religion and called MYTHOLOGY. So stop taking your MYTHS and using them for hate. You probably would be for the Spanish Intuitionist and the Crusades too....

  5. It's sad that anyone, of any faith or no faith, would call someone insane just because they have differing beliefs. I look forward to a day when as a society we respect each other. That doesn't mean we shouldn't debate or speak our opinions, but do this in a way that is thoughtful.

    You may be interested to see this: ""

    The bible, though you may not believe all the elements of it, is an incredibly reliable historical source. Therefore, calling the bible a myth is an inaccurate statement. Calling the faith outlined in it a myth is your choice.