A brief history of Marriage.
After reading some of the posts in my Same Sex Mariage post below, as well as some of the sites of those who made comments, I feel it is nescessary to to make some clarifications and present a little history lesson so both sides of the issue can know where the other may be coming from. So, in the best tradition of Edward T. Bear, I present:
A Brief History of Marriage
Despite what some of our more adamant posters would like to believe, marriage is not solely a religious institution, but civil institution - "...a system of rules to handle the granting of property rights...". As a civil institution, it has existed since ancient Roman and Greek times. Most marriages in the world were, until very recently, Arranged Marriages, for this purpose - business arrangements that were economic liasons for growing family wealth, rather than love or even procreation. While the "holiness" of marriage was recognized in Christianity early on (in Eph. 23-32, for instance), the actual marriage as a ceremony and a sacrament within the church did not take place until the 12th century:
"For much of the first Christian millennium, the imperial state regulated marriage (and thorny questions such as divorce), while the church was content to recognize and sometimes celebrate the holiness of marriage, if not sexual intercourse."
Further during the first 1200 years of Christianity :
"Christians married according to the civil laws of the time, in a family ceremony, and often without any special church blessing. Christians married according to the civil laws of the time, in a family ceremony, and often without any church blessing." [Emphasis mine]It was not until 1563 that witnesses to weddings, including an officiating priest, were required by the Church.
During this time civil marriage and religious marriage often did not coincide. The early Christian Church was more interested in celibacy as a sacrament, and often simply recognized pre-existing civil laws. For instance, same sex marriage was recognized in ancient Rome and this extended into the Christian period (see Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality by John Boswell, University of Chicago Press, 1980). There is even evidence for Church-sanctioned same sex unions in ancient times, including a liturgy (see Same-sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Villard Press, 1994). Ironically, it was an idea from Christianity that helped bring about one modern aspect of marriage that all sides agree on - consent. In 866, Pope Nicholas 1 decreed "If the consent be lacking in a marriage, all other celebrations, even should the union be consummated, are rendered void", thus bringing into marriage the idea that consent of both parties was required or the marriage was not legal. This helped bring about the end of marriage by kidnapping, rape or capture, which was, sadly, common in ancient times. Although arranged marriages continued for centuries, there was at least some input by the parties involved
Religious marriage is not a constant and is a varied as the religions themselves. In the West, the Christian and Jewish idea of monogamy for life is prevalant(with exceptions like in Bountiful BC). There are religous ceremonies for marriage. In the East, marriage ceremonises are a local custom rather than a religious institution. Buddhism, for instance, has no marriage ceremony. Islam and cultures in parts of Africa and Central Asia allow for polygamy, where marriage can have ceremony or not.
There are as many traditions about marriage as there are cultures and religions on the earth. Even those traditions are of fairly recent creations. Marriage itself has changed and evolved almost constantly throughout the ages.
Civil marriage - marriage recognized by the state for social reasons of property and family - has undergone some fairly significant changes, in recent times. It was not until 1948, in Perez v Lippold, that the California Supreme Court became the first court in the US to declare the ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional. Before that 40 US states, and most of Canada, banned the practice. Judges often used words like these to uphold the ban:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."Sounds familiar, no? Yet today most of us today would not consider interracial marriage wrong or immoral. And when the ban was lifted, despite an overwhelnming number of the public agreeing with the ban, nothing happened. Society continued as normal. A full ban on these kinds of laws did not take place until the Supreme Court of the US ruled in 1967.
In 1965, the US Supreme Court ruled that the ability or desire to procreate was not a pre-requisite for marriage under the law.
This little history shows how wide and varied the idea of marriage can be, as well as how it has changed in both ancient and modern times. A definition that I like is from my first link above:
"Many people hold the view that regardless of how people enter into matrimony, marriage is a bond between two people that involves responsibility and legalities, as well as commitment and challenge. That concept of marriage hasn't changed through the ages."From this, I would like to point out that the current legislation before parliament is in regard to civil marriage, not religious marriage (hence the name - The Civil Marriage Act). If has specific provisions that state that marriages can be refused on religous grounds. It lays out how the state recognizes marriage, not any religious institution. For instance, the current marriage laws allow for divorced people to re-marry, yet the Roman Catholic Church does not. Some religions do not recognize marriages with other faiths. Some faiths recognize polygamy, while the civil marriage act does not. None of this will change with the passage of the new act. If your religion does not recognize or wish to perform same-sex marriages, it will not be forced to do so. Currently, religous ceremonies are recognized as civil marriages only out of convenience - provincial laws recognize religious ministers as equivilent to Justices of the Peace or Judges for this purpose. This is so couples don't have to go through two ceremonies - one civil, one religious - if they marry in a church, as is the case in some jusridictions. That is why your minister requires a marriage licence (a civil marriage document) and has you and witnesses sign both the church registry AND provincial documents (for name changes etc). I signed these documents at the alter during my wedding. But it is still possible to have a religious ceremony only or a civil ceremony only.
And as evidence of this, Ontario has had legal, same sex marriage for over two years (due to the ruling in the Supreme Court of Ontario), and no religious institution has been forced to marry a gay couple. As a matter of fact, nothing has happened in the last two years to affect my marriage or anyone elses.
I hope this will quell the fears of those who are worried about gay marriage and those who disagree on semantic grounds. Perhaps it can also show why many straight people also do not find Same Sex Marriage a threat in any way.