Saturday, May 28, 2005

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.


At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It was not until 1948, in Perez v Lippold, that the California Supreme Court became the first court in the US to declare interracial marriage unconstitutional".

Mike: Awesome post. Thanks. Good to put this whole "traditional" marriage business into perspective. Good thing we don't stick to "traditional" marriage anymore. I'm not into marriage -by - kidnap myself.

At 12:50 AM, Blogger Mark Richard Francis said...

Worth mentioning that the Romans did not have civil marriage for a long time. The state only became involved when there was a divorce.

The current system in Ontario is not convenient. I mean, we had to go to city hall to get and pay for the license, then fill it out at the church. Why not just have my witnesses tag along to city hall, do the license there and then get married at the church later? Or before? The church isn't going to care about the secular document anyway.

There is no legal or religious link between marriage in a church and the secular marriage contract, and I think - I know - that some people don't quite get that.

Some people get upset that marriage commissioners in Manitoba are being forced to marry SSM couples. They cite religious freedom, yadayadayada... but secular marriage isn't religious marriage, so religious freedom doesn't apply is such cases.

An analogy: Imagine a judge saying: I don't do divorces: I'm catholic, even though you two aren't. Outrageous!

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Mike said...

AN - That's all I hope for, for people to think when considering this, rather than rely on assumptions and knee jerk reactions.


We I say convenient, I'm referring to other jurisdictions (I believe France is one and some US states, but I could be wrong) where you have to have a full civil ceremony that is completely separate from the religious one - in essence two weddings. You aren't "legally" married unless you have the civil one. My brother-in-law, a born-again, had to do this in Illinios. So here in Ontario, the fact that the civil and religious one are combined by virtue of ministers being considered civil officials for the purpose of marriage, means it is relatively more convenient. When my minister said "By the power vested in me," she equally meant the Province Of Ontario as well as her particular God. I think this fact is what is worrying a lot of people that the Civil Marriage Act will change religious marriage as well. They think that religious and civil are one in the same when it is, in fact two simultaneous ceremonies performed by a single person with dual roles. Most people don't realize they could get married by a JP and be legally married for weeks, months or years before a religous one takes place. Conversely they don't realize that a religious ceremony done without the civil paper work (which you can certainly have done) is not a legal marriage.

I'm just trying to illistrate that they are separate and religious people should not worry about the Civil Marriage Act.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Mike said...


I agree that this enters a grey area which isn't (and couldn't, actually) be covered by new Act. This case is interesting, but doesn't actually force a religion to perform a marriage. Even the lawyer representing the women states this is the case -

The problem is that this is covered by the "Property and Civil Rights" part of the Constitution, under section 92 and thus the exclusive domain of the provinces. A federal marriage statute cannot affect what is provincial jurisdiction. It will be up to the provinces to clarify this (as Ontario has recently). The feds can make a law say who can and cannot be married and wh can and cannot marry them(they have the power as part of section 91 of the Constitution Act 1867), but it is up to the provinces to state who can and cannot rent a hall to whom.

Now on the merits of the case, I have read Section(1) of the BC Human Rights Code ( concur somewhat with this blog - I understand that the women recieved a refund, new invitations and a new hall booking from the KoC. I also undertand the KoC does not rent the hall to "just anyone" any more.

I will disagree that these two women went there looking for trouble. It looks to me like an honest mistake on the part of the women and not asking the right questions on behalf of the KoC. This whole thing could have been avoided with a disclaimer on the rental sign or on the rental contract.

I don't think that this should have gone as far as the BC Human Rights Commision, but I will be surprised if the women win.

Now I'm taking the word of both side of this in this case. Should it be shown that the KoC regularly violated Church doctorine in other rental instances (renting to Protestant organizations to perform ceremonies, allowing meetings of pro-abortion groups etc) then something else may be going on.

Despite the intrigues of this case, religions will not be forced to marry homosexual couples if they choose not to. I suspect that the eventual outcome of this case will lay the groudwork for how religious affiliated organizations will act - I don't think the women will win, but I think the KoC and other organizations will have to be very obvious and consistent so this kind of confusion cannot happen in the future.

At 8:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AN: Thanks for the link. I cannot add much to what Mike already said. Just that I did read it, and was familiar with the case already. I have a feeling that the benefit of this case will be that organizations like KoC will now clarify their positions, on religious grounds, or whatever, on to whom they will rent their halls. I also think that after this case, same sex couples will take greater pains to ensure they know the policy up front...There is no doubt that growing pains will occur (as they do with everything). However, I am confident that no Canadian gov't is going to infringe on religious freedom. For the record (and I'm quite certain this applies to many SSM supporters) I am just as adamant about the protection of a persons' right to practice their religion as I am about extending marriage rights to SS couples. Although I am not a "religious" person myself, I value the two freedoms equally as I think most of us do. In no way would I advocate the extension of rights to one group at the expense of the rights of another. Just so we're clear. Again...thanks for the link.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger ricky said...

Thanks for the background. Always helpful.

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a headache!!


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