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A history of the "sanctity" of marriage


With the constant hoopla surrounding marriage as a union between one man, one woman and involving God in the equation, it’s hard not to think that marriage has been an unchanged thing since the beginning of time.  In fact, marriage has changed a lot—ever heard that some guy added in the idea of “love”? People against gay marriage make the argument that letting gays in will ruin the sanctity of marriage as if “sanctity” were some untouchable concept. In fact, marriage and its sanctity has been touched—and prodded and manhandled and mistreated—a lot more drastically than it would be by adding a few queers into the mix. 

Love, marriage and religion:

Love didn’t always mean marriage. The concept of romance, ad how that related to marriage, was invented by the troubadours, or travelling poets, in the twelfth century. It wasn’t until St. Paul that marriage became about God either.  St. Paul turned marriage into a sacrament, rather than just a contract, when he compared husband and wife to Christ and his church. Marriage took on new meaning in the 1500’s when it became both religious and about procreation—the Council of Trent decreed that marriage should be created in the presence of a priest and two witnesses.



In the United States, somewhere around 30,000 people are involved in polygamous relationships, even though it was criminalized here in 1862.  It’s not fair to call all Mormons polygamists because although its founder Joseph Smith had dozens of wives and Brigham Young had more than fifty, the church disavowed polygamy in 1890.

 Ancient Greece:

Marriage didn’t involve much romance here. A father would match up his son with the girl that would gain him the most advantages and then sign a contract securing their union.  The groom, in his thirties, and the bride, in her teens, would usually meet at their wedding ceremony and be escorted straight to bed. Wives were for procreation, but for erotic pleasure, men turned to prostitutes and concubines, Many preferred sexual relationships with teenaged boys.  Divorce was here was legal, but more difficult for women than men.  Wives could take their dowries back, however, but women were usually only divorced in the case of adultery or infertility.

Ancient Israel:

Women were the property of their fathers or husbands here.  Marriage was used for procreation to continue the man’s line. Single people here were despised, but it was easy for women to find a mate in Israel because men could have many wives and concubines if they chose. Divorce was not common, but if a man found something he didn’t like about his wife (specifically her “uncleannliness”), he could write a decree and send her out of his house. Trends in Israel included monogamy and men being obligated to marry their brothers’ widows.   

Medieval Europe:

Christian countries of Northern Europe treated married women like domestic slaves.  In Germany, women were essentially sold (with a “bride sale,” or wedding ring) between the groom and bride’s father. If the father accepted, the wedding ceremony was the acceptance of the sale.  Roman law and Christian belief came into play in medieval times; in 866, it became necessary for the consent of both partners to condone a wedding.  However, at the same time, the church abolished divorce, making the bond insoluble until death.

Today, marriage doesn’t look very much like it did in Ancient Greece or Medieval Germany.  As for preserving marriage as if it were some decree from God, well, that’s shot because he wasn’t even around when it was invented.