Who is *really* re-defining marriage?

Whenever the issue of gay marriage comes up, you’ll often hear the opponents talk of it meaning “re-defining marriage”.

Does it really mean that?

I’m not so sure.  All I ever heard all my life was that you were supposed to marry the person you fell in love with.  For a long time, this has always been the standard.  Now, society assumed for centuries that you could only have romantic love between a man and a woman.  But gays obviously show that is not the case.  So, if you have two people of the same gender in romantic love, the logic suggests they should be allowed to marry, under the current definition.

Of course, marriage was not always based on romantic love. In other cultures through history, there have been examples of arranged marriages, or marriages made to cement some treaty or alliance between families or some such.  So, it’s true that at some point, a re-definition of marriage went on.  But it obviously happened quite some time ago; as for centuries now people have been getting married based on love.

I talked before in this post about why opponents of gay marriage use the Bible to justify their position.  And I’ll say this: given the circumstances of the tribes wandering in the desert, the Biblical prohibition of homosexuality makes sense.  The mortality rate must have been extremely high back then, so I figure they knew that they needed everyone who could reproduce to do so, regardless of preference. “Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, and all that.

But of course, that was then, and this is now.

The same sort of thing applies to this “re-definition” claim. It would be right if this were five hundred years ago.


  1. Actually, marriage for love is quite modern. Like, our grandparents modern. It wasn’t that long ago that marriage was for convenience if you’re poor and power if you’re wealthy. The middle class redefined marriage. They also redefined the traditional power structure. Marriage was also once thought to be something that could only happen in a church. The government couldn’t marry people. Of course, before that marriage simply meant you lived with the person. It was between the two families and the government only cared in the cases of powerful people.

    1. Thanks for the comment–all good points. And perhaps I was too sweeping in defining the different epochs of “marriage”–it’s probably still being define according to the old ways in other parts of the world. But I’d argue that it’s been defined as about love since at least the 1800s–although of course,as recently as the 1960s, interracial marriage was forbidden.

      Also, depending how far back you are going, the line between the Church and the Government gets awfully blurry, especially in Europe.

      1. Romance was something found in a lot of novels of the 1800’s, but in England, Canada, and the US marriage was still about power until the 1900’s. Queen Victoria was known as a perfect wife because she married for her family, submitted to her husband, and had a lot of kids despite being queen and technically being more powerful than her husband.

          1. It seems this way. I’ve studies the social history of the 1800’s quite a bit. Novels were generally how women escaped the real world. Men didn’t seem to do much reading though.

            1. Probably true, and I think women still read more than men do in the present day. Do you know about theater attendance in the 1800s? I would presume that that was the preferred form of taking in fiction for men, but that’s only a guess on my part.

              1. Theater was a treat from what I’ve learned. Popular among the upper class, but unavailable to the middle and lower classes. Reading is the primary past time of middle class women. Sports were gaining popularity in that time though. Middle class men did enjoy playing sports.

  2. Under common law (England’s law) all marriages were under the state, but it allows clergy the right to perform the ceremony, the license comes from the state and can only be annulled or absolved by the state. You don’t go the priest and ask for a divorce. Under Civil Code (Europe minus England) There is a civil marriage and a religious marriage, the civil recognizes the religious, but religious does not have to recognize the civil.
    Before the 1960’s under common law if two people lived together and both sides mentioned to outside parties that they were married it was known as a common law marriage and the state recognized it without a license or church ceremony. In the 60’s when the hippies wanted to live together without the chains of marriage most states that recognized common law marriages dropped them. California never recognized common law marriage and palimony as in the Lee Marvin case came about. When another actor was sued for palimony in a state that dropped common law marriages the judge denied the palimony stating that the idea was based on common law marriage which was dropped by the state.
    Marriage is complicated is what I’m trying to say, but what happened in New Mexico was unique. The state constitution did not specify that a marriage could only be between a man and woman. Gary King the attorney general (now running for governor) refused to give an opinion leaving it up to the courts. County clerks then issued same sex marriage licenses and when challenged judges cited that “what is not denied by the law is allowed under the law” permitting same sex marriages. It took about six months for the state supreme court to grant all county clerks in the state to issue same sex licenses. There was very little fuss over the issue.

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