Category Archives: same-sex marriages

How marriage has changed over centuries

How marriage has changed over centuries

The Week Staff
Ron Royals/Corbis  June 1, 2012

Since the ancient world, marriage has evolved from a preservation of power to a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness.

Has marriage always had the same definition?
Actually, the institution has been in a process of constant evolution. Pair-bonding began in the Stone Age as a way of organizing and controlling sexual conduct and providing a stable structure for child-rearing and the tasks of daily life. But that basic concept has taken many forms across different cultures and eras. “Whenever people talk about traditional marriage or traditional families, historians throw up their hands,” said Steven Mintz, a history professor at Columbia University. “We say, ‘When and where?'” The ancient Hebrews, for instance, engaged in polygamy — according to the Bible, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines — and men have taken multiple wives in cultures throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. Polygamy is still common across much of the Muslim world.

The idea of marriage as a sexually exclusive, romantic union between one man and one woman is a relatively recent development. Until two centuries ago, said Harvard historian Nancy Cott, “monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion” of the world population, found in “just Western Europe and little settlements in North America.”

When did people start marrying?
The first recorded evidence of marriage contracts and ceremonies dates to 4,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia. In the ancient world, marriage served primarily as a means of preserving power, with kings and other members of the ruling class marrying off daughters to forge alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs. Even in the lower classes, women had little say over whom they married. The purpose of marriage was the production of heirs, as implied by the Latin word matrimonium, which is derived from mater (mother).

When did the church get involved?
In ancient Rome, marriage was a civil affair governed by imperial law. But when the empire collapsed, in the 5th century, church courts took over and elevated marriage to a holy union. As the church’s power grew through the Middle Ages, so did its influence over marriage. In 1215, marriage was declared one of the church’s seven sacraments, alongside rites like baptism and penance. But it was only in the 16th century that the church decreed that weddings [need to] be performed in public, by a priest, and before witnesses.

What role did love play?
For most of human history, almost none at all. Marriage was considered too serious a matter to be based on such a fragile emotion. “If love could grow out of it, that was wonderful,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History. “But that was gravy.”

In fact, love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible with one another. A Roman politician was expelled from the Senate in the 2nd century B.C. for kissing his wife in public — behavior the essayist Plutarch condemned as “disgraceful.” In the 12th and 13th centuries, the European aristocracy viewed extramarital affairs as the highest form of romance, untainted by the gritty realities of daily life. And as late as the 18th century, the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote that any man who was in love with his wife was probably too dull to be loved by another woman.

[In many societies, both ancient and modern, levirate marriage was practiced.   Among the Hebrews, a levirate marriage is literally a “marriage with a brother-in-law.” The word levirate, which has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi, comes from the Latin word levir, “a husband’s brother.” In ancient times, if a man died without a child, it was common for the man’s unmarried brother to marry the widow in order to provide an heir for the deceased. A widow would marry a brother-in-law, and the first son produced in that union was considered the legal descendant of her dead husband.

We see a couple of examples in the Bible of levirate marriage. The first is the story of Tamar and Onan in Genesis 38. Tamar had been married to Er, a son of Judah. Er died, leaving Tamar childless (Genesis 38:6–7). Judah’s solution was to follow the standard procedure of levirate marriage: he told Er’s brother Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother” (verse 8). Onan was more than willing to sleep with Tamar, but, unfortunately, he had no desire to have a child with her: “Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother” (verse 9). In other words, Onan was taking selfish advantage of levirate marriage. He wanted sex with his sister-in-law, but he purposefully avoided impregnating her. God called Onan’s actions “wicked” and killed him (verse 10).  Onan was also aware that, if Tamar became pregnant, her child would claim a portion in the family inheritance.  Thus, the inheritance coming to Onan would be diluted.

Levirate marriage became part of the Law in Deuteronomy 25:5–6. There, the Israelites are commanded to care for women whose husbands died before they had children. An unmarried brother of the deceased man bore a responsibility to marry his sister-in-law: God called it “the duty of a brother-in-law” (Deuteronomy 25:5). God’s purpose for levirate marriage is stated: “The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel” (verse 6). In ancient Israel the passing on of the family name and the inheritance within a tribe were vitally important (see Numbers 36:7 and 1 Kings 21:3).

Notice that levirate marriage was a match not born out of affection but out of duty.  Deut 25:7-10 illustrates this very well:

However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

The social pressure specified here was enormous.  The village elders, meanwhile, were intent upon providing for the widow from the resources of the family into which she married in the first place.  If that family failed to care for her out of obligation and if her parents were unwilling to allow her to return home, then the community had another charity case to attend to.

In India today, widows are often expelled from the family home and left to languish on the streets and alleyways.  This is done because the widow is held responsible (due to bad Karma) for the early death of her husband.  In older times, the widow threw herself on the burning funeral pyre thus eliminating any need to take care of her.  Today, along the shores of the Ganges River, communities of forsaken widows can be found.  The women here learn to chant sacred pujas and are given meager food and lodging in exchange for their prayers.  It is not a happy situation, to be sure.

Notice that levirate marriage allows for loveless unions and for polygamy.  Perhaps this explains why Jews have long ago abandoned levirate marriage,  and even the most devout Jews are not anxious for its return even though Deut 25:5 makes it clear that this is God’s will.  The existence of levirate marriage in Deut 25:5 also makes it clear that, when Gen 1-2 speaks of one-man-one-woman marriages, this does not mean that this precludes the mandating of one-man-two-women marriages in Deut 25:5.]

When did romance enter the picture?
In the 17th and 18th centuries, when Enlightenment thinkers pioneered the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness. They advocated marrying for love rather than wealth or status. This trend was augmented by the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the middle class in the 19th century, which enabled young men to select a spouse and pay for a wedding, regardless of parental approval. As people took more control of their love lives, they began to demand the right to end unhappy unions. Divorce became much more commonplace.

Did marriage change in the 20th century?
Dramatically. For thousands of years, law and custom enforced the subordination of wives to husbands. But as the women’s-rights movement gained strength in the late 19th and 20th centuries, wives slowly began to insist on being regarded as their husbands’ equals, rather than their property. “By 1970,” said Marilyn Yalom, author of A History of the Wife, “marriage law had become gender-neutral in Western democracy.” At the same time, the rise of effective contraception fundamentally transformed marriage: Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. If they were unhappy with each other, they could divorce — and nearly half of all couples did. Marriage had become primarily a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness. This new definition opened the door to gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married, too. “We now fit under the Western philosophy of marriage,” said E.J. Graff, a lesbian and the author of What Is Marriage For? In one very real sense, Coontz says, opponents of gay marriage are correct when they say traditional marriage has been undermined. “But, for better and for worse, traditional marriage has already been destroyed,” she says, “and the process began long before anyone even dreamed of legalizing same-sex marriage.”

Gay ‘marriage’ in medieval Europe
Same-sex unions aren’t a recent invention. 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.  (source)

Natural Law and Sexual Morality

Natural Law and Sexual Morality

by Chaplain Mike  27 May 2015

• • •
In light of the Irish vote to legalize same-sex marriage, a decision that has its Catholic leaders pondering what the future might hold, I thought we might discuss a few thoughts about traditional Christian teaching on sexuality, in particular the place of “natural law” in understanding sexual morality.
We traditional Christians tend to think our view of morality is a slam-dunk. That nature itself teaches clearly the purposes and goals for sexual relations, and that God’s revelation in the Bible and the Church’s Word and Spirit-prompted traditions are unequivocally compatible with those natural laws. As Peter Leithart writes at First Things: “Through the creation, human beings know the ordinance of God that there is a ‘natural function’ for sexuality.”

In Humane Vitae (1968), the monumental Catholic document about contemporary sexual morality, the Church teaches that moral sexual acts meet three criteria. They must be:
• Marital
• Unitive
• Procreative

As the Catechism says:

Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter—appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.

This makes sense to me. I count myself traditional when it comes to matters of sexual morality.

But I wonder if appealing to natural law is really the best way to make the traditional point. It seems to me that nature teaches us some things fundamental about biology and reproduction. Male and female bodies complement one another. Human beings reproduce by joining them together in sexual intercourse. If we bring our Creator into the discussion, we might say that God designed our bodies this way for this purpose — this biological, procreative purpose. . . .

I’m not convinced that nature teaches us that sex should be marital. Or that “marital” must involve only one man and one woman, joined together for life. It seems to me that we need more information than what we could get from observing the natural world to come up with that.

Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, thinks the Church may have overplayed her hand with its emphasis on natural law teaching, especially in light of the contemporary debate on same-sex unions.
The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior.

Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University:

A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.

The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

Noting that proponents also use natural law to show the immorality of birth control, masturbation and even non-reproductive sexual acts between heterosexuals, Gutting asks two questions:
First, why, even if non-reproductive sex were somehow less “natural” than reproductive, couldn’t it still play a positive role in a humanly fulfilling life of love between two people of the same sex?
Second, why must non-reproductive sex be only for the selfish pleasure of each partner, rather than, as Corvino put it, a way of building, celebrating, and replenishing their shared intimacy?

He is making the argument that the unitive and marital functions of sexuality can be fulfilled in relationships and through practices that are not necessarily procreative. The most conservative Catholic teachers disagree, and deny that any sexual act that leads to orgasm apart from intercourse is [il-] legitimate, even for heterosexual married couples. Yet we know that married couples continue their sexual relations long past childbearing years when no procreative purpose is in view, and find ways of pleasuring one another apart from intercourse alone. I suspect that those teachers don’t have a full appreciation of the significance of mutual pleasure in the sexual relationship.

As a traditionalist, if I were listing the essential elements of a “moral sexual act,” I would add “mutual pleasure” to marital, unitive, and procreative.

This “pleasure principle” is where a closer look at nature and human nature in particular might backfire on the traditional view. For example, because of the male anatomy, sexual intercourse is perfectly designed for male pleasure. This is not the case, however, with women. The anatomy of the female orgasm is focused on the clitoris, which is outside the vagina. The vast majority of women do not experience sexual climax through intercourse, but through direct stimulation of this external organ, and it’s entirely possible that those who do have orgasms during coitus have them because they receive indirect stimulation there. In other words, if sex is for mutual pleasure, then nature provided women with the wrong equipment to receive that pleasure through the procreative act alone.

It is not only nature, but the Bible itself that emphasizes the “mutual pleasure” significance of sex. In fact, one entire book of the Bible is devoted to it: The Song of Songs. This inspired, canonical work celebrates the unitive and mutual pleasure facets of love and sexuality with little emphasis on its marital aspects and no emphasis at all on its procreative possibilities. Maybe this book is one way God laughs at our little moral formulae.

Now, none of this is enough to persuade me to be anything other than the conservative person I am when it comes to sex, marriage, and family. And I have no agenda here of trying to persuade anyone else of anything. All this is simply to say that observations like these make me more cautious about thinking any case for a certain form of morality is strictly black and white, especially when based upon so-called “natural law” teaching.

This also makes me want to take much less of an “us vs. them” approach to talking about sexuality. The fact is, people who do not practice traditional morality may find great meaning, satisfaction, and deep bonds of love in their sexual relationships. For me to simply dismiss those people out there in “the world” as enslaved and bound by selfish desires, seeking their own pleasure at the expense of others, is not an honest portrayal of the people I observe every day. Loving my neighbor means I can learn from my neighbor, appreciate my neighbor, and see the image of God in him or her even though we hold different moral views.

I can maintain my moral beliefs and still confess that things can get a bit murky.

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
For which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid.  (Proverbs 30:18-19, NASB)
=======================================
E.G. says:
May 27, 2015 at 12:24 am
Appeals to ‘natural law’ can really go awry.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traumatic_insemination

Robert F says:
May 27, 2015 at 5:34 am
I increasingly have a hard time putting any credence in any sexual morality that attempts to micromanage from outside what happens inside other people’s sexual lives. Such intrusion seems extremely unnatural to me, any way you cut it.

Miguel says [to Robert F]:
May 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm
Right? I mean, Jesus and all them had some important stuff to say about the topic and all, but I kind of appreciate how general and vague they tended to be. There’s a few things clearly over the line, and the rest is “love your neighbor.” ….just not in that way.

The Finn says:
May 27, 2015 at 6:03 am
> I count myself traditional when it comes to matters of sexual morality.
Same here
> I’m not convinced that nature teaches us that sex should be marital.
Agree. It does not seem nature has much interest in the matter.
> the Church may have overplayed her hand with its emphasis on natural law teaching
I agree. Natural Law upon analysis very often looks like “what we thought was ‘normal’ yesterday” more than it appears to be derivative of something from Nature. Nature is massive, you can find all kinds of things within it.
> All this is simply to say that observations like these make me more cautious about thinking any case for a certain form of morality is strictly black and white, especially when based upon so-called “natural law” teaching.
+1
> For me to simply dismiss those people out there in “the world” as enslaved and bound by selfish desires, seeking their own pleasure at the expense of others, is not an honest portrayal of the people I observe every day
Amen.
I know some really amazing people ‘of the world’; to accuse them of selfishness in their personal relationship would be unconscionable.

Henry Darger says:
May 28, 2015 at 6:16 am
Why does “traditional” Christianity always boil down to its most bigoted aspects? Whatever happened to love, the Golden Rule, etc.? On the subject of sex, the internet atheists are far more sensible and ethically grounded than this retrograde claptrap:

The Church Doesn’t Get to Make the Rules About Sex Anymore

Stephen says:
May 27, 2015 at 9:12 am
May I point out that a Church who privileges celibacy just might not be the best source of advice on human sexuality?  And we should probably note that the Church’s teachings on sexuality are one of the most often cited factors in the rise of the ‘Nones’?
I was reading an article recently on the so-called “Purity Ball” movement in some Conservative Christian groups where ceremonies are held in which daughters pledge their virginity until marriage to their Fathers. The article pointed out that polls show young girls who pledge their virginity are just as likely to have premarital sex as ones who do not. But there is a striking increase in the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies among the pledgers because they aren’t taught about contraception!

Chaplain Mike says:
May 27, 2015 at 5:08 pm
Earlier in the post I mentioned that the pleasure factor enhances unity, but I think it’s more than that, especially when viewed from the standpoint of what nature teaches. By nature, the sex act is pleasurable and since both partners are capable of orgasm, it is apparently designed for mutual pleasure. I think that traditional teaching has understated this for fear that an emphasis on pleasure will undercut moral responsibility. In my view that has had disastrous consequences. Neither nature nor the Bible is shy about the pleasure sex provides. If God made our bodies and the sexual process, he apparently designed them for pleasure as well as procreation, and in the case of females that doesn’t happen usually through intercourse. I thought that these were points worthy of making “mutual pleasure” a separate point.

Natural Law and Sexual Morality

Review

Kevin Kukla’s Klaptrap — Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk

by Dr. Aaron Milavec

Two years ago I discovered Kevin Kukla’s claptrap on his website, ProLife365.org.  At first, I was just annoyed.  Then I realized that Kevin represented an educated, upwardly mobile Catholic Fundamentalist who is intent upon upholding and defending the entire Vatican ideology regarding the sexual issues of our day.  Moreover, Kevin imagines himself to be a crusader bent upon bringing to young people the sure and unchanging truths of Catholic sexuality that even most priests are embarrassed to teach.  As a Catholic theologian who has trained future priests and lay ministers for 25 years, I have sought to fairly and systematically examine Kevin’s claims.  My findings are as follows. . . .

kkkcover800

Equally Blessed: We invite our bishops to include us LGBT Catholics

Equally Blessed: We invite our bishops to include us LGBT Catholics wholeheartedly in the World Meeting of Families

Jim Smith 25 Aug

There is an encounter in the Christian scriptures that has the power to take one’s breath away.

Jesus is invited to the home of a religious leader. A woman, an outcast and sinner, shows up too. Safe to say, she is not invited. In the scene, one of the most poignant in the Gospels, the woman positions herself close to Jesus, washes his feet with her tears (her tears!) and dries them with her hair. It is as if all the moments of this outcast’s life, her sufferings and joys and sins and successes, are collected and reconciled in those tears and given to Jesus in the form of love.

But the host is repulsed by this encounter. Jesus, by authority of his own pure love, invites him to honor her dignity and faith (Luke 7:36-50). We’re not told if the leader is changed by the encounter. Over 2,000 years later, we’re still not sure.

In just a few weeks, throngs of Catholics will enter the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. These people will bring the same tears of love and faith brought to Jesus so many years ago. Fourteen families from our Equally Blessed coalition will be among them: parents of transgender or gay children who have been challenged over thousands of days and nights to love those kids unconditionally, who know viscerally what it means, in the words of the prophet Micah, “to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly” in their parental roles; gay couples with children who live by the promise to raise those children “according to the love of Christ”; transgender, intersex and gay persons themselves who are coming through a fire of marginalized existence into the freedom of God’s beloved, finally knowing their “sin” is not who they are and whom they love, but what chases us all — greed, fear, hate, hubris.

These Catholics have much to bring to the table of the World Meeting of Families. We are not the enemy of the many bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Pope Francis, who will also attend.

In fact, we are allies in the mission of the church to strengthen familial bonds, to unify the Body of Christ in her beautiful diversity, to bring Good News to the poor, to welcome the stranger and to bring hope to the brokenhearted. Our own hearts have been broken, sometimes by our own church, so we bring real experience to what Pope Francis has famously called “the field hospital” of the church.

We invite our bishops and our good pope to include us wholeheartedly in the “big tent” gathering of Catholic families in September. But if they don’t, we will still be in the room. Like that woman in the Gospel, we will be there with our tears of redemption and love to mingle with many other Catholics. No question about that.

The real question is, will there be voices in the background gasping and whispering? We hope not. We hope for outstretched arms from fellow sinners and saints, for we are all of us in our great diversity, one body.

[Jim Smith is the associate director of DignityUSA and a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition.]