I'll Give Ya "Redefining" Marriage

Long rants on marriage equality have kind of been my thing since I started writing strongly worded letters to Bill Clinton on the subject when I was 10— and now that the President finally gives a damn, it’s more important than ever to shut down the false information that bigots routinely use to rationalize their bullshit.

So in order to blow off some steam, herein I will present you with enough relevant facts and history to completely debunk this whole “we shouldn't be redefining marriage” objection to equality I keep seeing.

I admit, it takes a while. The twisted knots of logic in this argument are not easily untangled.

Let’s talk about the REAL “tradition” of marriage.

First, the easy stuff— I think the whole “marriage exists because of the children” rationale is the easiest to see through. It’s the go-to Catholic line, and it’s bologna. De. Bunked. Kids with gay parents are just as “normal” as any other kids, and it’s been proven time and time again that they don’t turn out any more warped or crazy or sexually confused than the rest. (As for kids exposed to Catholic priests… well, I digress.) So stop going on about how it’s the “best way to raise a family” — unless you want to outlaw giving all divorced and single-parent homes the same rights as other families. That seems to be the only logical extension of the rationale that we should be legislating which citizens get legally recognized and have equal rights based on “Christian” sexual morals.

Additionally, if the “purpose” of marriage is procreating, what happens if a straight married couple don’t or can’t have any children? Does that make their marriage invalid? And what about my very Catholic grandmother, who was widowed and then remarried after her childbearing years? Why does the church endorse that marriage, when the “purpose” of it cannot be fulfilled?

The idea that religious doctrine should be dictating our laws is unconstitutional, and it doesn’t take a grade school diploma to see why. A diverse republic cannot function if one group is dictating to all the others based on their superstitious beliefs rather than their democratic ideals. But that’s what these dingbats are trying to do anyway, so now that we’re done with the easy stuff, let’s move on to the real logic behind the bigotry movement.

The biggest problem I see here is this very wrong idea that marriage has “always” been between a heterosexual couple, and that changing that is somehow akin to a revolutionary overhaul of some sacred and set institution. The degree of ignorance about the history of marriage that I hear in this country is staggering, especially among the religious right— first and foremost (or at least most loudly and ignorantly) from Christians. It is perhaps understandable that they don’t know that there were two Roman emperors in gay marriages, or that such unions are documented repeatedly in ancient Asia, Greece, and Rome. But they should at least know the history of their own damn church if they’re going to go around oppressing people in its name.

In pretending that Jesus somehow condemned homosexuality or endorsed some explicit version of “Christian” marriage, they’re ignoring the true story.

Most believe that Jesus was always celibate (there’s no actual evidence of that, but I’ll allow it) so from the beginning, the “Christian ideal” was to live like Jesus— just look at his disciples. Early Christians thought the sure way to get to salvation was to live a celibate life and spread the word, “married” to God and Jesus’ teachings. Since Jesus was supposed to come back soon and save everybody anyway, what was the point of family-making? That’s just a distraction from a Christian’s true purpose. The most devotion you could show God, according to Jesus, was to leave your family and your possessions behind and follow him:

Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:27-30)

Both Jesus and Paul say that celibacy is a higher spiritual state than marriage:

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self control they should marry. For it is better to marry then to burn. (1 Corinthians 7:8)

but no one ever spells out some explicit, Jesus-inspired version of marriage, or even endorses the idea. Rather they agree that if you can’t totally devote your whole life to God, you should devote yourself to God and exclusive sexual relationships. Now, this still does not even mean 1 man and 1 woman— but rather an endorsement of existing Jewish law, about which Jesus said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law [the Old Testament] or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  (Matthew 5:17-18)

So really he’s just endorsing Jewish cultural norms and law, meaning the whole basis for “Christian marriage” is the Old Testament traditions and rules regarding Judaic marriage. In this history, there was no limit to how many wives someone could have— and while having “too many” wives was not particularly encouraged for kings, because, you know, they have important shit to do, polygamy was certainly not ever prohibited. In fact many of God’s most beloved patriarchs were polygamists. I really don’t need to go into the minutia of their rabid begatting, so suffice it to say, the Jews took that whole “Be fruitful and multiply” thing pretty seriously. (Indeed in the majority of cultures of historical record, polygamy was a norm for ages.)

Many Christians argue that Jesus spoke against polygamy when he said “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” (Luke 16:18) but this is also easily interpreted as meaning “do not set aside your current wife for a new one” just because you can’t afford both, or got tired of the first one and want another. It’s “and” marries, not “or.” This is also prohibited repeatedly in the Old Testament, which explicitly states a man shouldn’t let taking new wives affect the stature of his first wife. Basically, if you’re going to be a polygamist, keep and treat all your wives well— don’t use them like a leasing center. Jesus was against divorce in general for this reason, and never once denounced polygamy.

The truth is only rich men at this time could afford to keep multiple wives, and we’re talking about the guy who said it’s harder for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven— so those practicing polygamy were not exactly his demographic anyway. Polygamy was simply a universally accepted part of his life, just like slavery (which he also never condemned.) Jesus probably couldn’t even imagine a world without either. Instead it makes sense that he was telling his followers to respect the marriages they were already in and be faithful.

The Old Testament also has a lot of other fun guidelines for marriage, including both requiring and prohibiting “levirate,” the rule that if a man dies childless and has a brother, his brother must marry his wife. Jesus specifically endorsed this rule in Matthew 22:24-28, apparently regardless of the number of wives the brother already had. So I wonder, are we planning on bringing that “standard” back, too? (I’d love to see Michele Bachmann introduce it on the House floor, because since Jesus was certainly for it, it should obviously still stand as God’s will in her mind.)

Also on the table if we’re truly going back to “traditional” marriage is prohibiting interfaith marriage (Deut 7:3-4) and having sex with women having their period (Lev 18-19), along with the other 40+ mitzvot that deal with God’s sexual rules. This is in fact where “no man lying with man” comes from in the first place. Again, not good for population growth… kind of like eating pork in the desert. But girl-on-girl is absent from this exhaustive list, so congrats Joe Francis! (They’d have to be married, though, and women have no self-determination in that regard and are supposed to submit to men, so shit.)

Also prohibited in these laws (and so by extension, all these people “defending God’s word” should want to make them illegal now too):
clothing of mixed material, shellfish, pork, dairy touching meat, using God’s name in vain, swearing “needlessly,” doing almost anything on the Sabbath, and lending money to poor people, among many others that don’t seem to jive with modern living. Also rapists have to marry their victims, and there are tons of animal sacrifices to catch up on.

So when are the protests at Red Lobster?

Not on the agenda apparently! So why are these rules not touted loud and proud as part of the Christian moral code, but the “perversion” of homosexuality is?

There is certainly no “this rule is more important than that rule/you can ignore that little guy” exception set down. Well, Christians like to say that when Jesus died/came back, a new covenant with God began for his followers, and they have to worry more about what he said than the old Jewish rules. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Matt. 26:27-39; Luke 22:20) and all that. Paul is the best at getting around those pesky mitzvot, saying:

Do you not know, brothers - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:1-4).

While this doesn’t really make any sense because Jesus also explicitly said all those rules still stand until the end of time, the rationale of his later proselytizers seemed to be that since the Jews were none too pleased with them (and, you know, helped kill Jesus and all) they should focus on what Jesus said, and thus carry out his vision of the Kingdom of God— not the Jews’. Today that mostly means that Christians pick and choose parts from the Old Testament that jive with their personal version of what they think Jesus likes, and ignore the parts that are too hard. And they are certainly picky when it comes to enforcing the rules, even the ones Jesus endorsed— case in point: divorce.

Divorce was totally fine with the Jews in Old Testament law— as long as the man wanted it anyway— but again, Jesus was pretty emphatic about not being for it. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” right? Basically all Christians agree on the interpretation of that one. So really divorce is the main “threat” to Christian marriage— Jesus never even mentioned gays. Not once. Adultery, setting aside wives, and divorce, though, that comes up over and over. But the anti-equality mongers just ignore these distinctions (for now!), because we can’t outlaw divorce or extramarital sex, because Jesus doesn’t actually write our laws. So why should something he never even talked about be such a rallying cry for people “protecting” an already tarnished (in their view, anyway) institution?

It’s because they’re also picking and choosing their bigotry, based on a skewed misunderstanding of their own heritage.

People ignorant of this history ignore the fact that the church didn’t even have any uniform regulations for marriage until the 11th century, instead allowing civil government and local customs to dictate the union. The church did not decide to make marriage a “sacrament” until the 12th century, and a valid marriage didn’t even require a priest/witnesses/church until the 16th century. Did Christian marriages just not happen before these rules? For over a millennium? Obviously they did. But they were not considered some holy, celestial union— they were seen as marriage had been for the entire span of recorded time in the western world to that point: familial agreements furthering the protection and exchange of property. You know, daughters for sheep. The good old way. 

Jesus himself said, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30)

There was no actual “institution” of marriage EVER “created” by God with Adam and Eve like some would have you think— no ceremony, no special prayer, no rulebook outside of what was “told” to the Old Testament prophets hundreds of generations later to make all the Jewish laws that we now ignore— marriage was simply “take this woman” in the most literal sense. God made a woman (“from” Adam, no less,) and he “took” her. The end.

That is real “traditional” marriage— taking a woman as chattel. This is reinforced all over the Old and New Testaments, and goes along with the pervasive theme of “submission” that is basically a lady’s greatest spiritual achievement according to the Good Book (that and producing heirs, natch.) It is telling that from the viewpoint of the authors of the Bible, the idea of a woman having any say in a marriage is completely foreign. The church did not even require a woman to consent to a marriage until the 11th century.

So when someone says, “Well the word is MATRIMONY, and the Latin root is Mater, meaning MOTHER” to prove that somehow motherhood is an intrinsic part of all marriages everywhere, remind them that, well, there have been marriages and unions in lots of places throughout time other than the Roman Empire, but FYI, they had gay unions.

Nero “married a man named Sporus in a very public ceremony… with all the solemnities of matrimony, and lived with him as his spouse” A friend gave the “bride” away “as required by law.”   The marriage was celebrated separately in both Greece and Rome in extravagant public ceremonies.   The emperor Elagabalus married an athlete named Hierocles in a lavish public ceremony in Rome amidst the rejoicings of the citizens. (wiki) 

Many of our English words have a Latin root because that’s where our language came from. And the reason the Romans called it that was because it was a civilly recognized relationship in Rome, in which a man took a women as his wife in order to essentially legally own her. And then make her a mother. Again, women didn’t have some say in this— they had to be “given” in marriage, just like fathers symbolically do today.

So taking for granted that women have rights now in this country, that the history of marriage’s definition and execution is anything but uniform, that it’s genetically impossible that we all came from a single couple, that all the incest in the Bible is generally looked down upon now, and that most of those 613 rules that apparently these anti-equality folks want us all to live by are also basically ignored by them unless we’re talking about the gays, I think we can agree that the original, traditional “institution” of marriage these people are touting is pretty twisted— and has already been “redefined,” and how, continuously over the course of civilization.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Christian same-sex unions adapted from common pagan traditions were carried out in premodern Europe far into the dawn and spread of Christianity, just like many pagan rituals that were adapted for the church to use, along with holidays and festivals to make converting easier for the great unwashed. (This book is a great resource for anyone wanting a detailed foray into the full history.)

But as time went on and pagan rituals were slowly reformed, The Roman Empire began to decline and the church began instituting regulations policing people’s lives in its place. Christians realized Jesus actually hadn’t come back yet like he said he would, and all this celibacy they’d been endorsing wasn’t so good for their numbers, even though sex was still bad. But the women have to take care of the children anyway, and by this time the church was in full land-grabbing, male-hierarchy-building, and getting-rid-of-all-female-leaders mode, so they started telling women to relinquish any thoughts of ministry, and pushing that whole idea of being fruitful that the Jews were so good at. Gay sex (and sex outside baby-making marriage in general) simply didn’t jive with that notion.

And again, the basis for the church eventually condemning homosexuality was entirely based on interpretations of the Old Testament— Jesus never said a word about it. The motivation behind all of the many moral codes passed during this time was more about the burgeoning church establishing it’s power over the moral, sexual, and familial aspects of people’s lives, rather than there being some societal benefit to burning gays alive. (The standard punishment for homosexual acts. Those guys had some great ideas about morality.)

The history of Christian emperors starting to oppress gays in the Roman Empire is actually sort of a backward version of our own: in 342 AD they outlawed gay marriage, and in 390 AD homosexual sex. Interestingly, these acts coincided with Rome’s decline and fall shortly thereafter. In America’s case, first we instituted sodomy laws banning gay sex, and then after those were ruled unconstitutional, we started outlawing gay marriage. How appropriate then that certain Christians today refer to gays as “Barbarians.”

So the “Christian tradition” of marriage is FAR from simply being “one man one woman,” and the history of marriage itself is as convoluted and crazy as the rest of mankind’s legacy. Yet many people think it’s Americans trying to get rid of discriminatory language in their laws that are “redefining” everything. Uh-huh.

Listen, I am not a religious person, but I was raised to be. It’s not my fault that I’m simply overwhelmed by logic and don’t believe in any of this stuff above— but it is a Christian’s fault if they are going to cling to these false histories they keep touting, and turn a blind eye to the parts of the Bible they don’t like while imposing the parts they do like on nonbelievers.

To pretend like there aren’t far more glaring infractions of “God’s law” in our everyday lives than a rule briefly mentioned in the Old Testament that could be equated to eating shellfish, which Jesus never even mentioned, is laughable.
To defend a discriminatory civil law that doesn’t even affect the practice of your chosen religion, and only serves to systematically discriminate against people in perfectly legal relationships— well, that’s not funny at all. And neither is the outspoken, ignorant rhetoric that is fueling this anti-equality movement.
If they want me to take them seriously, I need one legitimate, rational, non-Old Testament reason all consenting adults can’t have equal rights in this country. Just one.
I’ll keep waiting.
Meanwhile, please stop lying. (Jesus wouldn’t approve, it’s #9 on the list.)

Pretending that marriage has “always” been between a man and a woman, even here in North America, is simply a historical fallacy.

Many Native American tribes were marrying people of the same sex before white people showed up. They viewed sexuality as a fluid, multifaceted part of the human experience, not something that was either “right” or “wrong,” or that should be forcefully changed if not easily boxed into a category. Personally I think going back to these REAL roots in this country makes a lot more sense than trying to rewrite history. 

But if you want to cling to our white forefathers and pretend they were the ones who started American history, please remember that they were in fact Protestants, and

Martin Luther declared marriage to be “a worldly thing … that belongs to the realm of government”, and a similar opinion was expressed by Calvin. The English Puritans in the 17th century even passed an Act of Parliament asserting “marriage to be no sacrament” and soon thereafter made marriage purely secular. It was no longer to be performed by a minister, but by a justice of the peace. The Restoration abolished this law and reverted to the old system, but the Puritans brought their concept of marriage to America where it survived. (Magnus Hirshfeld)

Though not entirely, apparently. 

Because, let’s face it, a lot of people just can’t let go and open their eyes to a new perspective until they are forced to by the rest of us. Recently I’ve been constantly hearing that fall-back argument that allowing marriage equality will lead to legalizing bestiality and polygamy. First, let us just stop and agree we’re all supposed to be talking only about consenting adult humans, here, and not Adam and Fido or Refrigerator & Eve.

Next, in regards to polygamy: wow. You’ve finally stumbled upon a nuanced and interesting point to untangle! Why did it take almost 100 years after this country’s founding for polygamy to even become a political issue? Why is it illegal now? I mean, it is civilly recognized in about 50 countries (for perspective’s sake, same-sex is recognized in 10) and is still widely practiced today. The President of South Africa has 4 wives. Why do we care so much?
Well, to make a long, long story very short, in the 1850’s people starting hearing about these so-called “Mormons.” They had been around for about 20 years, and they weren’t like those hill people or natives who folks of the time knew practiced such things— they were taking over whole swaths of western territory and imposing theocratic rule-- and boy they had some strange “theories.” Then came sensational stories of young girls in arranged marriages to old men, of young men forced out of their communities to make the hoarding of wives by elders possible. Did you know there was a friggin’ Morman War with the US government? I know!

So after much local and federal law-passing, in 1890 the Supreme Court finally ruled in Davis v. Beason that polygamy could be charged as a crime. “Few crimes are more pernicious to the best interests of society,” wrote Justice Field, echoing Reynolds v. United States (1878), which ruled religious duty was not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment. British law, which forms the foundation of our own, has outlawed polygamy since the 16th century. So our courts decided outlawing this practice, which caused documented harm to both people and communities, was a “legitimate concern of government.” And we haven’t heard much else about it since, at least until Big Love and its inevitable reality show spin-offs.

And, of course, from these anti-equality wackos who like to pretend that homosexuality is also harmful to society, because they said so. The next time you hear that, please for the lovagods ask for a reference. All of their studies will be from before 1990, and they will be citing “facts” like “gays make bad parents” by quoting promiscuity rates from outdated surveys of sexually active gay men in 2000 or, better yet, from a decades-old Kinsey study. Want to get a little nauseated? Here’s what passes for the full “argument”: Family Research Institute.
The FRI likes to refer to homosexuality as a “health hazard” that they are completely removed from, pretending that their widespread discrimination campaigns and promotion of bigoted ignorance is completely divorced from high rates of gay bullying and teen suicide. (In fairness, I think they have to shut that logical part of their brain down so they can also rationalize taking away someone else’s civil rights in the name of their own “freedom.”) They fail to demonstrate any modern, scientific, or quantifiable rationale for their arguments, but they’re going to keep on making them until we call them out on their misinformation.

Even Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices of ever, managed to articulate this in his dissent to Romer v. Evans (1996), which ruled unconstitutional a Colorado initiative that prevented any jurisdiction from protecting homosexual citizens from discrimination:

“It remains to be explained how §501 of the Idaho Revised Statutes was not an “impermissible targeting” of polygamists, but (the much more mild) Amendment 2 is an “impermissible targeting” of homosexuals. Has the Court concluded that the perceived social harm of polygamy is a “legitimate concern of government,” and the perceived social harm of homosexuality is not?”[4]

Yes, in fact, Tony— they have!

That is exactly what they indirectly concluded in 1996, the same year the Defense of Marriage act was passed! So why has it taken so very long (most of my life now, really) for them to for once and for all decide if homosexuality causes societal “harm,” and if regulating it serves a legitimate government purpose?

Because…. politics? I HAVE NO IDEA. Get on with it already!

What more do we have to wait for?
Do we really want to keep taking our moral cues from these people?

Do we really want to go back, legally, to women being chattel and adultery being punishable by stoning?
Or even back to the more recent past?
Because our rich American history of “traditional” marriage also includes:

- Throughout the 19th century, the age of consent was as young as 7 (Delaware) and in most places it was around 10.

- Less than 50 years ago, 17 states still had laws banning interracial marriage, and it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the last one (Alabama) removed the discriminatory language from their state constitution.

- Before the civil war, enslaved blacks and white indentured servants couldn’t marry anyone without their master’s permission, being chattel and all, and even if they were permitted, the marriages were not legally protected. You know. In case they had to sell someone. (And again, both the Old and New Testament were totally cool with slavery.)

- Married women had NO legal standing whatsoever prior to the mid 19th century, and in 12 states in 1940, were still not allowed to make legal contracts.

Is this rich legacy of discrimination and bias really what we need to be “protecting” in this country?

Or should we perhaps take a look back at history, and take a hint from how kind it is to bigotry?




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