The Unholy History of Marriage

Many people think that marriage is a religious institution, and with this ideology, they believe it is right to bring their religious beliefs into the matter. This could be in the form of the belief in no premarital sex, cohabitation, or even kissing, or a condemnation of any type of homosexual marriage or romance in the first place. Usually we think of people with these beliefs as advocates for “traditional” marriage, but as it turns out, marriage itself isn’t quite traditional in any way.

As I write this, I’m getting married in exactly two weeks, so weddings and marriage are among the only things I’ve been thinking about! Additionally, I have been seeing this Girl Defined video, Why I Waited Until Marriage to Kiss (as well as this and this hilarious reaction video), and I think that a dive into what marriage actually is will show why exactly this is a ridiculous practice.

The information here is primarily taken from Rachel Oates’ awesome video, The History of Marriage & Why Same-Sex Marriage Is Normal (this video description also contains some great links to further sources), with additional details from The History of Marriage by Logan Ury, The Secret History of Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, and The Two-Minute History of Marriage by Science of Sin. Mostly, I have to thank my almost-husband for his immense help in making this blog post happen in time in the midst of my poor time management skills.

One way that marriage has evolved has been climbing the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Throughout history, the reason people got married slowly went up Maslow’s hierarchy; relationships and marriage first started as a way to achieve basic physiological needs and safety, before it had the privilege of being about love/belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. This evolution can be seen throughout the history of marriage; it is a dynamic climb that is far from a god saying once that people must get married, the have sex, then have Christian children, and it shall be so. The roots of marriage are actually quite primitive, starting with ape families around two to five million years ago.

At this time people were quite promiscuous, and practices such as homosexuality were quite common. People lived in hunter-gatherer societies, and they reared children who did not take long to develop, and therefore women and men did not stay together past the first four-ish years that it would take for a child to mature. As time went on, meat became a larger part of the daily diet: this led to more developed brains, an early reproductive age, and more slowly developed offspring. People quickly found that they could not provide for themselves while also protecting their families, so this led to the women taking care of their babies while the men hunted. Out of this came the necessity for a man and a woman to stay together to raise the children, for it was more convenient and safe.

I also find this aspect of human evolution fascinating although I’m sure I barely know a sliver of it; I know that the beginning of people becoming smarter led to having larger brains which made for painful labor through a too-small upright pelvic bone, a pitiful amount of helplessness at birth and painstakingly long time to mature, and somehow it also involves the reasons why humans lost the coarse body hair that our ape cousins have. The details of human evolution are so intricately interwoven. But I digress in awe of evolution once again—back to marriage.

Next came agriculture, and now instead of moving from place to place, people began staying in one place. This lifestyle was the start of the family unit, which centered around long term unions and gender roles. These could be considered the first marriages, although they weren’t yet official. As time went on, people tended to stay together longer so the farm could stay operational and the kids can be cared for until adulthood.

Later on in Europe, men stayed around the family unit as the women raised the children. This gave rise to marriage as a political, economic, legal, and civil institution. In Rome, Native America, and Africa polygamy and homosexuality were both common. (See, I told you marriage was never traditional!) Throughout history, marriage was polygamous, and even in the Pentateuch, marriage was mostly defined as polygamy (and far worse things that most Christians would be appalled by today), so that’s “biblical marriage” for you.

But despite what the bible said . . . then came along the Roman Catholic Church. In the 12th century, they made marriage a sacred sacrament, and they did their ceremonies in public with a priest, a dowry, and witnesses, including God. Women were seen as the property of men, so husbands could beat and rape them freely—hey, maybe the church did follow biblical marriage after all! In 1306, the Byzantines declare homosexuality, incest, and sorcery as sins (because homosexuality and sorcery are just so much alike). The Victorian era saw the birth of what could be considered the earliest form of official dating: courtship. During the initial courtship stage, a couple would get to know each other, but never without a chaperone. If they got along alright, it would lead to engagement where people could hold hands in public and not be chaperoned. Marriage required a dutiful wife and mother and a man to own everything she has. It was expected that one would marry within one’s own class, although as classes became blurred, so did this rule become more lenient.

Today marriage is more about love (and equality) and less about assets and economics. In the United States, interracial marriage was legalized in 1967 and homosexual marriage in 2015. Marriage has been and still is very different in different societies, and it is just a social construct with a changing definition. With this changing definition, one could say that today’s love-centered marriages are destroying “traditional marriage”. Overall, marriage and monogamy is a product of our species and our evolution. It was then later adopted into religions and governments, in which they imposed made up rules such as what constitutes a marriage, how it is deemed official, and who can participate.

If one was to say that traditional marriage is all about class, or being owned, or even for the express purpose of having kids or running a farm, instead of spending your life with the one you love, then traditional marriage isn’t for me anyway. I think that in our society it is optional, and relationships can thrive without it. My fiance and I chose to get married because it is what we both want, but being married isn’t going to greatly change the love that we already had anyways—before the government got involved.

20 Replies to “The Unholy History of Marriage”

  1. Here’s something else to consider. Religious people think modern humans have only been around for 6 to 10 thousand years. Thing is, we’ve found modern hominid fossils and it goes back 200,000 to 350,000 years. We Homo Sapiens have been around for some time.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This … interracial marriage was legalized in 1967 and homosexual marriage in 2015 .. stood out to me. Why should LAWS be required as to who marries who? Oh wait! I know the answer … the FUNDAMENTALISTS need them to keep from seeing the world as it truly is. sigh

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What an interesting post. There’s a passage in Homer’s “The Odyssey” that reflects another interesting aspect of the necessity for marriage. Athena visits the home of Odysseus in order to rouse his son Telemachus and get him out into the world to look for his missing father. Athena disguises herself as a family friend Mentes. She says to Telemachus that by his “looks” he must be the son of Odysseus. Telemachus replies:

     Friend, let me put it in the plainest way.  
     My mother says I am his son; I know not
     surely. Who has known his own engendering?
    

    Telemachus raises an interesting issue. Who knows who the baby daddy is? While the marriage institution has never quite solved that problem, it was another way to formalize the management of mates as well as keeping track of first born males and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like Jordan Peterson’s thoughts on marriage. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but something along the lines of two people making an agreement that when things get tough, (and they do and will over and over again) you’ve promised to each other that you won’t run away. There’s some comfort in knowing that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great post and I’m excited for the both of you! It is a good thing society doesn’t pressure us all to get married anymore, but for those who actually want to get married to someone (like yourself), I’m all for it.

    When I was Christian, a bunch of people I knew waited until marriage to awkwardly kiss their partner in front of everyone. I’m not someone to rage at other people’s choices like that, but damn what kind of relationship did they have beforehand if there’s no expression of passion? I guess they, like many Christians, rush to get married so that they get God’s seal of approval while he watches them have sex…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Hahaha. Recently I read a Christian book on sex and marriage (for some fun so I could review it), and the author suggested God enjoys watching us have sex. The book was exactly as creepy as it sounds, especially the section ‘for the ladies’.

        Like

  6. Marriage as I understand it was often a property agreement between neighboring families, where the eligible girl was betrothed to the landowner’s son, for a tract of land or a farm, or whatever it took. The bride’s father got shares in the land, the bride (and her dowry) went to whomever was chosen for her.
    Not unlike primitive tribes where the girl’s dowry consists of three sheep and a small herd of cows, and the groom pays her father with land or whatever the current currency is.

    Even marriages among royalty were business propositions.
    In this country there was something called “dower’s rights’ that meant if a woman was widowed she was not summarily thrown out of her husband’s house (since women rarely owned property in those days) but was ‘allowed” a room with a door to the outside, a certain amount of wood for the winter, and the rights to a third of the property, called ‘thirds’. This was in effect even into the early 2oth century, and was written into deeds.

    Marriages by then may have become love matches as well as property acquistions, but a woman’s legal rights were slim to none, once she was widowed.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Ah, a subject I have difficulty bringing up to mom. She’s a firm believer that God dictated marriage to be between a man and a woman through the Bible. And I suppose that’s true (especially as often as the bible’s been edited over the years). Well, the church didn’t get that authority til the Dark ages and all the crazy social changes and upheavals thanks to the plague decades. As the last major institution in Europe still standing…sort of…they got authority over marriage.

    I read “Marriage: a History” by Ms. Coontz and learned so much of what you’ve said here through that book among others. One thing that bugs me about Christian teachings and traditional marriage (i.e., no gay people allowed) is what about natural born hermaphrodites? If a person can only marry someone of the opposite sex, and if hermaphrodites got the parts of both sexes, can they get married, and to whom?

    Ooh, research topic! (scurries off…)

    Liked by 3 people

  8. “Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha is a wonderful study of the evolution of human nature vis-à-vis sexuality and the uneasy relationship between human nature and the western concept of monogamous marriage. I reviewed it in https://lionsdan.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/sex-as-a-need-a-near-celibate-reviews-sex-at-dawn-the-prehistoric-origins-of-modern-sexuality-2010/

    Congratulations on your big day!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent points. And here’s a humorous takeoff on “Biblical marriage.” I haven’t checked all of the Biblical references, but they sound accurate. At the end I’ve added one more Biblical marriage rule that’s truly shocking.

    Here is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on
    Biblical principles:

    A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one
    man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.)

    B. Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in
    addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

    C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin.
    If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

    D. Marriage between a believer and a nonbeliever shall be forbidden.
    (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

    E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the
    constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be
    construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

    F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the
    widow. If he refuses to marry his brother’s widow or deliberately does not
    give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished
    in a manner to be determined by law.(Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

    And here’s the way the Bible suggests dealing with rape:

    “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

    No reasonable person today would imagine that God wants a rape victim to marry her rapist. Notice that nothing is said about whether the young woman WANTS to sleep with her assailant every night for the rest of her life.

    — Rev. Roger C. Schriner, Minister Emeritus, Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fremont CA

    Liked by 4 people

  10. One point you didn’t mention (unless I missed it) that many of the religions realized they were in a race: the one with the most adherents wins! So, anything that got in the way of women popping out new adherents was to be opposed: women’s sexual rights, homosexuality, anything that got in the way of more children was opposed. Obviously the adherents who can be most effectively indoctrinated are those who grow up in “traditional” families.

    So, these stances were political, not scriptural, other when people like Paul started making things up wholesale (he was a big fan of abstinence, which is also on the list of those things that get in the way of more children. For political reasons, this didn’t take off (except in the clergy in which it was, and is, a control mechanism).

    Liked by 3 people

  11. A couple of months ago, I had the marriage debate with someone. I too searched for the historicity of religion and found a blurb on how in Europe, marriage was a civil union… that is, until the Bishops wanted the church to “sign off” on all marriages.

    Religion didn’t invent marriage, they actually corrupted it.

    Best wishes on your special day! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

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