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.