bumper sticker image Many feel compelled to defend the sanctity of marriage by continuing to limit the legal definition of marriage as “1M1W”. The opposition to marriage equality for same-gender couples is often because of perceived dire consequences for the traditional family and society at large if it is allowed. Along with their view that 1M1W is a long-held tradition, there is the belief that such a union is the only one grounded in biblical principles.

Q: Doesn’t modern 1M1W resemble Biblical marriage?
A: Not really.

With Biblical marriage there was...
  • polygamy. David and Solomon are just two examples of “1M(many)W”
    (Genesis 29:17-28; II Samuel 3:2-5; Judges 8:30).
  • a bond which often had little to do with love, but to attain or sustain peace between two families or cities (Genesis 34:21).
  • often much older men marrying women as young as 13. Women were considered ready for marriage immediately after they began menstruating, so the tender age of the woman or the difference in age between the man and the woman were never a consideration at all.
  • encouragement to marry sisters. Example: Jacob to Leah, then to Rachel, and to 2 concubines; (see II Samuel 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chronicles 11:21).
  • validity only if the wife was a virgin, and if she was not, then she was often executed by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). By contrast, the most conservative observer might now consider it a fashion faux pas if a non-virgin bride wears white.
  • no law construed to permit divorce (see Deuteronomy 22:19; Mark 10:9; Matthew 19:8). Yet nearly 40% of all U.S. marriages end in divorce.
  • a requirement for the brother to marry the widow of his dead brother if he died childless (see Genesis 38:6-10; Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This is of course the origin of our modern “Best Man.” A woman had no standing if she wasn’t either
    * a wife,
    * living in her father’s house, or
    * a widow with at least one male child who could look after her.
  • In addition to biblical scenarios, in the middle ages the Catholic Church routinely ceremonially united male partners (i.e. Sergius & Bacchus).
  • The church did not recognize marriage until the 12th century and did not make it a sacrament until 1563 at the Council of Trent.

A summary of biblical marriage: women were often bought or sold much like any other possession, without any rights of their own. Having only one wife, often denoted the extent of the husband’s poverty. There was nothing resembling our modern concept of ‘proposal’ or ‘wedding,’ but most often consisted of a transaction of money or gifts to the bride’s father. There was no wedding ceremony in a synagogue or other house of worship.

Q: Doesn’t modern 1M1W resemble Traditional marriage?
A: Again, not really.

Traditional marriage in the United States meant...
  • strictly “whites only” until 1691.
  • Blacks could marry only with their owner’s permission beginning in 1724.
  • the wife was legally the property of the husband until 1769.
  • in the 1800s, arranged marriages were predominant in the Southern states and often between first or second cousins although first-cousin marriages are now illegal in many states.
  • polygamy which was recognized as marriage until 1862 by Congress and 1899 by the LDS.
  • wives could not own property until 1900.
  • mixing races was widely thought to be a threat to the “sanctity of marriage” and a constitutional amendment was proposed in 1912 to ban mixed-racial marriage, and at the time, an overwhelming 95% of Americans also agreed it shouldn’t be allowed. (Which is why it was ethically wrong, in the case of Proposition 8 in California, to have a marriage rights issue for a minority decided by popular vote. The law is supposed to protect a minority against the tyranny of a majority.) It is not right for me to decide which people should not be able to marry just because I disapprove.
  • contraception was illegal until 1965.
  • inter-racial marriage was finally Federally recognized, and no longer “left up to the States” in 1967 though a majority of Americans were still opposed...

  • the wife could not have credit in her name until 1975.
  • the husband was owner of all their property until 1981.
  • only 59.8% of American households were classified as “traditional” (1M1W married to each other, with at least one biological child): U.S. Census, 1981
  • more Americans approved than disapproved of inter-racial marriages finally in 1991, though they were still only 48%, with 10% undecided.
  • the husband could legally rape his wife until 1993.

Some changes to traditional marriage were met with opposition and were described as social experiments with risks too great for society to bear. Those opposed to each augmentation often warned of a “slippery slope” leading to adults marrying children, adults marrying animals, or adults marrying inanimate objects. None of the warnings were based in reality: two human adults legally able to give consent and sign a marriage certificate. Yet these are the same arguments used now against same-sex marriage.

Q: Won’t same-sex marriage harm society?
A: There is no evidence to suggest it.

The preceding historical synopsis shows that there is very little either “traditional” or “biblical” about society’s current concept of marriage. Marriage has instead changed with the times, and it remained marriage through all of these changes, even now as same-sex marriage is legally recognized. 1M1W marriage is often referred to as either biblical or traditional marriage, but history shows it is neither, that 1M1W is actually a relatively recent western construct.

To those who feel same-sex marriage poses a threat to other marriages, here is data from Massachusetts where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004. Since then the divorce rate in that state has decreased. Men and women marry each other now just as they did before, and their marriage is not redefined. No clergy of any denomination has been forced to marry same-sex couples. No church has lost its tax-exemption for refusing to officiate a same-sex marriage. Gay sex is not being taught to children in school... none of the things the anti-gay marriage activists said would happen. The only difference is that now every person—not just if they’re straight—has the freedom to marry the one they love. In the state of Massachusetts marriage is not just a special right of those who are heterosexually oriented.

In Iowa there is similar data. According to the CDC, from May to November 2008, there were 4,574 divorces statewide. In April 2009 same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa. Then from May to November 2009, the number of divorces statewide dropped to 4,322.

Same-sex marriage opponents say that they are trying to “protect” marriage. But now in all 50 States, marriage is protected for everyone. If it is simply “left up to the States” as in the case of mixed-racial marriage before Loving vs. Virginia, (or as former Vice President Cheney wants same-sex marriage left up to the States), there is no legal protection for them should couples cross state lines (as when on vacation). Marriage as an institution is strengthened when it is not exclusive to only those of heterosexual orientation.

There are no mandates of procreation put upon married heterosexual couples, and so there is no valid argument against same-sex couples’ lack of ability to procreate, especially when you consider the number of couples who choose not to, or are medically-advised not to have children, or the people beyond child-bearing age who marry every day whose marriages are universally recognized and celebrated.

The staggering number of unwanted children who age out of foster care and adoption placement is enough to show that there is no shortage of children in our society, only a shortage of caring couples who are legally eligible and willing to provide a loving home. All credible psychiatric and medical data has shown that adopted children raised in a home with same-sex parents are just as likely to be well-adjusted in every category as their heterosexual-parented adopted classmates.

In summary: It seems beyond explanation from a social conservative standpoint, that “living in fornication” (their term) be preferred to a loving, official life-long commitment that marriage provides. In this current age where there is such a relative lack of commitment to taking care of one another except as it is convenient, one would think that if two people truly love each other and would want to make their bond of relationship official, that their decision would be welcomed regardless of their physical genders.