What is Traditional Marriage Anyway?

Recently a friend told me that they “just believed what Christians have always believed for thousands of years” about marriage. Hmmmmm. Really?
Do they believe in arranged marriage? Marriage for family connections or financial gain? Women being forced to marry their rapists?

There was an excellent article written this week on this very subject called, Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves by Jay Michaelson on Religiondispatches.org. In it Mr. Michaelson pointed out in answer to the assertion by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that marriage has been one man, one woman for over five thousand years by pointing out the following (from the Bible):

Abraham had two wives, Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar. King Solomon had 700 wives, plus 300 concubines and slaves. Jacob, the patriarch who gives Israel its name, had two wives and two concubines. In a humanist vein, Exodus 21:10 warns that when men take additional wives, they must still provide for their previous one. (Exodus 21:16 adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her, he has to marry her, too.) But that’s not all. In biblical society, when you conquered another city, tribe, or nation, the victorious men would “win” their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. It also commanded levirate marriage, the system wherein, if a man died, his younger brother would have to marry his widow and produce heirs with her who would be considered the older brother’s descendants.

He goes on to make the points that marriages up until 200 years or so ago were all arranged marriages (the idea that people would get married of their own volition to a spouse of their own choosing was a radical notion), and that in Europe and North America, marriage was mainly a commercial proposition rather than a romantic one. As he says,

Princes married princesses not because of fairy tales, but because their parents had political alliances to consider. Further down the economic ladder, people married for a variety of biological, commercial, and genealogical reasons—but rarely for love. (See Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History for more.).

And finally he raises the issue of interracial marriage, which certainly was not traditional and was even seen by some as a crime against nature and God up until the 1960s.  We must remember that a century ago, African Americans were not considered fully human by religious conservatives. Interracial marriage—as much as it’s disgusting to even say so today—was seen as an unnatural marriage between different species.

Last week I also ran across a little something that BLEW MY MIND. Now, in all fairness, these ceremonies were mainly “civil unions” more for legal purposes and not carnal ones, however there are indications in some of the cases where the men concerned were also called lovers. My point in bringing it up here is that these “unions” certainly call into question at the very least what “traditional marriage” actually means.

Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, wrote a little book called, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. In it he cites liturgical church documents which discuss, Christian ceremonies dating from the 10th-12th centuries called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” and the “Order for Uniting Two Men”.  These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, the couple was blessed at the alter with their right hands joined, they exchanged vows, a priest administered the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was held afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.

The chronicler Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) recorded Christian same-sex  unions taking place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

Boswell also tells of same sex unions as late as 1578 that took place at St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church).  As many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together” according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.

Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in many archives such as the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.

The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in his collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).

British historian Alan Bray in his book The Friend, gives a Latin text and translation of a similar Latin Catholic Rite from Slovenia, entitled Ordo ad fratres faciendum, literally “Order for the making of brothers”. Also see Allan Tulchin, “Same-Sex Couples Creating Households in Old Regime France: The Uses of the Affrèrement.”[4] in the Journal of Modern History: September 2007, which article demonstrates the ceremony of affrèrement in France joined unrelated same-gender couples in life long unions which raised family, held property jointly, and were in all respects the same as or equivalent to marriages in terms of law and social custom, as shown by parish records.

In an article written by Allan Tulchin titled, The 600 Year Tradition Behind Same-Sex Unions, he states,

The affrèrement, which existed in France and elsewhere in late medieval Mediterranean Europe, was a contract that provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware. Non-nuclear households were quite common in Mediterranean Europe — more than half the population probably consisted of people in such households. So it is hardly surprising that the law provided for affrèrements as a means to regulate them.

The consequences of entering into an affrèrement were profound. The new “brothers” pledged to live together sharing ‘un pain, un vin, et une bourse’—one bread, one wine, and one purse. All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other’s legal heir, cutting off other close relatives. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, normally the friends of the affrèrés. The model for these household arrangements is that of two or more brothers who have inherited the family home on an equal basis from their parents and who will continue to live together, just as they did when they were children. But the affrèrement was not only for brothers, since many other people, including relatives and non-relatives, and even married couples, used it.

He also writes in an article in the Journal of Modern History:

But non-relatives also used the contracts. In cases that involved single, unrelated men, Tulchin argues, these contracts provide “considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships.

While my post today doesn’t clear up much on the topic of marriage, one thing is for certain, marriage as recognized and practiced by American churches and the U.S. Government is anything but “what Christians have always believed for thousands of years.”

You can look up the research in these places.
http://www.amazon.com/Christianity-Social-Tolerance-Homosexuality-Fourteenth/dp/0226067114
Saints Sergius & Bacchus, Roman martyrs. Their Catholic feast day  is October 7th. Catholic Encyclopedia [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13728a.htm ]
John Eastburn Boswell (American Council of Learned Societies); Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Random House, June 1994

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8 thoughts on “What is Traditional Marriage Anyway?

  1. Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, wrote a little book called, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century.

    I used to have a copy of that book, and wish I still did (I wouldn’t call a 448pp.-book “little,” though :D).

    He subsequently wrote Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.

    His claims and assertions are not without controversy, though: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boswell

  2. Nanette says:

    Its easy to say youre against something and that a certain group of people are wrong and have no chance to enjoy the privalge and life that others have. Until you meet some of those people and get to know them and they are apart of your world….then you have to think critical and start having conversations.The more you distinst yourself or even cut off those who are different then you the more narrowminded I think we can become. Figuring this stuff out is what life is all about. Im glad we are here to do it together!

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