What’s All This Fuss Over Marriage?

So the United States Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage in all of the 50 states. And it was hailed as a decision for basic common sense, civil rights, and human dignity. Not everyone is happy about it, though. And I wonder why those opposed to same-sex marriage are all hot and bothered about it.

I have read somewhere once that “the origin of marriage was to create a legal contract by which a man could acquire a female slave.” That is probably why getting married is something I am not particularly excited about.

According to Marina Adshade, an Economics Professor at Dalhousie University who teaches a course on the Economics of Sex and Love,  the first humans (those who lived between 5 to 1.8 million years ago) had very little use for marriage. It’s presumed that the early males and females had sex with many partners. Food sharing was principally in exchange for sexual favors, including sexual favors between same-sex pairs.

“Because females could collect food (fruits, nuts, and insects) while still carrying and protecting their babies, males were not needed as protectors or providers. That meant that in this period neither partner gained from being in a committed pair,” wrote Adshade.

As the climate warmed and forests receded, humans began to scavenge meat left behind by predators, and eventually, meat killed by hunters using tools. Adshade explained that a more meat-based diet meant that babies were born earlier requiring more care from their mothers. During this period, the males and females whose offspring were the most likely to survive were those that formed the very first marriages.

When humans started to grow their own food, it revolutionized human relations. The most productive household arrangements were ones in which men and women divided their tasks. Men, who were less physically tied to children, went off to work on the land while women stayed closer to home and cared for the children and did other chores. This is the period in which marriage became the union between two people that was recognized by their community.

The creation of marriage as a legal contract between a man and a woman came into being much later as communities settled on what was a “normal” way for them to organize a family and then codified that normalcy into law.

The norm then was men and women were responsible for feeding and caring for their own children. Since only women can be certain of their children because they carried them inside their bodies and gave birth to them, men needed a little more incentive to follow that norm. So laws were created to give men some sort of an assurance that the children they were feeding and raising were their own and women an assurance that the men would not leave them alone with nothing.

In short, marriage originated from the biological desire of both men and women to see their children survive. It is a survival strategy.

These norms that became laws evolved throughout history. At some point, a wife was considered her husband’s property. Marriage was used to strengthen a family’s financial or political position. Thus, marriage was a contract made between the bride’s father (or brother) and the groom.

Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, a History,” noted that marriage was not really about the relationship between a man and a woman. “It was a way of getting in-laws, of making alliances, and expanding the family labor force,” she said.

In ancient Greece, the ideal union was considered to be between an adult man and an adolescent boy. The early Christian church, in fact, was against marriage believing that “marriage and family were distractions from the path to salvation.” The ideal was to remain single and celibate. Same-sex marriage that was recognized in ancient Rome extended until the Christian era and there were some historical evidence of Church-sanctioned same sex unions.

Contrary to popular belief, religion had nothing to do with how marriage as we know it now started. In fact, if we based it on the Bible, the first marriage happened between a naked man and a naked woman and a snake. After being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, their descendants had complicated relationships often involving more than one wife and several concubines.

The Church did not get into the marriage business until 1563 at the Council of Trent when it made it a sacrament. And the motivation for making marriage a sacrament was actually because of developing Protestant theology which did not recognize marriage as a sacrament. The Council felt a need to clarify that and challenge Protestant teaching that it wasn’t.

Because it was already a sacrament, the Church required not just witnesses to weddings but that weddings must be officiated by a priest. Before that, people got married on their own simply by exchanging vows in private and the Church accepted the couple’s word without corroborating evidence needed.

Marriage was not about love either. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that it became acceptable as a foundation for marriage. With the growth of middle class and new money, marriage as “a family-arranged event of exchanging a daughter into a family for gain” was frowned upon. And the love story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became the ideal.

From a survival strategy to expanding wealth and power to a religious sacrament to proof of undying love, marriage has been changing and evolving throughout history according to the circumstances and needs of people at a certain period of time.

In my opinion, all this fuss over marriage is actually not about marriage. It is about domination and control of certain groups’ particular beliefs on how the world should be. I am not worried though because human history has shown that the world always moves toward greater freedom.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, July 2, 2015