Why Not Same-sex Marriage? (VII of X)
So where to next in this quick historical scan of cultural attitudes towards marriage? We turn now to Christianity. For once, women are not treated as disposable breeders; Jesus plainly states a man divorcing his wife is not acceptable. Nothing about marriage as a cornerstone of civilization, of course — just an admonition to treat women better.
And it was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
— Matthew 5:31
However, Jesus’ admonitions are about as good as it gets. Once we’re past that small (mixed) gain for women, we get Paul’s mostly disdainful view of marriage as an ends to a means — a way for men to avoid behaving lustfully.
Gee, how uplifting for women. Are you also getting the sneaking suspicion that marriage, when defined by men, is actually bad for women?
Echoes in Europe
And of course, next we end up in Europe throughout the medieval time period. An interesting point a friend raised — if the Apostles were married (as is noted in the Bible), and marriage is considered so civilizing and wonderful today, then why does the Roman Catholic Church have such a horror of married clergy?
Matthew 8:14: Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever.
Luke 4:38: Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. But Simon’s wife’s mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her.
I’ve no polite answer for that. Instead I’ll note there was no Christian ecclesiastical definition of a valid marriage, nor a contract to validate a marriage, until 1563 — and many areas simply refused to recognize the ruling for centuries thereafter.
Let me reiterate: until 1563 (and until well past then in many geographical locations), the Catholic Church had nothing to do with marriage.
So… do we assume there was no European civilization until that time? Or do we recognize marriage as what it really is — not an integral part of civilization so much as a constantly evolving, personal ritual which people enter into and leave as they wish?
In Rome at least a marriage could not occur without consent from both participants — women lose even that tiny gain during these centuries. To be fair we should note, as with Rome, there were multiple centuries passing, and a huge variety of cultural forms extant.
This doesn’t change, unfortunately, the various abuses women suffered due to men getting to define what marriage was — abusive arranged marriages, husbands maintaining lovers and concubines while women had to maintain chastity, wives which didn’t produce the requisite children being summarily divorced and thrown out without recourse, religiously sanctioned physical abuse and sexual coercion of women, female infanticide, women regarded as disposable chattel…
From Friar Cherubino’s 15th century Rules of Marriage: “Scold her sharply, bully and terrify her… [T]ake up a stick and beat her soundly, for it is better to punish the body and correct the soul than to damage the soul and spare the body… [R]eadily beat her, not in rage but out of charity and concern for her soul, so that the beating will redound to your merit.”
I’m not sure this sort of behavior, either within or without a marriage, can be regarded as “civilized.”