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Reclaiming marriage from the great big Christian hijack

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Friday, 10 September 2010

Judging from the flurry of articles that have appeared recently written by Christians against same sex marriage (as well as same sex adoption, in which many similar religious justifications are invoked) one can be forgiven for thinking that many Christians believe their god invented the institution.

This could not be further from the truth. Marriage has existed a whole lot longer than Christianity. The Chinese philosopher Confucius, born in 551BC, offered this delightful definition: “Marriage is the union of two different surnames, in friendship and in love.”

Indeed, there is considerable historical evidence that in Greece, Rome, China and Europe same-sex marriages were celebrated along with the heterosexual unions deemed necessary either for economic purposes, or for men to ensure (they hoped) the parentage of children.


For a period in our history marriage had little to do with romance and love, and much to do with economic and physical survival. The spiritual and emotional dimensions of marriage that many Westerners feel are at its core are relatively recent developments.

Christians imposed their beliefs on an institution that was already long in place, and called this fallacy god’s will. Instead of acknowledging that Christian marriage is but one example of that institution, they appear to deny validity to any other and thus attempt to reify their singular take on the concept.

So successful has this reification been that there are people who want to marry in churches, even though they never set foot in them before or after the ceremony. Many people feel an understandable desire for their marriage to be “blessed”, and there’s no doubt the Christian ritual can be quite beautiful.

I’ve no wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But people marry for all kinds of reasons. For example, it’s estimated that some 200,000 marriages per year take place in the United States expressly for the purpose of obtaining a Green Card for the spouse who is not a US citizen. There are marriages made in Australia for the same pragmatic reason. These unions apparently disrespect the Christian god’s purpose for marriage, and ought to cause offence to believers. However, they don’t appear to be anywhere near as offensive to Christians as are same sex marriages, chosen on the basis of love, and the desire for commitment and family.

On the other hand, marriage between blacks and whites in the US southern states (miscegenation) was illegal until 1967. Not only did the Christian god demand that marriage only take place between a man and a woman at that time, apparently he needed them to be the same skin colour as well.


It took that country’s Christians some 276 years to overthrow that particular racist injustice.

Christian beliefs about marriage change, as the above example demonstrates. Presumably, this is as a consequence of god changing his mind, and somehow relaying that change to the faithful who then update the law.

But what a truly intolerable state of affairs, that the lives and futures of many same sex couples are at the mercy of the arbitrary decisions of a transcendental exteriority that many citizens don’t believe exists at all, or not in the form touted by Christians.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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