Same-sex marriage is not a phenomenon of modern society.
- Marriage has been a continually changing institution.
- Same-sex marriage dates back to antiquity.
Marriage: A changing institution:
Marriage is an evolving institution whose social meaning has undergone considerable re-definition over time and accommodated variations in society at any one time. Professor Allan Tulchin of Shippensburg, writes in the Journal of Modern History (Sept. 06):
Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize. ... And Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.
Modern marriage can be traced back to 11th Century Europe, when the Roman Catholic Church imposed its meaning of marriage. The meaning of marriage shifted in Medieval times when a wife, as the subordinate partner, could be divorced if she was not bearing children. Later, believing that the marriage union was sanctified by God and remained valid for life, early Christians changed the meaning so that the union could not be dissolved because a married couple couldn't have children. As a result the procreative function waned as a determining factor in marriage.
During this early period, marriage was essentially a business transaction between men of the families concerned. By the 16th Century Christian marriages permitted mutual consent.
From the Middle Ages the Church could register marriages, but it was not required to do so. At this time the State took no part in marriage.
Following the Counter-Reformation in the 16th Century, the Roman Catholic Church decreed marriage to be, "The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life." And the marriage ceremony had to be officiated by a priest. By the 19th Century, following an Act of the British Parliament, civil marriages were permitted as a legal alternative to church marriages.
Up to this time marriage was an unequal partnership. The wife was property – destined to dutifully "honour and obey" her husband and agree to give up her family name for his. Love was generally not a consideration before or during marriage.
In the early 1900s, mutual love, sexual satisfaction and devotedness became stronger considerations for entering into and maintaining marriage. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the youth-driven sexual revolution, and then the women's equal rights movement, actively challenged the laws and traditions that perpetuated sexism and patriarchy in modern society. Rising from this challenge was another shift – marriage became a shared equal partnership between two people whose roles were less prescribed by tradition.
It is necessary therefore, to view marriage within the social reality of today.
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