What Is Marriage?

There’s another major flaw in Cardinal O’Brien’s arguments against gay marriage. In his article he says “No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.” He seems to believe that there is some immutable definition of marriage that has always been true and that he is bravely defending. Let’s examine that theory. We’ll start by looking at the Bible.

And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives.

Judges 8:30

Here’s another

And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite

Genesis 26:34

And another

And Ashur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah

1 Chronicles 4:5

I could go on, of course (try counting the number of wives that King David had), but I think my point is made. The Bible has many examples of polygamy. It’s clear that there isn’t a single universal view of marriage that has existed throughout history. Throughout most of recorded history various kinds of polygamy have been seen as the normal kind of marriage over most of the world.

It’s not even confined to history. Wikipedia lists around fifty countries where polygamous marriage is still legally recognised. Of course, the majority of them are patriarchal societies where woman are treated really badly, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Cardinal’s idea of a marriage which consists of one man and one woman is an anomaly in the history of the family and is still far from universal in the present day.

As I wrote yesterday, marriage is defined by society. As society’s views change, so does what constitutes a “normal” marriage. The problem with religion is that it finds change hard to sanction. Society’s rules from thousands of years ago are written in stone and can’t change without the tribal elders admitting that their gods are fallible.

Times change and society changes with it. The law must keep up with these changes. And it usually does. We can’t allow religious beliefs to hold us back on this occasion.


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