Recent events have brought about saturation of my ears with the phrase "sanctity of marriage." It seems to be the concern of one and all. On the one hand, you have homosexuals, with their agenda ( hilarious writeup by Evil Catallus, BTW), saying, basically, that they should have the same rights and privileges as everyone else, and be able to marry whomever they please, so long as the other consents, irrespective of gender. It is easy for one to sympathize with this view, with it sounding so clearly like an issue of fairness.

On the other hand, we have conservatives, who point out that same sex marriages have never been regarded as marriages historically, and, significantly for the subject of this node, the recognition of such a practice would violate the sanctity of marriage, and threaten the very institution. For those with a religious bent, this is also a highly sympathizable view.

Let me state from the outset that I do not and will not consider any same sex union to be a marriage. The practice is unIslamic and I will not be a willing participant in supporting it. Those who support such unions, however, point to equal protection of the law, and ask why should the government not extend the same rights and privileges to them that they extend to their heterosexual brethren. Those who oppose these unions claim no such equal protection issue exists, as a gay man has the same right to marry any eligible, willing woman he chooses just as does a straight man. This is a valid argument, though it does come off as a bit disingenuous to my ear. They go further in saying that such a novel definition of marriage threatens, of course, the sanctity of marriage. There it goes again, being threatened like some damsel in the age of chivalry. Hearing this said, day after day, got me thinking. How sanctified is marriage, really? And is the prospects of gays getting in on the action the greatest threat to this as-yet-unestablished sanctity?

Marriage, as a religious endeavor is an important part of the life of a Muslim. The Messager of Allah is reported to have said "marriage is half of religion." Sounds pretty sanctified to me. It was always regarded as a tremendously important thing among the Christians I grew up with and counted myself among as a youth. Catholic nuns and priests, I seem to recall hearing, regard their vows of chastity as being the necessary result of being "married to the church" (or perhaps it is Christ. I would appreciate any correction here). So, that seems pretty sanctified there, as well. So, let us assume, as I think we may, that marriage is considered a sanctified institution for the vast majority of humanity. Now, let us address what threatens that sanctity.

Marriage has been trivialized for decades now. Men, in recent years, for the most part, have been able to enjoy just about all the benefits of marriage, division of labor, dual incomes, sex, even children, without the commitment of marriage. Marriage, as the culmination of a domestic partnership which provides the same traditional benefits, involves risk on the part of men which is greater, in the current legal climate, generally, than that of women. Men, earning, on average, more money than women, lose out when all assets are divided equally. There also appears to be a prejudice on the part of the courts regarding custody, and a man is far less likely to have custody of any children upon divorce. He may, in fact, be forced into near poverty by the weight of child and spousal support and other aspects of divorce settlements. Women bear a higher percentage of the risk when the two are shacking up. The lack of stigma placed upon people living in sin has resulted in a natural explosion in the commonality of such arrangements. The fact that government, through welfare and other Great Society programs, has provided a means for women to take care of the children resulting from ephemeral encounters, has resulted especially in young women of modest means exerting less care in 1) choosing a mate, and 2) locking up the deal with a contract. This has led to marriage being a pretty low priority among a lot of people.

Why then, do people concentrate so much on the gay thing? I think that's a political decision. Politicians who attack people living together and having sex outside of marriage might find votes shifting to others with a more tolerant view, and they well know it. Similarly, even the clergy has sometimes yielded to political correctness and spend a lot more time ranting on the homosexual agenda than with young people remaining chaste until marriage. They know that the collection plates might be a bit lighter if they started addressing the core issues too forcefully. For this reason, I am more than a bit dubious of the purity of the motives of those clamoring for Constitutional amendments.

It seems to me, that if you really get to the nub of the whole sanctity of marriage issue, that the thing which has most destroyed its sanctity, is the fact that these people only recognize a union as a marriage if the state does as well. The state, in the mind of these people does the sanctifying, apparently. Why should the God-fearing care about the "blessing" of government, an entity which is mainly concerned with maintaining and expanding its own power? An entity which has killed the innocent in staggering numbers in the twenthieth century and seems to be using that bloody period as a good running start for bigger and better things? I, for one, am concerned with the blessings of a perfect God and not that of exceptionally flawed men, as those are the type who almost invariably find their way into positions of high office. If you really want to preserve (and restore) the sanctity of marriage, get the government out of it altogether.

addendum: Chras4 was somewhat cross with me because women are in poverty with greater frequency than men after marriage. I haven't studied that, but that doesn't change my point. My point was the risk of marriage. The risk is borne by he or she who has the most to lose, not by whomever is lower on the totem pole when the dust has settled. If I marry a billionaire, the financial risk of marriage is greater for her, but I will have less money than she if we break up no matter what. Black women, for example, are extremely poor at a high rate when unmarried and much less poor when married. I don't know if this is true of other groups, but I suspect it is. And even if the actual risk is not what I say, I can say with certainty that most men certainly look upon it this way. I don't know any woman who has been left in poverty after a divorce. I know several men who pay thousands per month in child and spousal support. So my circle of acquaintances is not typical. I'll grant that, but this perception has a powerful effect on behavior.

Chras4 has mentioned that women often give up careers to get married and are left with diminished capacity to earn a living after a divorce. This is very true, and it was remiss of me to omit to mention it above. This is a choice made very frequently by women and is a much greater risk than any that a man takes. The reason I was concentrating on the risks inherent to the man is that I believe that is a primary reason people tend to avoid marriage for other arrangements. I don't know of as many women who completely avoid marriage because they don't want to give up their careers. They may delay it, to be sure, but many women I know make the continuation of their careers a criterion for getting married in the first place. They will not marry a man who would insist that they give up anything. I don't blame them, either. Becoming completely dependent upon another is a HUGE sacrifice, and not one that men can probably relate to very well.

The Divorce Question

It appears as though my comments regarding divorce has rankled those with more personal and far more bitter experience with it than myself. I don't mean to imply that divorce is easy on women, or that what women do has no economic value. Far from it. My point is that, for a man, an unmarried state, perhaps tied informally to a particular woman for a time, but ultimately being a free agent with no legal obligations towards her, is economically more advantageous than the identical relationship with a legally binding marriage. People have pointed out the horrors of domestic violence and poverty as a result of caring for children without support of the ex-husband, and I agree that these things are terrible. But they are often worse without marriage. Domestic violence happens all the time between people who are unmarried and living together. So, too, are many women left in poverty following a relationship in which she bears one or more children to a partner outside of marriage. My point is, religion or nobility aside, what is the incentive for the man to marry a woman with whom he already shares a home, children, and healthcare coverage? What is the incentive for the woman? Who has the greater incentive? I maintained above, and still maintain, that the greater incentive lies with the woman. Relationships aren't going anywhere. The question is whether or not legally binding obligations relating to those relationships is. If we have a world of relationships between men and women, then for no more reason than the fact that it is the woman who bears the primary burden of reproduction, the formal process of marriage is of greater benefit to women than men.

A structuralist pseudo-history of the homosexual controversy and marriage.

So, you think marriage is sacred? That's nice, have fun with it. What? You think that you can take the rights of marriage from someone else? How do you plan to do that? Laws? Sit down boy, I have a secret to tell you.

If you lived in the United States during 2003-4 you have probably heard the phrase "The Sanctity of Marriage" tossed around like a campaign slogan. The reason for that is that it is a campaign slogan, unofficially. There is currently a movement in American politics seeking to ban Homosexual Marriage on the national level. This is in reaction to some counties having allowed homosexuals the rights to marry. Many might ask, "Why do we care if homosexuals wish to get married?" and some might say, "Homosexuals have the right to equal protection under the law." This seemingly straightforward case is terribly complicated, however, because lawmaking has far less to do with the law than one might think.

Background on the Homosexual Controversy

There has always been a certain degree of fiction to the law. A law violator who does not violate any mores or folkways is unlikely to be persecuted, or in any way punished, for said offence. Likewise, a person breaking said mores and folkways will likely be punished without the aid of the law. The situation in America has to do with three major things. First it has to deal with racism. Racism is no longer officially acceptable in the United States, but still goes on to a medium degree. Physical violence against minorities is now an offence rare enough that it makes the news almost every time it happens. Though this is hardly an acceptable practice, it is far better than the daily and public lynchings that occurred earlier in American History. Racism is learned in the home to some degree, but the most powerful influence in the perpetuation of racism is the peer group. What this means for us is that, as time passes, the degree of racism present in upcoming generations will be diluted as minorities grow and are allowed to assimilate into society. Sound nice? It doesn't apply to homosexuality in the same way.

Homosexuals do not wear homosexual signs (usually), and as a result people who hate homosexuals (commonly called homophobes, though it seems to be a rather improper term) are given a distinct impression of homosexuals as a subversive group within society. This is, of course, completely unsubstantiated, but something does not have to be substantial to affect history. Homosexuals cannot "assimilate" into American Society because they are identified solely by that trait which makes them what they are. This is similar to the position of the second-generation Japanese-Americans present in the U.S. during WWII. They had completely internalized western values but were being discriminated agianst simply for being Japanese, not for being deviant. Basically, homosexuals will not gain acceptance gradually over time by default as they are already as fully integrated into the American culture as is possible.

The second thing being considered is freedom of religion. No, there is not a legal issue with freedom of religion; there is a social one. Historically, whenever anyone goes anywhere for freedom of religion, what they really want is freedom to have everything their way. This is the case with the majority of English settlers in America. Ever since the first colonies developed in North America, Protestants have been getting everything they wanted on the vast majority of issues. At first it was because they were the only ones there, but now it is because they make up the largest part of the voter base. They reserve the right to not be offended. This is a nearly irreconcilable situation in the mainstream. Though some small splinter churches have come to accept homosexuality, the mainstream religion is dead-set against it. The general population, as a whole, has had the tendency to consider its freedom of religion to extend to the rights to enforce that religion upon others. This is not likely to change in the near future.

Another force at work here is power. Two kinds of power are at work; the quest for political power, and the power to enforce your will upon others. The Unites States is notorious for both. As a nation they have mistreated Africans, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, Mexicans, Catholics, Arabs, the poor, and women at varying times in their history. Homosexuality is no different. As with all the previously listed discriminations, anti-homosexuality is also being justified with family values. They are operating by setting up their opponents in the absurd strawman position of anti-family in modern times. In earlier times they simply considered the offending race to be filthy and vile. Both tactics are being used to different extents here. The Republican party, as a result of a bit of a backlash against them over what has turned out to be a military action based on false intelligence, has picked up a new campaign issue. By denying homosexuals the right to marriage, the Conservatives should gain a fighting chance at the Whitehouse for the next term. This exercise of power rests also on the general public. A difference between the previous discriminations and the current one is one of time. Technically it is a similarity. It is no longer socially acceptable to call someone a "nigger" in mixed company in most places, and many of the slurs pertaining to Japanese and Chinese have lost much of their potency altogether. However, the word "Queer" seems to roll off of the tongues of modern Americans with startling regularity, and with no social reprimand. Basically, it is still okay to hate homosexuals, and homophobia is the last socially acceptable domain of the bigot.

Pseudo-History of Marriage

Marriage has existed in nearly every society for as long as anyone can tell, but we aren't really talking about the love between a man and a woman, we are talking about plays for power. Marriage has been a political tool, tying tribes or nations together. It has been a way to bring together two families to a mutual benefit. Marriage has been a way to obtain land, or to make one's fortune. Marriage has not, until modern times, really had a great deal to do with love, but that isn't the point anyway. We are talking about official marriage after all.

The concept of state-sponsored weddings has been present as long as there was a feudal or more advanced system present to support its use for the aforementioned power plays. In our cultural ancestors, medieval Europeans, marriage was a binding and unbreakable contract between a man and a woman, ordained by the church and state, and glorified by God... Except that it wasn't. In medieval times there was no distinction between your brother and your brother-in-law. You were considered to be blood related to all of your relatives by marriage, and to their relatives by marriage. Calculations for incest were taken back seven generations. If you shared a great great great great great grandparent with someone you could not legally be married, and if your sibling were married to someone who is married to someone who shares a great great great grandparent with your potential mate, then you could not legally be married. It sounds pretty tough, but in reality no one really cared. If you wanted to marry someone all you had to do was not look up your ancestry, or if it is already known, get a dispensation from the pope. With this in place, overwhelming obstacles were bypassed allowing the crowned heads of Europe to marry whomever they pleased as long as it benefited them and the church financially. This, however only applied to nobles.

Commoners were not required to have a civil wedding. In fact, in order to be married to someone under the eyes of God, no matter who you were, all you had to do was look that person in the eye and say "I take you for my wife" or "I take you for my husband" then you could go straight home and have sex and God would approve. It is not until the mid-to-late 1600's that the concept of the Church wedding was introduced into to general population. In fact, during Shakespeare's lifetime the commoners were adjusting to the new requirements. The new system instituted a fee on marriage, which technically precluded many people from becoming married and, theoretically, would prevent them from having children. Of course, it doesn't really work that way, they had children anyway, and no one thought twice about it.

As it seems, the institution of marriage as we know it has a history of approximately three hundred years. The ideal of institutionalized marriage has a much longer history, and that history is filled with church-sponsored incest, political manipulation, war, and the subjugation of the peasant class. There is, however, an enduring history of marriage as the union between two people for love. It is seldom written about and never had any real effect on history. It is the case of two peasants who loved each other and said so, and lived happily ever after. Ironic that the U. S. Government is trying to prevent homosexuals from having the single thing most responsible for the destruction of marriage: the contract.

On Saturday, January 3, 2004 Britney Spears got married. She got drunk, told a childhood friend, "Wouldn't it be a hoot if we got married?" and after a night of drinking they tied the knot. By Monday she filed for annulment.

You say marriage is a sacrament? I know one couple who got married by pirates: "Arrrrr, and does anybody here know why these two mateys shouldn't be married . . ."

We get married at football games, and at demolition derbies. We have computers and Elvis impersonators perform the ceremony. Tom Green got sanctified on Saturday Night Live. How long did that sacrament last?

Elizabeth Taylor has partaken of the sanctity of marriage around a dozen times. God must have really blessed her.

God doesn't sanctify a marriage. Marriages are sanctified by the two people who stood up there and pledged 'I do'. They sanctify their marriage by putting the marriage before themselves, by being there when their partner needs them, by digging in and going to work when things get rough, by making chicken soup when the other is sick, and by holding their hand when life slips away.

You sanctify a marriage in a thousand unglamorous ways every day of your life together.

You want to talk about sanctity? Let me tell you about Al and Tom, two members of my church. They've been together 25 years, built a house together, helped each other, stuck together through thick and thin. They will be together until death parts them.

It's really easy to be heterosexual. All we have to do is get drunk one night and we get sanctified. As a believer I feel shame that so many of my fellow believers want to deny people like Al and Tom the right to publicly acknowledge what they live every day. Some call Al and Tom's relationship abomination, though they understand more about living and loving than Elizabeth Taylor will ever know, no matter how many times she calls the caterer.

In Matthew 7 it is written:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

How is it that we can judge Al and Tom as lacking while Britney's drunken binge is given sanction? is that how WE would like to be judged?

The gospel continues:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Jesus didn't spend his time among the Pharisees, who represented the pinnacle of religious purity in the time of his life. He didn't uplift the rabbis or the synagogues. Instead he uplifted the lepers, the outcasts, the prostitutes and adulterers as being more in tune with the real requirements of God. Samaritans were outcast by Jews in Christ's time, but in Luke 10:27-35, it was the Samaritan whose charity to strangers marked him as the chosen of God. In John 4 it was the adulteress who gave Jesus water and recognized his holiness. Christ uplifted the Roman soldier and took a tax collector as his disciple. And yet in his name believers seek to exclude people like Al and Tom who live as we would have people live.

We need to cast out the beam of self-righteousness from our eye before we condemn our brothers and sisters. If marriage is a pearl, it is better to cast it before people like Al and Tom who appreciate their love than people like Britney who think marriage might be a hoot.

to be fair, the couple i know who had the 'pirate' ceremony is taking their marriage very seriously. They simply have a sense of humor that's more important than tradition

Tying the knot

In societies today, marriage is entered into through a contractual procedure, generally with some sort of religious sanction. In Western society the contract of marriage is regarded as a religious sacrament, and it is indissoluble only in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The institution of marriage has been altered fundamentally in the Western culture as a result of social changes brought about by the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution. The rise of a strong middle class and the growth of democracy gradually brought tolerance of romantic marriages based on free choice of partners. Arranged marriages, which had been the accepted form of marriage almost everywhere throughout history, eventually ceased to predominate this society, although they continued to persist as the norm in aristocratic society until the middle of the 20th Century.

Among the social changes that have affected marriage in modern times are the increases in premarital sex and divorce occasioned by the changed social and economic status of women, and the liberalization of divorce laws. Also significant have been the legalization of abortion, the improvement and increased accessibility of contraceptives, the removal of legal and social handicaps for illegitimate children and rapid changes in the accepted concepts of male and female roles in society.

In most states the marriage must still be formalized before a minister of religion or before a qualified public official in a ceremony usually referred to as a civil marriage, and in all states a marriage certificate must be registered with the civil authorities. However, as doyle put so well in a write up that is now gone, “The covenant (of marriage) is sacred no matter what the state says--divorce is recognized by the state, but not necessarily by the church--marriage is indeed sacred.”

Getting hitched

Holy matrimony remains a serious commitment within the Christian community. An exchange of rings frequently represents the new bonds between the married couple. The interest of the community is expressed through feasting and dancing and the publishing of banns, the presence of witnesses and the official sealing of the marriage documents. Sanctity describes the quality of the marriage as being holy or literally consecrated. The word sanctity appeared sometime before the 12th century as a derivative of the Latin word sanctus. Around 1390 AD it became sanctité (Old French) a past participle of sancire meaning “to confirm or consecrate.” A second meaning is the quality or state of being holy or sacred. Sanctity possesses an inviolability. As a plural form sanctities are “sacred objects, obligations, or rights.”

From antiquity marriage has typically been a social institution that unites men and women in special forms of mutual dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining families. This developed from the essential needs of human progeny to undergo a long period of extended development before reaching full maturity. It is the care of the young throughout their years of relative dependency that seems to have been the primary motivator for the development of the structure of families. Marriage as a contract between a man and a woman has existed since ancient times, and as a common practice, entered into through a public act, it reflects the purposes, character, and customs of the society in which it is found.

Marriage traditions vary significantly from one culture to another, the importance of the institution is universally acknowledged. In some societies, community interest in the children, in the bonds between families, and in the property connections established by a marriage are such that special procedures and customs are brought into play to arrange for or protect these values. For example infant betrothals or marriages, prevalent in places such as India and Melanesia, is an effect of concerns for family, caste and property alliances.

The course of true love never runs smooth

In the Hebrew Bible the institution of marriage is intimately related to kinship. Scholars have established indications that marriage was considered an extension of kinship through an informal or written agreement. Words that are used in connection with the covenant, such as love and hate1 2, are also used in the marriage relationship and its dissolution. From at least the 8th century BC onward, the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel is equated to the pledge of marriage, the related convention begins in Hosea 1: 3 and continues in the later writings of Jeremiah 3:1-5.

In chapters 16, 20, and 23 Ezekiel extends this theological element even more by describing Yahweh as freely but ardently and for all time committing himself to the people of Israel. Like Hosea and Jeremiah, Ezekiel develops this aspect of Yahweh’s being and actions by using conjugal descriptions. Yahweh carefully and tenderly nurtures the cast-off child Israel as his bride-to-be. 3 At present, he is punishing her for her continual infidelities, but in the end he will not abandon his spouse to desolation and sinfulness. Rather he will reinstate her prosperity and give her the inner capacity to live in faithfulness to him. 4 Throughout all of this the transcendent God is closely drawn into human history.

By examining this comparison researchers can infer a composite of some of the ethics concerning marriage in ancient Israel, at least for those who created the accounts. Two distinctions may be noted. First the bond was monogamous. Israel had only one God, and God had chosen Israel over all other peoples. Second, mutual fidelity was expected. Adultery was acknowledged as a justification for dissolving the relationship. Hosea entails that the relationship must be one of mutual love, respect and fidelity and that the woman would call her husband “my man” and not “ my master.” 5 The position of women in ancient Israel is an important factor in understanding this foundation of marriage. A woman seems to have always been under the protection of her nearest male kin; for the wife, this was the husband.

Even though monogamy may have been the ideal, polygamy was accepted and practiced throughout Israel’s history. 6 To what degree experts can’t be definite, since the sources for the most part are the product of descriptions about the elite ruling class. The patriarchs took more than one wife, and the kings of Israel and Judah maintained harems of which Solomon was the most notorious. 7 By the Roman period monogamy seems to have been the widespread practice.

A match made in heaven

No thorough teaching pertaining to marriage is found in the Gospels. It can be inferred from the discussions concerning divorce and other passages, that Jesus viewed it positively, with monogamy as the ideal. 8 Paul’s views are more developed, and more controversial. The most detailed discussion is in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul debates that marriage is a remedy to sexual immorality, but that celibacy is preferable. Verse 26 makes it pretty clear that this view was due to Paul’s belief in an imminent second coming of Christ, but other reasons no doubt were also at work; including Paul’s own unmarried status in verse 8.

As in the Hebrew Bible, the marriage relationship is used in the New Testament to describe the bond between God and his people. 9 10 By using the metaphors of weddings and marriages they all illustrate the end times, when God will be united with his people forever. 11 12 13 14 15 It is from this foundation of evidence presented through the teachings of the prophets, Jesus and the book of Revelation that both Hebrew and Christian religions appropriately view this as the “sanctity of marriage.”


Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "marriage," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Oxford Companion to the Bible, Christopher T. Begg, author; Metzger and Coogan, editors, p 218, 1993.

Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller, author; Metzger and Coogan, editors, p 496-7, 1993.

Merriam-Webster Online:

Online Etymology:

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