As we come to (hopefully) the pinnacle of the marriage equality debate in Australia, it seems timely to reflect on the portrayal of marriage in the Bible and the history of marriage reform.
In opposing marriage equality, conservative Christians believe that they are protecting the ‘traditional’ view of marriage: upholding the Word of God to ensure that culture and society do not degrade it. They perceive their stance as noble and necessary to the longevity of Christianity itself.
However conservatives fail to recognise that marriage has been influenced by cultural norms throughout history. There has never been one traditional accepted version of marriage.
Marriage in the Bible
If you think that people in biblical times walked down the aisle of their local church, followed a ceremony overlooked by a religious leader, signed legal documents and then upheld them for the rest of their lives then you need to read your Bible (and possible attend a history class).
David had many wives, Solomon had 700 and Jacob had 2, just to name a few. Polygamy was common in ancient times and perfectly acceptable according to the culture of the day.
And this is not the only type of relationship depicted in the Bible. Ryan Grant Long’s infographic (below) gives a great summary of the different depictions of marriage in the Bible.
Of course there are also many examples of marriage between a man and a woman.
I’m not going down the rabbit hole of pitching verse against verse. Arguing over which verses apply to today’s culture and which don’t (bacon and cotton blends anyone??) is a pointless debate.
But while the writers of the day may have described the marriage of one man with one woman in Genesis 2:24, it’s worth noting they did not use the words only or exclusively between.
A Religious Ceremony?
Anglo-Saxon marriage was for most of history a civil ceremony, not associated with the church at all. The main purpose of marriage was to forge alliances and for children.