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Religion Last Updated: Jul 10th, 2006 - 00:37:53

When did marriage become a Christian institution?
By Jeff Nall
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jul 10, 2006, 00:35

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Republicans are reaching into the God, Guns and Country bag of tricks once again to molest the most ignorant and prejudice of American minds. In an effort led by zealots on the religious right along with Republicans desperate to survive President Bush�s plunge at the polls, House Republicans, fueled by their love of freedom, no doubt, are poised to push the amendment to ban gay marriage to a vote the week of July 17.

The effort comes just over a month after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist led a failed attempt to pass the amendment in June.

In an affront to the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, H. J. RES. 88 seeks to engrave discrimination and a prejudice for Fundamentalist Christianity in the Constitution with these words:

`Section 2. Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.'.

The Federal Marriage Amendment, which, if passed, would be called the `Marriage Protection Amendment,� was first introduced in 2002 by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) and again in 2004 when it was defeated in the House and the Senate.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian civil rights organization, the amendment �could forever invalidate civil unions or other legal protections for same-sex couples, like the right to partner health benefits or fair taxation upon the death of a partner -- even if state legislatures passed them and voters approved them.�

Americans United for Separation of Church and State contends that the amendment would �favor the marriage doctrines and rituals of some religious groups over others.� AU executive director, Rev. Barry W. Lynn said the proposed amendment �is a blatant attempt by conservative religious leaders to enshrine their doctrines and marriage practices into the Constitution.� [1]

Leaders on the religious right say that the amendment is necessary to prevent the destruction of the institution of marriage. James Dobson has expressed fear that if gays are allowed to marry it might open the door to �marriage between daddies and little girls,� or �marriage between a man and his donkey.� �Anything allegedly linked to civil rights will be doable,� he said. Bill O'Reilly said he fears if gay marriage is allowed, �all other alternative marital visions will be allowed . . . you can marry 18 people, you can marry a duck . . . somebody's gonna come and say I want to marry the goat. You'll see it. I'll guarantee you'll see it.� [2]

Beyond the hyperbole and absurdity of associating the love of two consenting adults with bestiality and pedophilia, conservative Christian pundits make it clear that their real intention is to protect what they see as the specifically Christian nature of marriage and the family. Organizations like the American Family Association (AFA), a Christian group maintaining, claim gay marriage threatens the �God-ordained institution of marriage.� AFA founder and chairman Donald E. Wildmon wants to ban gay marriage and civil unions, contending that allowing gay marriage would bring an end to �Not only Western Civilization, which came out of the mind of Christ, but the whole of civilization will be drastically changed. Forget the family -- mother, father, children -- because it will not exist in that brave new world. Look for the state to take on more and more responsibilities for children.� [3]

According to Dobson�s book, Marriage Under Fire, Why We Must Win This Battle, �the institution of marriage is one of the Creator�s most marvelous and enduring gifts to humankind.� Adding, marriage is a �sacrament designed by God that serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His church.�

Even President Bush�s thinly veiled words seem to echo this view. Before the Senate began debate on the issue, Bush said, �Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all� (Speech, June 3, 2006).

As the Christian right ushers the so-called marriage protection amendment to the Senate, vowing to valorously defend the sanctity of �Christian� wedlock, we should all be asking: Is marriage really a Christian institution? Are Christians really an authority on the sanctity of marriage and the family?

Ironically, based on the early history of the church, the simple answer to both questions is, no. In fact, the Christian Fundamentalists seeking to �enshrine their doctrines and marriage practices into the constitution� are in need of a serious history lesson when it comes to marriage�s place in their religion�s history.

While Christianity is perceived as a kind of moral authority when it comes to the family, it hasn�t always been this way. Early on, Romans felt that Christians were the ones who threatened the fabric of the traditional family. Conservative Romans like Celsus (ca.185) were disturbed by Christian calls to renounce traditional religion, the Roman state, and the traditional family.

When it came to marriage, historian Edward Gibbon writes that early Christians tolerated it as �a defect,� and exalted celibacy �as the nearest approach to the divine perfection.� According to Gibbon, the early Church fathers believed Adam would have best served God had he remained a virgin: �The use of marriage was permitted only to his fallen posterity, as a necessary expedient to continue the human species, and as a restraint . . . on the natural licentiousness of desire.� [4]

This contempt for marriage among Christians was not limited to the ancient world. In colonial Mexico, explains historian Asuncion Lavrin, �Christianity contained a strong misogynist strain that placed marital love as second best when compared to divine love.� [5] Yet none of this should come as a surprise. The Bible makes it crystal clear that chastity, not marriage, should be the primary focus of a God-loving Christian. While Paul says it�s okay to get married, both he and Jesus clearly state that giving up all carnal pleasures, even those between husband and wife, is the best course. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says being too involved in marriage can actually detract from proper worship of God: �An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord�s affairs. . . . But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world -- how he can please his wife -- and his interests are divided� (7:32-4). Earlier in Corinthians, Paul says plainly: �It is good for a man not to marry� (7:1).

While Christians today tend to ignore God�s call for complete chastity, the earliest fathers of Christianity took chastity (marriage to God) very seriously. In his book, The Confessions, church father Saint Augustine repeatedly acknowledges that chastity is the most Christian path to take. In one instance, he points to Matthew 19:11-12, in which Jesus recommends being a eunuch (a castrated or sexless man): �The one who can accept this should accept it.�

Reflecting on his own prior sexual licentiousness, Augustine looks back with regret on his having ignored Jesus� call to castration or sexlessness: �Yes, I could have listened more attentively to those words, and made myself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven. In that way I might have waited more contentedly for your embrace.� [6] Augustine isn�t alone in his antipathy towards marriage. Researcher and writer Barbara Walker reports that �Origen declared, �Matrimony is impure and unholy, a means of sexual passion.� St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was to �cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage.� St. Ambrose said marriage was a crime against God, because it changed the state of virginity that God gave every man and woman at birth . . . Tertullian said marriage was a moral crime, �more dreadful than any punishment or any death�� [7].

Today�s Christians exalt marriage and the family life as values anchored in their faith�s tradition. But the historical reality is that early attitudes among Christians about such things were very different than they are today. In the New Testament, Jesus tells large crowds �If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he can not be my disciple� (Luke 14:26). A similar passage comes to us from Luke 18:29. ��I tell you the truth,� Jesus said to them, �no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.�� As for marriage, Jesus says, �At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like angels in heaven� (Matthew 22:30). However confounding to contemporary Christians, early Christian aversion to what is now considered �traditional� family values does in fact makes sense when one considers Christianity�s renunciation of the physical world: �Do not love the world or anything in the world� (1 John 2:15).

In the context of Christianity�s historical rejection of the family life and its advocacy of chastity, the religious right�s crusade against gays and lesbians, specifically the right to marriage and adoption, is highly selective at best and absolutely groundless at worst. If all sin is equal, and non-procreative sexual behavior is indeed sinful; if being a husband or wife detracts from the proper worship of God, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, then it seems unjust for these selective sinners to hurl stones of condemnation with such righteous force. It is said, after all, that one should not judge, �or you too will be judged� (Matthew 7:12).

For those who think that this is a �gay� issue, that the Christian right�s attempt to enshrine their notion of marriage won�t affect them, think again. After all, it wasn�t so long ago that Thomas Aquinas condemned masturbation and �utilizing monstrous or bestial techniques of intercourse� [8] alongside homosexuality as indecent sexual activities. Maybe a ban on gay marriage is just the start.

If Christian Fundamentalists succeed in passing the Marriage Protection Amendment on grounds that a valid marriage must conform to Christian tradition, non-Christians, secular and religious alike, will be left wondering: when will my love, my marriage be outlawed?

This article was originally published by Toward Freedom on 5/29/06 when the Senate held its vote.

Jeff Nall is a community activist and freelance writer. He regularly contributes to publications such as Toward Freedom, the Humanist, and Impact Press.





[1] Americans United press release, �Americans United Urges Senate To Reject Marriage Amendment,� May 17, 2006.

[2] Human Rights Campaign, �Weekly Web Message: �Is the FMA a threat? Listen to the extremists in their own words,�� May 2, 2006.

[3] Donald E. Wildmon, �Why I'm supporting the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment.�

[4] Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1976), 244.

[5] Asuncion Lavrin �Women in Colonial Mexico,� in The Oxford History of Mexico, eds. Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 264.

[6] Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1998), 26.

[7] Barbara G. Walker, The Women�s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1996), 585.

[8] Thomas Acquinas, St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.), 80.

This article was originally published by Toward Freedom on 5/29/06 when the Senate held its vote.

Jeff Nall is a community activist and freelance writer. He regularly contributes to publications such as Toward Freedom, the Humanist, and Impact Press.

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