On the heels of the recent California Supreme Court ruling I blogged about earlier, it’s time to set the record straight on the matter of marriage in Judeo-Christian tradition. There are a great many misconceptions about it, which are frequently stated but are erroneous, and many flaws in the traditional views of it.

First, most people who are of the Judeo-Christian tradition consider marriage to be sacred and to be only between one man and one woman. There is scriptural support for this, in Genesis 2:24:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

This verse is alluded to or quoted by Jesus in the gospels and in other books of the New Testament, so it can safely be said that this basic idea was presumed valid by those later authors. But the Bible is not consistent on the matter. A number of important figures in the Bible had multiple wives and even concubines in addition:

Abraham: Married Sarah (Gen 16:1), then took as additional wives Hagar (Gen 16:3) and later Keturah (Gen 25:1).

Jacob: Married Leah (Gen 29:23), then Rachel (Gen 29:28), then Bilhah (Gen 30:4), then Zilpah (Gen 30:9).

Moses: Married Zipporah (Ex 2:21), then an unnamed Ethiopian woman (Num 12:1).

David: His named wives were Michal (1 Sam 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam 25:39), Ahinoam (1 Sam 25:43), Eglah, Abital, Haggith, & Maacah (2 Sam 3:3-5); and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24); there were an unknown number of other wives as well (2 Sam 5:13).

Solomon: Had 700 wives plus 300 concubines (1 Kg 11:3)

There are many other Biblical figures with multiple wives and concubines, including Esau and several kings of Israel such as Ahab; but the above should suffice to demonstrate that multiple wives and concubines litter the pages of the Old Testament.

Lest anyone think that God allowed these patriarchs and kings to have multiple marriages but did not approve of the practice, note that Solomon, David’s heir, was the son of Bathsheba, who was not David’s first wife. God obviously didn’t mind polygamy that much if one of its offspring could have become God’s favorite and a later standard for divine wisdom.

In the wider Greco-Roman world of the 1st century CE, marriage was mostly monogamous, however, in the Near East — especially in places at the fringe of the Empire such as Persia and Egypt — polygamy and concubinage sometimes appeared, and the Romans generally tolerated it. Thus, in the pastoral epistles, there is an injunction on deacons in the early church:

Deacons must be husbands of only one wife (1 Tim 3:12)

as is the case for overseers or bishops (1 Tim 3:2). That the author of the epistle found it necessary to make this distinction implies that polygamy occurred, even if it may not have been the usual practice. If the words of this epistle are viewed through a strict legalistic interpretation, they mean that a Christian man could have more than one wife; he was merely disqualified to be a deacon or bishop. Let me repeat: These passages in 1 Timothy indicate that its author considered it possible for a good Christian man to have more than one wife! The only restriction on a Christian man with more than one wife, is that he cannot be a deacon or bishop.

Marriage did not become a Christian sacrament in practice until the Middle Ages. But even then this was merely an informal understanding; during the Reformation, the sacramental nature of marriage was still up in the air, so it was not officially declared a sacrament by the Roman Catholic Church until the Council of Trent in the 16th century, and it took some time to work its way into the official doctrines of other Christian sects.

So we are not talking, here, of millennia of Church control over marriage; the truth is far different.

There are two other common objections that Judeo-Christian traditionalists make against gay marriage, both of which are also just as invalid as their belief that monogamous marriage is scriptural. These are:

1. Letting gays marry will open the door to polygamists, communal or plural marriages, etc. This is an example of the slippery-slope fallacy. Doing one thing does not automatically require doing another, no matter how they appear. Polygamy and plural marriages are quite different from gay marriages — mainly because marriages are actually contracts between two parties. How can multiple people simultaneously enter into the same contract? Furthermore, how would inheritance, control over one’s affairs, etc. be adjudicated in a plural marriage? The answer: It can’t, at least not easily. Allowing plural marriages would require many adaptations and changes in the legal system. Going from man/woman marriage to two-person gay marriages, is not much of a leap; but enabling plural marriage introduces many potential complications. So slippery-slope thinking just does not apply here.

2. Marriage is intended for procreation only. Most people who spout this canard have never once considered the ramifications of this statement. If one follows this logic, it leads to the conclusion that infertile people cannot be allowed to marry (since they will never have children); it also means that couples cannot be left childless. I cannot even begin to imagine policing the “marriage-is-only-for-procreation” policy if it were to be made law; I suppose one could arrest and punish childless couples, and force infertile people to divorce, but really … it’s simply absurd. The idea that marriage is solely for procreation, cannot become the basis for matrimonial policy.

The bottom line, folks, is that gay marriage is here, and it will stay. I suppose opponents could fend it off for a generation or two by amending constitutions (state and/or federal), but eventually it will happen. Offhand I’d say the better thing to do is to grow up, accept it, and stop meddling in other people’s lives for no good reason.

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4 Responses to “Observations On Marriage In The US”
  1. […] Pope suggests, here, that marriage is about procreation. As I pointed out way back in 2008, however, this is not the case, as millions of childless married couples around the world can […]

  2. […] principles, marriage can ONLY be between one man and one woman, is factually incorrect, as I’ve blogged previously. There have been several different kinds of marriage during the history of the Abrahamic faiths; […]

  3. […] logical (and legal) problem with equating gay marriage with polygamy is one I’ve pointed out before, and that is that a gay marriage is still a contract between two people (as is a current […]

  4. […] argument was actually a fallacy.  Instead of arguing principle, however, the pundits hypocritically argued that same-sex marriages were no longer deviant in the American mainstream, whereas plural marriages […]