Ballista has just written a post over at Society of Phineas where he attacks the modern counterfeit of marriage. His post, Defending the Lie That is Marriage, is worth reading in its entirety, and I suggest my readers head over there first before finishing up with my post.
His post, and the comments which spawned it over at Deep Strength’s blog, got me thinking about what we mean by “marriage.” Ballista likes to use the terms “Marriage 1.0” and “Marriage 2.0” to distinguish between marriage as it was, and marriage as it is now. Certainly for the purposes of discussion such terms are a vast improvement, as they help us keep in mind what is actually being talked about. However, I think that we can go yet further with them. More divisions of what marriage is, and marriage was, are possible. This extends even beyond a categorization based on time, because when we talk about the institution of marriage we are really talking about two different things- the religious institution of marriage, and the legal/civil institution of marriage. They are not the same thing, not by a long-shot. [Edit: As Christians, we should recognize that the State can call whatever it likes marriage, and that doesn’t actually mean that it is marriage. But while the object may not be marriage, the name is, and so it is important to distinguish between them. This post aims to explore that distinction.] So I’m going to use this post to try and break up the two of them, and then categorize them as well, so that when we talk about marriage, we can be as specific as possible.
I. The Religious Institution
Over the course of nearly two thousand years the Christian understanding and meaning of marriage has changed enormously. But most of that change has taken place in the last century or two. Prior to the last two centuries there was a general understanding of what Christian marriage was, and what it wasn’t. Below are my attempts to categorize what Christians (including both Churchians and actual, devout Christians) mean when they refer to marriage in a religious sense:
A. Classical Christian Marriage
This is Christian marriage as it originally existed. Some of its features included:
- A holy union between a man and a woman which is joined together by God, bound by him and their oaths
- The purpose of marriage is to serve God, avoid sexual immorality and to raise Godly Children
- A clear hierarchy in the marriage structure: husband->wife->children
- Binding for Life- the marriage lasted until one party died, with only rare exceptions
- Spouses may not deny each other their conjugal rights
- Contraception was a defilement of the marriage bed
- Clearly defined roles for husband and wife- both worked, although often in different capacities
I used past tense here because, as a general rule, Classical Christian Marriage doesn’t exist anymore- either as a practice or as what people have in mind when they think of marriage. Save perhaps for the most orthodox/conservative Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, where you might see it. They are an exception, even among exceptions, however. Otherwise, this is not what Christians think of when they talk about marriage.
B. “Traditional” Christian Marriage
This is Christian marriage as it existed following the rise of modernism, but before the full manifestation of contemporary feminism. Its features include:
- A holy union between a man and a woman which is joined together by God, bound by their oaths to each other
- The purpose of marriage is to raise Godly children, as well as to civilize men and allow women to achieve their dreams of motherhood
- Recognition of the marital hierarchy, but often accompanied by exemptions and caveats
- Binding for Life- marriage is still supposed to be for life, but there are more “outs” available now
- Spouses are not supposed to deny each other their conjugal rights, but there are exceptions/exemptions
- Contraception is generally a bad thing, but sometimes may be necessary
- Clearly defined roles for husband and wife- the husband works and provides, and the wife raises the children and keeps the home.
When nearly all Christians talk about traditional marriage, or going back to what marriage “used to be”, this is what they mean. Not classical marriage, but rather the religious understanding of marriage that was affected by culture and politics in the modern era. I say politics because legal definitions of marriage started to become prevalent at this point, and influenced people’s understanding of what marriage was.
C. Contemporary “Conservative” Christian Marriage
This is Christian marriage as most “conservative” Christians think of it nowadays. It is thoroughly infected with modern feminist thought, even though its supporters may argue otherwise. It has been around for several generations now. Among its features you find:
- A holy union between a man and a woman who are in love, [DG: here is the newest addition] gay people should be able to get something similar so as to not discriminate
- The purpose of marriage is for the spouses to be happy
- Unclear notions of the marital hierarchy- there might be some nominal notions of submission and headship, but more likely than not marriage is treated as a partnership of equals, i.e. “Mutual Submission”
- Binding for Love- marriage is “supposed” to be for life, but if one of a dozen different things happens, all of which tied to one spouse’s happiness or falling out of love, the marriage can be ended by either party
- Spouses shouldn’t sexually deny each other, but both get a say on what is appropriate or not, and besides, marriage is about more than sex and caring about it too much is a sin
- Contraception is a personal thing between a married couple and God
- Clearly defined role for the husband- he works and provides for and protects the family; the wife however has the right to decide whether she wants to work or wants to stay at home and choose if she wants to raise the kids herself
For most “conservative” Christians this is what they understand by marriage. As one can see by comparing it to what came before, it bears little semblance to what marriage used to be, what marriage is supposed to be. Yet for most Christians they can’t understand how marriage could be anything different- in large part because they haven’t seen anything different themselves. As for another idea of marriage, something more traditional, well, that is something they just are ashamed to think of, much less be associated with.
D. Contemporary “Progressive” Christian Marriage
This is what “progressive” Christians think of when it comes to marriage. Incidentally, this is probably the future of marriage as most Christians understand it. After all, “conservative” marriage now used to be progressive Christian marriage back in the day.
- A union between two [DG: soon to be any number] people in love
- The purpose of marriage is for the spouses to be happy
- No marital hierarchy- marriage is supposed to be a partnership among equals
- Binding for Love- marriage lasts as long as both spouses are happy and in love, once that ceases either may end the marriage for any reason
- Spouses decide for themselves what kind of sex life they should have
- Contraception is a purely personal thing between the couple, and there is nothing wrong with it anyways
- No defined roles for spouses- the spouses do whatever they want with regards to work and children
Everything above is a short summary of what “progressive” Christians think marriage to be. Of course, this is increasingly what the mainstream, “conservative” Christians will come to believe constitutes marriage.
That covers the religious institution of marriage. Now on to the legal/civil side of it.
II. The Legal Institution
The legal “understanding” or “definition” of marriage has changed a great deal in a much shorter period of time than has the religious understanding. In large part this is because the State has played a minor (or even non-existent) role in marriage for most of Christian history. Only in the last few centuries has this changed- not coincidentally this happens to overlap with changes to the religious understanding of marriage as well. [Edit: Remember that we are talking about the State definition of “marriage”, not the institution/sacrament that God created.] Here are my attempts to categorize the legal institution over marriage over time:
A. Marriage v. 0.5
This represents the legal state of marriage before significant government involvement. For much, but not all, of the history of Christianity, this was the norm. The exceptions would be the present, modern age, as well as in the very beginning of the Church under Roman rule. Some of its features:
- Minimal Government regulation- recognizing and regulating marriage was largely left up to the church, and not handled by the state
- Legal Separation- divorce, like marriage, was a private affair; there was generally no civil recognition of divorce, although legal separation of spouses, which handled property rights, was recognized
- Paternal Custody- the father gained custody of all legitimate children in the event of some sort of separation
- No wealth transfer- the state didn’t enforce monetary sanctions on a spouse, as it wasn’t involved in marriage; this means no alimony, property transfers or child support
As you can see, a pretty hands off approach. My basic understanding of history leads me to believe that this was the paradigm from the fall of Rome up to about the Reformation. After that, we saw the next legal stage of marriage develop.
B. Marriage v. 1.0
For a long time this was the classical legal understanding of marriage. It marked an era where government became involved in the field of marriage. The reasons for this are numerous- property disputes, dispute over custody, and moral concerns. Here are a few of its features:
- Government Regulation- government recognized and regulated marriage, marriage licenses were commonplace and were often necessary in conjunction with a Church wedding
- Fault-based Divorce- divorce was permitted in only a few circumstances, such as repeated adultery, abandonment or abuse
- Nature- marriage was a special contractual relationship between a man and a woman
- Paternal Custody- the father gained custody of all legitimate children in the event of some sort of separation; however, certain doctrines did give the mother limited custody, such as during the “tender years”
- Limited Wealth Transfers- In some instance, primarily/only when the husband was at fault, the wife was entitled to alimony payments; otherwise no child support or property transfers
- Coverture- husband and wife considered “one person” for many aspects of the law, with the husband in principal control of the marriage, although certain exceptions did develop towards the end of this regime
- Standing Consent- husband recognized as having the legal right to sex with his wife at any time, no such notion as “marital rape” is recognized, as they are both “one person” (you cannot rape yourself)
Up until the last century or so this was the standard legal understanding of marriage. However, starting with a number of exceptions and caveats developing in the late 1800s, this regime started to undergo a radical transformation. Partly this was due to cultural changes, but also legal changes that expanded upon existing exceptions and doctrines.
C. Marriage v. 2.0
Now we come to the vaunted “Marriage 2.0”, which was, until the last few years, the standard for a number of decades. Only the very oldest now living experienced a time before this legal regime was present. Its appearance was a result of the logical expansion of a number of doctrines, like the “tender years” doctrine, as well as the natural extension of concepts like “married woman’s property laws.” Below are a few of its features:
- Government Regulation- government recognized and regulated marriage, marriage licenses were standard and were often necessary in conjunction with a Church wedding
- Nature- marriage was a special contractual relationship between a man and a woman
- No-Fault based Divorce- divorce was permitted in all circumstances, without any party being “at fault”, essentially unilateral divorce
- Maternal Custody- the mother gained custody of all children in most instances of separation, usually only failing to do so when she was gravely at fault in some way, such as a drug addict
- Significant Wealth Transfers- Child Support is standard from the higher earning spouse, in addition alimony might also be required (usually of the husband), in addition property is split during divorce, with the nature of the split determined by the jurisdiction
- Egalitarianism- husband and wife are separate persons and “equals” before the law, and have equal rights in the marriage
- No Standing Consent- marital rape is recognized everywhere, spouses have no right to sex in marriage
Over the course of the last century Marriage 2.0 developed and flourished. For the longest of time it was the standard legal regime when marriage was concerned. While “No-Fault” divorce was a large part of it, it wasn’t the only component which made Marriage 2.0 what it is. In addition, even when fault was still required some courts still treated it as no-fault anyways. All of these components added up to what constituted Marriage 2.0. I am using past tense here because this regime is in the process of being replaced by a new “edition” or “version”, one which is still forming.
D. Marriage v. 3.0
At last we come to the newest legal version of marriage. Of course, it is still in “Beta”, and can be considered v. 2.5 if we want to get technical. So, what are the changes? Well, to begin with have the removal of any requirement that both parties to a marriage be a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage is recognized under the new regime. Another possible change, one that I predict happening within 15 years, is acceptance of legal polygamy. So it will be a contractual relationship between “two or more” people. For the moment, at least, I think that the requirement of people will stick and animals or other objects won’t be included, but perhaps I’m being optimistic.
Of course, with same sex marriage certain doctrines no longer work. For example, “maternal custody” is likely to be set aside, because it won’t apply to gay couples. My suspicion is that new system for determining custody, based solely on availability and time spent with children, will be developed. Ironically, this might be to the advantage of some men. Otherwise, I don’t expect any significant shake-ups. It is, if anything, a logical development of what has gone before.
What can be readily noticed is that Marriage 0.5 and Marriage 1.0 match up fairly well with both Classical and “traditional” Christian marriage. This is because the former was heavily influenced by the latter. Unfortunately, the development of “traditional” Christian marriage also influenced the legal aspects of marriage, leading to the slow expansion of Marriage 1.0. In fact, for a time there was probably a Marriage 1.5, mostly in the early part of the 20th century. But it was quickly swallowed up by Marriage 2.0. That in turn was also influenced by the “conservative” Christian take on marriage, and reciprocated by influencing “conservative” marriage in turn. Both fed off each others worst natures.
[Edit: Because there was such a strong similarity to what God intended to be marriage, and what the State called marriage, it was easy for most people to assume they were the same thing. In fact, most people still think that the State can determine what is, and isn’t marriage, and that includes most Christians. Zippy covered this subject before in a post here, I think most will find it worth a read, even if they aren’t Catholic.]
This brings us to the counterfeit that Ballista warned about. When most “Christian” leaders today talk about marriage, when they promote marriage, what they are really talking about/promoting is “conservative” Christian marriage under a Marriage 2.0/2.5 regime. Perhaps a few, a rare few, might even support “traditional” marriage. But that is still under the present legal regime. That is a far cry from what “marriage” was like a century ago, when it was either classical or “traditional” Christian marriage under a Marriage 1.0 regime. These conditions might share the same name of “marriage,” but in reality they are very different
Setting aside even any legal considerations, the form of marriage that Christian leaders push today is still not classical Christian marriage. While it might superficially resemble marriage as it originally was for Christians, beneath the surface are found significant mutations that warp the purpose and nature of marriage. Alas, these mutations have been around for long enough that they are now associated with how marriage “traditionally” existed a long time ago. The deceit inherent in traditional marriage is dangerous to someone who think that they are entering a truly Christian marriage for two reasons. The first is that they are not in fact living a Christian marriage as God intended. The second is that the “flaws” in traditional marriage make it vulnerable to the pressures of contemporary culture and the present legal regime- there is plenty to encourage a spouse to change their mind about marriage and blow theirs up on a whim.
As I end this post, I would encourage my readers to offer their thoughts on the interplay between the religious and legal institutions of marriage, as well as my analysis of how marriage has changed over time. Let me know if I’m on the right track, or point out where I missed the mark.