Saturday, August 3, 2013

What makes a marriage? A Christian historical view is better than you think...

Viewpoint published in the National Catholic Reporter by THomas Finn, chancellor professor of religion (emeritus) at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
[In the 12th c]  sharp debate arose ...about what constituted true marriage. One group argued that it was at the point of sexual consummation true marriage exists, because consummation embodied the union between Christ and the church. A second group argued that it was consent given in the present to live together as equal partners with mutual affection and respect that embodied the union. By the end of the century the "consentist" position had won the debate, largely because its architect, the prominent Parisian theologian Peter Lombard, had written a textbook that became the theology text for the next 400 years. 
Thus, for some 1,600 years, what made a marriage a true marriage was consent, from which its three benefits -- fidelity, children and sacred union -- flowed. Whether a couple could have children was, like sexual attraction, nature's call -- not what makes marriage marriage. ... 
Given the percentage of people for and against same-sex marriage, more than 60 percent of our citizens, including Catholics, seem to agree with what our Western predecessors concluded about what truly constitutes marriage, whether for an opposite-sex or same-sex couple, namely, consent to a life together of partners infused with affection and respect constitutes true marriage, from which the social benefits flow.
Meanwhile, John Boswell's book on pre-modern same sex unions  has been getting recent press (it recently was released in digital format)
Much of Boswell's most controversial research featured the academic's discovery of more than 60 texts -- dating back to the 8th century -- that described ceremonies the historian said were essentially "same-sex unions."
In a 1994 New York Times review of Boswell's book, Peter Steinfels writes that the picture painted by Boswell is both a fascinating and complex one:
There is no question that Professor Boswell has found records of ceremonies consecrating a pairing of men, ceremonies often marked by similar prayers and, over time, by standardized symbolic gestures: the clasping of right hands, the binding of hands with a stole, kisses, receiving holy communion, a feast following the ceremony. Some of these ritual actions also marked heterosexual marriages, but there remained differences in both actions and words between the two ceremonies.
The piece goes on to detail the outrage that Boswell's study provoked.

As I've pointed out before, the scholar of marriage Stephanie Coontz has argued that same sex marriages are inevitable outcomes of the fact that we have de-gendered marriage.  Once women could control their own bodies, once men no longer owned women's bodies nor property, once marriage became a partnership of equals, there is no logical reason to deny loving same sex couples civil marriage rights.

What do you think?


Daniel Weir said...

I think some of the opposition to marriage equality is because it represents another defeat of patriarchy. In a sense traditional marriage is threatened, if by traditional you mean patriarchal.

IT said...

Daniel, I think that's it. There's no coincidence that the vocal opponents to equality are in very traditional, wife-at-home, home-school-8-children marriages (like Brian Brown, president of NOM).

Counterlight said...

I agree. I think the transformation of marriage from the Victorian ideal of a patriarchal despotism over women and children to a partnership between equals would lead almost inevitably to same sex marriage. In and equal partnership, the genders of the partners would hardly matter anymore.

I read John Boswell's book on Christianity and homosexuality years ago, are real eye-opener.