Friday, February 24, 2012

A short natural history of marriage

Gay marriage is probably going to be an issue in politics this year. So I'll try to do a public service (or disservice) by writing a bit more about it.

 Marriage, Ordained or Customary?
As a scientist, I see marriage not as a sacrament created by God, but as a group of ethnic customs. The Bible gives insight into ancient Hebrew marriage customs, including the bride price, multiple wives, handmaidens standing in for barren wives, widows required to marry a brother-in-law, and concubines.

Luckily, marriage customs have progressed. I agree with those who say that the traditional purpose of marriage is to conceive, bear, and raise children. But marriage has more purposes than just that. Love, mutual help, and companionship have also been reasons for marrying or staying married even if there were no children. Abraham kept his barren wife Sarah because he loved her so much. Only after 24 years did Sarah bear a child, Isaac.

Most of our customs come from Europe since most of our ethnic stock is European. Arranged marriage became less common in Europe sooner than other regions, and the dowry was more frequent than selling a daughter for a price. Widows and widowers marrying was common, not to have more children, but to share the work of the household and have the benefits of the close, personal, and special relationship of husband and wife.

Marriage without Reproduction
I reject that all marriages must follow the format of reproductive marriages-a man and a woman of childbearing age. We have found that marriage is beneficial for other reasons too, and I don't see why the benefit shouldn't be extended as a right to same-sex couples. I do mean a right, just as most of us have assumed that we could marry without excessive state interference.

The main reason I hold this view is that I don't have any religious or prejudicial grounds for objecting to homosexual orientation or acts. I used to think homosexuality was wrong, but after shedding my learned prejudice, I couldn't find anything intrinsically wrong in it. But more than that, I realized that many homosexuals have the same depth of love that I have. We are different, but not so different. Instead, I feel so much commonality. We share the knowledge of life and love. I wish Santorum and others could see this.

Groom's family bearing gifts come to negotiate a bride price.

Extra: A different but also short history of marriage.

No comments: