I have been intending to publish a piece on marriage equality for some time, but I haven’t got around to finishing the article I started quite some time ago on the topic. Anyways, the media has been all over tennis legend Margaret Court over the past week or so after she announced her intent to avoid flying Qantas (where possible) due to its support of same-sex marriage.
I was watching Court’s interview on “The Panel”, and as is common when hearing conservative Christians discuss their opposition to marriage equality, it was quite clear that Court believes that somehow marriage is a Judeo-Christian concept, as if it was invented by Jews (and Christians), and as if it were dependent upon the Bible.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The origins of the concept of marriage appears to be lost somewhere in the realm of pre-history, as practically all recorded history shows the presence of some form of concept of marriage. That is, the very earliest surviving written records reveal that men and women formed life-long partnerships that were recognized as akin to formal marriage. That is, the kings of ancient Egypt had their queens, who were of course their wives. The gods of ancient Mesopotamia had their female consorts – their wives.
These early records significantly pre-date any evidence of Hebrew culture and/or religion by well over a thousand years, showing the existence of concepts of marriage well prior to any historical evidence for a Judeo-Christian tradition. Of course, Christians can claim that their religious tradition existed well before the earliest definitive and widely recognised historical evidence (roughly 1200 BCE). The same however is true for Egypt, Mesopotamia and India (amongst others). Hence, we cannot simply grant the Jewish-Christian claims without evidence and not do the same for other cultures.
Concepts of marriage exist in practically all cultures, most of which are clearly independent of any Judeo-Christian tradition. Obviously there are vast differences in the details of marriage traditions, but the fact remains that marriage is a universal concept, existing from time immemorial.
I have pointed this out to many Christians before me who had been claiming that marriage was a Christian (or Judeo-Christian concept), who have then sought to move the goalposts by arguing that, “well, our modern Western conception of marriage is derived from the Christian tradition”, or “the West is built upon Judeo-Christian foundations, and marriage in Western countries is based upon the Bible”.
This is of course simply a matter of splitting hairs, as if they are saying that because Western culture is different in some details from the innumerable cultural traditions of the world at large, that therefore marriage in our society is different. So, what they are trying to say is that Christian marriage is a Christian concept. Well, of course it is. Just like Hindu marriage is a Hindu concept. But Hindu marriage and Christian marriage are both marriage. And an Australian Christian husband and wife are recognised as being married in India, just as an Indian Hindu husband and wife are recognised as being married in Australia.
Furthermore, our modern Western culture is secular, not Christian. It was Christian, but thankfully over the past several centuries we have separated church from state, leading to the potential for dramatic reforms, allowing for massive improvements in women’s rights, religious freedom, multiculturalism and general liberalisation. Of course our modern culture is not perfect, but to take the flaws of modern culture as evidence of “cultural Marxism” or the evils of a relativistic, secular world as the far-right claim, would be mad. We have come a long way. We still have much progress to make, we may have regressed in some ways, but there is no point looking back to a time when religion ruled all, as in truth things weren’t so rosy back then.
To claim that marriage in general is based upon the Bible is absurd, and simply factually incorrect. Of course, Christian marriage within a church is based upon the Bible. But marriage as a whole; no. So, when Christians say that we should leave marriage alone, they are trying to reunite church and state. Modern marriage is largely a secular and legal matter to be determined by the state. Of course people can still choose to be married in a church or temple if they are so inclined, but they have no right to deny the legitimacy of someone else’s marriage just because they are outside their faith, or their sexual preference is abhorred by an ancient text which they hold sacred.
Whilst I will save my thoughts about marriage equality in general for a further article specifically on that topic, I will say this now. I have little sympathy for conservatives who claim that they are being bullied when called bigots for opposing marriage equality. Just to be clear, obviously I don’t condone actual bullying of people on the basis of their beliefs. Freedom of speech is important, as is freedom of religion, even if we don’t approve of things that people say or believe. However, when people cite the Bible in their denouncement of homosexuals and speak of diabolical conspiracies taking aim at our children in reference to pro-marriage equality political lobbying, such things deserve to be actively denounced. Those that make such statements cannot expect others to simply let such comments fly without a response. I have seen lots of bad arguments against marriage equality, but no good ones. Whilst Christians are indeed persecuted in some parts of the world (particularly many parts of the Middle-East), I don’t believe Christians are being persecuted in Western countries (though there have been some cases whereby activists have gone too far). Rather, Christians are losing their privilege, as they should. Christians need to accept that in a secular culture they cannot expect to say “the Bible says so…” and expect people to follow suit. Fortunately, the Bible has no standing in a secular culture.
Certainly our conception of marriage has already changed dramatically over time, and this is certainly a good thing, not something to mourn. For much of history, marriage has literarily been a transfer of property (the bride) from her father to her husband. The fact that in Western culture we largely aim towards the ideal of men and women being equal and autonomous entities in themselves is certainly a major step forward from historical norms. The modern Western conception of marriage is as a formal, legal and cultural recognition of a life partnership between two adults who love each other, and share both deep friendship and also romance and passion. In recent times we have come to recognise marriage between men and women of different faiths, races and cultures as perfectly healthy and normal. Recognizing marriage between members of the same gender is simply the next natural step in evolving modern morals and ethics in the direction of truly universal and timeless ethical ideals, and away from backwards and superstitious cultural norms.
There is obviously much more I could say on the topic, but again, I will save that for a further article on the topic in general. I just wanted to say that when you hear Christians claiming that marriage is a Christian concept, based on the Bible, you can call BS. It’s simply not true. Christians should stop making this claim, and they should retract their previous statements.