Proponents of California’s Proposition 8 have made preserving “traditional marriage” their rallying cry. But what is traditional marriage, exactly? The excellent blog Sociological Images makes this point:
In early American history, when families largely lived on farms and worked for sustenance, people didn’t marry because they loved each other. And they certainly didn’t split up because they did not. Marriage choices were highly influenced by their families and, once married, husbands and wives formed a working partnership aimed at production. They teamed up to support themselves and make children who would take care of them when they were old and help them in the meantime.
The piece goes on to point out that mutual love and happiness only became a major component of American marriages in the 20th century. And throughout history, indeed, we can see plenty of examples of major social customs around marriage and the family shifting as economic and social realities changed. From the number of children that a couple has to the age difference in spouses, from a formal engagement process deeply involving the families to living together prior to marriage with no family input, we can see clear changes over time in how marriage and “couple-hood” in general are carried out. After all, it wasn’t even all that long ago that a woman was considered to be the property of her husband, with no rights of her own.
My point is, marriage and the family are constantly changing over time. And as Sociological Images points out, “when someone speaks of ‘traditional’ marriage, they actually just mean ‘the kind of marriage that I like that I am pretending existed throughout all time before this current threat right now.’” There is no single standard of “traditional marriage” that we can safely use to define marriage in our society today.
But if opponents of marriage equality can’t stand on tradition, then what can they stand on? Biblical scripture. Indeed, commonly cited by the proponents of changing California’s constitution (and, for that matter, the measures in Florida and Arizona this year that are also seeking to outlaw marriage equality) is marriage as outlined in the Bible. I’m not going to debate scripture here. For that matter, I do not care what the Bible has to say about marriage, because when we are discussing civil law, then we must recognize the separation of church and state: the Bible has nothing to say on the matter!
We have religious freedom in the United States, and included with that is that each church may define for itself how it wants to handle marriage. And each Sunday school may teach what it wants to teach. There are churches out there today that preach that divorce is wrong, but we do not want it to be outlawed, now, do we? Why should churches get to define marriage for everybody?