I found an interesting article in TIME Magazine on the insidious consequences on Christian churches across the U.S. and the world for jumping into the same-sex marriage struggle. Given the research in how the religious right oriented the LGBT movements towards seeing same-sex marriage as a legitimate goal, this is a strange turn of events indeed.
Marriage Existed Before Christianity and Independent Of It
Like Catholicism until the Council of Trent in 1545 (and subsequent Protestant actions), Buddhism does not consider marriage to be a sacrament. The protocol and enforceability of marriage was something left to the non-religious aspects of social and political life.
The Buddha did not make a judgment about the institution of marriage itself. It was a social institution, like every other social institution, it could help promote the cultivation of a more conscious awareness or it could promote more suffering for the individual. The Buddha's only instruction for lay people was not to engage in sexual misconduct -- that is, to be faithful and attentive to yourself and your partner if you are committed, and if single, to be faithful and attentive to yourself.
In Europe, religion did not get involved in marriage generally until the 1200s and not officially until the 1545 Council of Trent during the Catholic Counter-Reformation and subsequent actions by Protestant leaders. In fact, until the East-West Schism, most wedding ceremonies continued to use the Ancient Rome pagan marriage ritual or local pagan rituals for marriage. In some parts of countries which use the English common law system, a "common-law marriage" is still recognized by courts -- if a man and woman have lived together for seven years and held each other out to husband and wife, it is presumed by the court that they had married each other. But, how, you may ask, is that presumption possible if, in fact, they had no ceremony? Because until the 1600s, a man saying "I marry you" (in the present tense) together with wedlock (having sex) was the act of marrying -- that's all. From the 1545 onward, the Catholic Church insisted that legal canonical marriages required an ordained priest and two witnesses for a marriage to be legal. Protestant churches came around a little later.
However, by that time, the "common law marriage" was so ingrained in custom as a legitimate means of marrying that it persisted in Great Britain until abolished in 1753 by the Marriage Act. This did not apply to the colonies and so these kinds of marriages were still recognized in the United States, Canada and Australia until after World War II. At that time, there was a movement around the world to tighten regulation of family and many places eliminated recognition of a common law marriage.
So, its really hard to say that Christian churches were mistaken for 1500 years on the marriage question and then corrected themselves while they were slaughtering each other all of Europe during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It is likely that then-current moral trends and understanding changed which changed the interpretation of Christian scripture.
Every religion has recognized the spiritual dimensions that the deepening of intimacy can bring to the soul of one in committed relationship based on love. Jesus made comments regarding the suitability of different lifestyle arrangements to different dispositions and characters of persons in Matthew 19 where he repudiates marriage in general -- like in Luke 18. This is similar to the Buddha's liberal view of sexual relations holding only that acts and intentions further suffering should be avoided. This is also similar to the thoughts of great teachers in the Chinese and Indian traditions.
Marriage is not a product of Christianity but something Christianity grafted itself onto during a time of major social upheaval in renaissance Europe. Marriage, throughout the world, until World War II continued to operate independently of even the government until the government began to more tightly regulate laws relating to family and property.
Religious Doctrinal Disputes Should Not Guide the Public Policy Debate
The TIME Magazine article above shows the real problem why same-sex marriage has been seen as a threat to certain Christian churches. The threat of same-sex marriage is that there are internal disputes within churches about the integration of gay identity and whether religious metaphors should be understood literally or metaphorically. But this dispute is not one for a secular government to be involved in. "Ibigay nga ninyo kay Cesar ang mga bagay na nauukol kay Cesar. Ibigay ninyo sa Diyos ang mga bagay na nauukol sa Diyos." Mat 22:21
There may be non-religious reasons for and against same-sex marriage. But the saving of "tradition" or "sacred" aspects of marriage are not among them. Marriage has historically been a social institution to control and stabilize society in service of the dominant economic mode of production at any given point. The real debate should be whether the current structure of marriage and family is adequate for the needs of society and social justice today.
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