f Humanisticus: The Traditional Definition of Marriage

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Traditional Definition of Marriage

In the wake of the comments made by The Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu and former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, and the establishment of the Coalition for Marriage, I have decided to reiterate and develop my thoughts on the issue of same-sex marriage. Much of their argument seems to lean on two key points: that marriage is traditional, and the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. 

‘It is not the role of the state to redefine marriage.’ Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu

‘It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight.’ Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu

‘Marriage was not dreamt up by government, and this current government cannot simply overturn thousands of years of history by redefining it.’ Coalition for Marriage website.

First of all I would like to point out that in both instances they are correct. Marriage has traditionally been between a man and woman in Europe for almost two millennia, and as it is such an established tradition it became legally defined as such; but are tradition and definition sufficient reasons to exclude and discriminate a whole section of society, of course not; especially since this tradition only began and prevailed due to the discrimination and persecution of this group in the first place. Marriage existed long before the establishment of the church. Same-sex marriages, informal and formal, prevailed in Asia, Europe, and North America (further research may turn up more). That is until Christianity got its hands on this ancient worldwide tradition. As Lord Carey put it, ‘the honourable estate of matrimony precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way, but that is exactly what Christianity did, redefined the ancient tradition of marriage. In 342AD Constantius II and Constans issued a law in the Theodosian Code declaring same-sex marriages illegal and punishable by death. Later c. 390, homosexual sex itself became illegal and those found guilty were burnt alive in a public display. Therefore the current tradition of marriage exists thanks to 17 centuries of discrimination after the church ‘redefined’ this institution. So when the church defends their definition of marriage; that is what they are defending, a long history of discrimination and capital punishment.  Neither any religion nor any nation owns the rights to the institution of marriage; therefore it is time the church returns it to the people from its 17 century hijacking.

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