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A Brief History of Marriage

The institution of marriage has had a long and sordid history. Not always referred to as marriage, which is a word from the 14th century French (marier) to marry, this sacred state had slipped through history under many guises and forms.

Monogamy – describes a union of male and female or (today) same sex couples, so long as the partners are only sleeping with each other. Until only recently in the long history of humankind, marriages were arranged according to lineage and economics. Kingdoms united through members of each royal family. Countries aligned with arranged partnerships. Bloodlines blended throughout history, in the belief that it made them more royal or enduring. Arranged marriages in tight royal bloodlines, often came about because of the sometimes humiliating and always detrimental outcome of too much inbreeding in a family line. Try as they might, attempting to keep the blood pure was not conducive to strong rule.

Polygamy – is the practice of one man or woman with several spouses of the opposite sex.  Often, the need for this type of arrangement came from times of war, plague or other disaster. Women left with children and no husband to provide for them were taken as second wives to a brother-in-law or other adequate provider. The idea of multiple spouses as a show of love was virtually unheard of.

Polyamory – is a multiple-partnered marriage whereby the partners get together out of love. Polyamory was sometimes practiced in the Polynesian Islands prior to missionaries and their stodgy ideas of Christian marriage. In these areas, the expression of sex and desire was a gift given by the gods to ensure a strong race. Just as much of the parenting was done in a communal type atmosphere with many mothers and many fathers, so too, were the relations that developed among members of the village. Partnering with one person was entirely foreign to this area, as with many areas of the world.

Common-Law – is the relationship of a couple without legal ceremony or license.

For most of mankind’s “civilized” history, a woman was considered a possession of first her father and then her lawful husband. She had little voice in where they lived, what her husband did and her own duties. She (post-Christianity) must devote herself to her husband, family and faith. Aside from that, her time was her own.

There were exceptions. Many countries, prior to Christianity or missionary outreach, believed the women to be the spiritual advisors, warriors on equal footing and often times judge and jury. Women’s councils were commonplace, for everything from healing and midwifery to dream interpretation for the community.

The ancient world had practices that set women up as trophies of war, competition and feats of strength or bravery. Like a gold statue, a chariot, a horse, farmland or other prize, officers and victors were awarded wives into the bargain. Armies would often return home with women as booty from a raid or battle won. These women were either enslaved or married off to the soldier who brought her home.

Monogamous marriages rose to their peak during the Victorian period in British history. The Puritans moved marriage to a point where love counted and delighting in the state of marriage became commonplace, yet extremely committed. The Victorian period dragged marriage into the closet. Sex was something embarrassing and improper with a quiet understanding that married couples engaged in marital relations, without pleasure and as duty and God dictated.

Until as recently as twenty years ago, in some areas of North America women still needed a husband’s signature to obtain a credit card or mortgage. As in ancient Rome, women went shopping in the marketplace, but they carried no money. They had a manservant to carry it for them. Things have certainly changed. You don’t see many manservants in the local supermarket.

Copyright 2002


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