The current arguments before the Supreme Court touch on the issues of equality before the law and of precedent in Common Law.  The former seems clear that it cannot be Constitutional to deny people the right to marry whom so ever they wish.  The idea of precedent is questionable as this Supreme Court has nullified precedent in the Citizens United case.  A related issue of precedent associated with Common Law, and upon which many conservative and religiously oriented commentators have focused is the issue of what is the goal of marriage and its role?  No where in any part of scripture do we find a justification for the union of two people as only male and female, in fact, most scripture identifies the creation of Eve as an after thought by a god who desires his male creation to be happy and not lonely.  The life of Eden is described as one in which the two creations are complete.  New creations, that is, children are not mentioned.

   The lack of clear definition of marriage and its role is of interest.  Usually people who are opposed to homosexuals and marriage equality point to the covenant with Abraham (Genesis, 17:17, King James Bible) for the idea of multiplying but in Genesis 16:1-15, we have Abraham having sex with his wife's maid as a means of having children, producing Ishmael.  So what is the nature of marriage here?  It seems there is no real definition.  So let's look deeper into the history of scripture.

There is much debate over the nature of marriage, of what is the
religious foundation and of what marriage means in the Christian
tradition.  Often I read people quoting scripture on this issue.  
Perhaps it is time to look at that scripture as a source of legitimacy.

    Fundamentalist Christians define and defend marriage by the use of
scripture. While there is no one form of marriage in the world,
monogamy, polygny, polyandry etc. early Christians were exhorted not to
marry. In Luke, Chapter 20:34, the Apostle says that Christ stated of
marriage, "The children of this world marry and are given in marriage,
but those who are deemed worthy to attain That World  and the
resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."  
This wording differs in the different manuscripts and codices, some
extant others lost, but nearly the same passage is found in Matthew
22:29. (See Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 1958;  Kahle & Caldararo ,
State of Preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nature, 1986; Caldararo,
"Storage conditions and physical treatments relating to the dating of
the Dead Sea Scrolls," Radiocarbon, v. 37, n. 1, 1994:21-32).

     Considerable discussion over the wording has been of historical
interest among scholars due to the fact that early Christians shunned
marriage, and the Essenes who forbade marriage according to Pliny. The
passage of  "those who are deemed worthy to attain That World" is
significant as it appears to indicate a difference between this world
and that of the resurrection or heaven.  It follows a debate between
Christ and others who are trying to trap him into a treasonous
statement over Roman hegemony.  Yet in this passage he is asked to
respond to a specific question of Jewish law, that of remarriage of a
woman to a dead man's brothers and who she will be marriage to in
heaven, one (monogamy or all, polygamy).  He is put in the position of
denying one tradition or another, that is, marriage of brothers of dead
men or polygamy.  Some have argued that his answer quoted above is
consistent with Saint Paul's reasoning that Christ chose to "walk
through Samaria" that is, to create a new community separate from the
strictures of traditional Judaism like the less complicated Samaria.

     The reason for early Christian negative attitudes on marriage is
found in writings of the late Roman period where Luke is referenced
that marriage distracts believers from contemplation on Christ and the
world to come.  It divides the community.  But also Roman law gave
fathers near absolute control over their wives and children and so the
early Christian fathers found themselves in conflict with the authority
of the paterfamilias.  Later in the Dark and Middle Ages the power of
the manor lord over his serfs gave them the right to sell wife and
husband separately according to G.G. Coulton (see his Medieval Village,
Manor and Monastery, 1925).  The Church validated both marriage and
sales and thus the idea of an eternal marriage rite was in
contradiction to this practice.  Therefore this passage was significant
in arguing that marriage was neither a sacred sacrament nor an eternal
institution allowing priests to dissolve marriage at the pleasure of
the lord.  Trial marriages were common in Europe in the Middle Ages and
often a woman might marry with several children from other men.  As the
population of Europe fell in the period following the invasions of the
Mongols and the waves of disease of the Black Death in the 14th
century, the need for labor and the rising conflict of the struggle
against feudalism and the Church led to the Reformation and a
redefinition of marriage.  The Church's control over property and
inheritance became increasingly important as the legitimacy of claims
to both secular thrones and to the Vatican came into question.  The
battle for supremacy of power, secular or religious rose in the
appointment of several popes at one time by kings and the
excommunication of kings by popes.  Here lies the redefinition of
marriage as an institution, the Church claimed it had the sacred power
to recognize births and the unions that created them as well as the
legal identity of heirs.  Henry VIII's power as king and other ruling
lords desired independent power and the wars of the Reformation settled
those claims on the battlefields of the Thirty Years War.  Europe
became more secular and people freer to chose their mates, inherit
wealth and think for themselves.  Marriage was one segment to this long
conflict and yet the liberty of women and their rights to chose, to
inherit and to have legal standing were yet to come.

    I urge people to read Lewis Ellies du Pin's A New History of
Ecclesiastical Writers, published in the 17th century.  It is available
in translation made by W.W.B.D. in 1692.  The book collates and
presents the arguments over the centuries made by the Church at its
various meetings (Councils) in adapting scripture to the demands of the
time.  We find here explanations of why some writings were accepted
others rejected.  An additional discussion of Gnostic writings and the
long lost Gospel of Mary is found in Hans Jonas' book on the Gnostics.

Originally posted to niccolo caldararo on Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 11:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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