Cross-posted at Immizen.com
As we know, sadly, the same sex marriage bigots came out in force past Wednesday to give support to Chick-fil-A’s stance of “marriage is between a man and a woman”.
Marriage has been many things to so many people over the centuries and across cultures, that in the light of the Chick-fil-A scandal, it gives us an added incentive to do a little research on the topic of marriage.
This book chapter, “The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love”, has a great compilation of examples of the cultural phenomena of marriage throughout history and diverse cultures, and the main point it makes is that marriage was not always about love.
George Bernard Shaw described marriage as an institution that brings together two people "under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part."
People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply. But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married.
The chapter goes on to discuss Plato’s and other philosopher’s take on marriage and love, wading through the traditions in ancient Indian, Greece, the Middle Ages, and China in current times. The chapter also recounts how adultery became idealized as the highest form of love among the European aristocracy of the 12th/13th century
In twelfth-century France, Andreas Capellanus, chaplain to Countess Marie of Troyes, wrote a treatise on the principles of courtly love. The first rule was that "marriage is no real excuse for not loving." But he meant loving someone outside the marriage.Aaah, yeah, the French. And the olden Romans were not much better:
In many cultures, public displays of love between husband and wife were considered unseemly. A Roman was expelled from the Senate because he had kissed his wife in front of his daughter.And then there is love in remote African tribes:
Many cultures still frown on placing love at the center of marriage. In Africa, the Fulbe people of northern Cameroon do not see love as a legitimate emotion, especially within marriage. One observer reports that in conversations with their neighbors, Fulbe women "vehemently deny emotional attachment to a husband."And there is a whole section on “Happily Ever After” that unfortunately focuses on happy marriages between three or more people, usually more wives than husbands, except for some African tribes and the Eskimos. The claim seems to be that “happy” only works if there is no need for two people to be faithful to each other.
The book chapter is very thorough in describing love and marriage through the ages and societies and basically calls into question the new order in which marriage is expected “to satisfy more of people’s psychological and social needs than ever before”.
But even if marriage in the past wasn’t what it is today, as in the example from Roman times, everything was different back then; people would go to the coliseum to see lions eat the humans and cheer. Do we want to go back to these times? And some guys may like the idea of having 2 or more wives like in some African tribes but would they like to live in that tribe?
Marriage has evolved and become more complicated, more demanding of the partners in a marriage but that is just another one of the challenges of modern life.
Marriage as a cultural tradition to honor and preserve the love between two people is a challenge that is worth pursuing. It is a challenge that should be admired, and not limited to certain people only. I used to think (long time ago, don’t hate me) that marriage was a lame excuse to force a partner to stay in a relationship and that women want it so much because they are insecure. In light of the discussion on same sex marriage and the premise that marriage was not about love in the past, the whole essence of marriage takes a different and better meaning. You have two people, no matter what sex, who love each other and are willing to face the very difficult challenge of committing to loving and staying with another person forever, through thick and thin. And it is that thick and thin that is so noble and so hard to achieve. But when two people make that commitment it should be celebrated.
We see many marriages fail today, but that is not a reason to give up. Someone has to figure it out. We have evolved as people, culturally, (well, some of us have,) and life becomes more demanding of us, sometimes, but more rewarding as well. Marriage demands generosity, empathy, love and reflection. That can only be good. So, let’s press ahead.