Is Marriage Religious?
In March of 2011, I got married to the light of my heart. About eighty friends and family came from near and far to be with us. Her father walked her down the isle beneath the canopy of a single, sturdy tree.
My groomsmen were lined up formally on the stairway to the patio, all except my Best Man, who was kind of leaning casually with his hands in his pockets.
I recited vows I wrote myself into a microphone that wasn’t sensitive enough for everyone to hear, but they could see the emotion on my face as they tried reading lips. It was a wonderful ceremony filled with passion, emotion, and a few humorous tidbits.
It was also decidedly not religious in any way, shape or form.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act is a historic ruling for gay and lesbian couples. It also affects the nonreligious among us, those who wish to be married without priests and bibles in sight.
DOMA advocates took the stance that marriage was a religious ceremony, and according to some of the more zealous believers, that meant the church should have say over how marriage is actually defined. They actually have it backwards, though; marriage is widely performed as a religious ceremony, but monogamy actually pre-dates every practicing religion today.
That’s right, marriage is probably older than religion.
According to the Journal of Molecular Evolution, monogamy passed polygamy in popularity over 20,000 years ago. We know this because genes are passed on to descendants in predictable patterns, and monogamy’s pattern is clearly different. Around that time human beings were producing art and starting to farm crops, so we know our ancestors were capable of celebrating and planning for the future. It is very possible that connections between two individuals were strong enough to warrant a celebration in their honor, long before the written word existed.
Throughout its history, marriage has had its ups and downs. For all its associations with love and romance today, it has also been used as a political tool, a form of payment, and a way to join business partners. It has been many things to many people.
The ceremony can be social, but it doesn’t need to be.
It doesn’t have to be recognized by a governing entity but often is because of certain benefits. And it certainly can be religious, but as in the case of my wedding, it really doesn’t have to be.
The claim that marriage must be cemented as a religious ceremony ignores its history, and sticking to that claim constricts what marriage actually is and what it means to society. It is a versatile institution that will mean something slightly different to every couple, whether they’re straight or gay, religious or not. Its intrinsic value is to join people together, not to segregate.