Marriage ring by Jo Christian Oterhals
The current Supreme Court cases regarding gay marriage have the potential, over time, to transform the concept of marriage in this country.
Arguments regarding Proposition 8 and DOMA had people asking many questions, but one was simple:
Can our society live up to the promise of equality, and the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if we continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation?
Perhaps it's time to ask whether we're on a slippery slope, or on a stairway up, where each step is a deliberately chosen advance toward a more just society.
Let's be willing to ask what purpose "marriage" serves today, and even if there's a legitimate role for the State to play.
The recent debate only obliquely focused on Church vs. State prerogatives regarding "marriage", but this consideration is actually at the core of the issue.
To understand where we are, it helps to know where we've been.
A glance back finds that originally, marriage was an economic and political arrangement with wives having fewer rights than the husband.
From the fall of the Roman Empire until the 16th century, the Church controlled the institution of marriage. They decided whether you would be allowed to marry.
The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century rejected the prevailing concept of marriage, when Martin Luther declared marriage to be "a worldly thing . . . that belongs to the realm of government".
The English Puritans in the 17th century passed an Act of Parliament asserting "marriage to be no sacrament" and soon thereafter made marriage purely secular. It was no longer to be performed by a minister, but by a justice of the peace.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Enlightenment thinkers advocated marrying for love rather than wealth or status.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries, wives began to insist on being regarded as their husbands' equals, rather than their property.
By 1970, widespread use of contraception transformed marriage: Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. Marriage gradually become viewed as a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness.
And here we are today, with gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married.