Today, at least in the Western world, monogamy may seem central to marriage. However, polygamy was and still is common throughout history. From Jacob, to Kings David and Solomon, Biblical men often had anywhere from two to thousands of wives.
Over time religions, in particular the Roman Catholic Church became bitterly embroiled over marriage protocols as kings and the nobility wanted to have "dalliances" with many women and felt that the church was a fetter and humbug. Monogamy became the guiding principle for Western marriages sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries. The Church eventually prevailed with monogamy becoming central to the notion of marriage by the ninth century.
State or church
Religious-based marriages in the West were originally contracts between the families of two partners, with the Catholic Church and the state staying out of it. However, in 1215, the church decreed that partners had to publicly post notices (on the town bulletin board and then in local newspapers) of an impending marriage in a local parish, or village to cut down on the frequency of invalid marriages (the Church eliminated that requirement in the 1980s). Still, until the 1500s, the Church accepted a couple's word that they had exchanged marriage vows, with no witnesses or corroborating evidence needed.
About 250 years ago, the notion of love matches became an integral part of the marriage construct for the first time - meaning marriage was based on love and possibly sexual desire. But mutual attraction in marriage wasn't important until about a century ago.
Against this historical backdrop, gay marriage and sexuality threatened the ideal image of the modern family. Firstly, it challenges the family's rationale as a unit in the reproduction of labor power, and secondly, the very ideology of traditional marriage and the family. The very idea of same sex partners existing and living besides "traditional" man-wife families, an essential construct for the nuclear family, is difficult for many, especially those in the religious community, to accept.
The fact is that you cannot, no pun intended, divorce marriage from class based politics and economics. I posit the fact that "traditional" working class families and their promotion by big capitalist interests was a way to ultimately ensure a cheap supply of necessary labor. Thus, this nuclear family built on the fabled and idealistic foundation of "legal marriage" -- sanctioned and "blessed" by the church -- became the accepted and only way of living.
In those days, homosexuality was frowned on in the American society and gay and lesbians had to remain "in the closet" -- they could not "come out." Further, with organized religion's blessings and complicity, the United States Courts, aided and abetted by the government, passed laws that criminalized homosexuality and homosexuals. These laws were overturned over many years in a bloody and brutal struggle rife with ignorance, discrimination, bigotry and intolerance.
Today, all that has changed is the capitalist system no longer embraces or respects the nuclear family. Socio-economic pressures and what Karl Marx called "money being the nexus of all marriages" in capitalist society has resulted in increased divorce rates and the rise of single parents with fewer children being born in wedlock.
So as long as the traditional family is an economic unit, for rearing children and satisfying the consumption needs of the adults and the capitalist system, homosexuals are bound to be considered deviant: the homosexual male is not seen to fit the man's role as the provider for wife and children, and the homosexual female is not seen to act the role of mother and wife. The contemporary family is not only a prison for those in it, but also enslaves those who do not fit into the sex-role stereotypes connected with it.
Marriage Equality may be the law of the land today but its raised many more questions and deepened the acute class divisions in United States society that will influence ALL marriage issues - for many years to come. This is not over by a long shot.
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