As the issue of gay marriage seems to get people so worked up perhaps we should take a rational look at what we are being asked to tolerate in comparison to the accepted model of "Christian" marriage.
Same Gender Marriage
When people of the same gender want to get married it seems to cause a lot of bad feeling around the world (except for Jamaica where there are no gay people apparently) In Britain we have seen born again Christians occupying churches and disrupting the proceedings, in Australia all marriages between same gender couples have been declared void and in the U.S.A. the problem is considered so great that it will be an important election issue. But why do people get emotional over marriage, is it simply a case of self righteous eagerness to misquote the Bible without having read it properly? After all the whole basis of the Christian faith is tolerance and forgiveness.
The traditional view of marriage supported by most religionists is that it is a legal union of one man and one woman sanctified by God. That is fine with me so long as it suits both the individuals involved. It gets sticky however when certain groups start citing ancient scriptures in support of attempts to impose their moral prejudices on the rest of the community.
Traditional one man - one woman marriages have little to do with God at least not in the Abrahamic religions. Too often the interpretations placed upon the Hebrew scriptures that form most of the Biblical tradition are subjective in the extreme. The model for marriage in western European civilisation with all the rights and responsibilities that go with the legal status of marriage never had any currency in the Middle East. Marriage as we know it seems to have originated in northern Europe in neolithic times. The pairing of a man and a woman established a family unit that could provide stability and security within the extended family group. Extended families formed into communities within which the old, disabled, orphaned children, widows and the sick were cared for by the group.
The writer Jean M. Auel in her excellent series Earth's Children provides some well researched speculation on the nature of ancient communities from which our civilisation grew. There are no stone age communities surviving in Europe of course, but we can learn a lot from the cultures of Native Americans, the Inuit and the nomadic peoples of central Asia. Attitudes to fidelity vary from group to group but the principle of pairing aims to formalise responsibilities within a social structure. Without pressure from the group young men would have run around spawning sprogs wherever they could (much as many in our inner city communities do today.)
This pairing system worked so well that in the Celtic and Saxon eras it was extended to confer hereditary rights to property and status. This did not necessarily follow paternity, many sub - cultures chose to confer on the female line the right of inheritance. Of course in pagan Europe women were honoured and respected as one would expect in a culture that worshipped a Goddess. The objectification of women as mere possessions to be used and traded is a promotion of the Abrahamic cultures of the eastern world.
Abrahamic religions, or perhaps we should call them misogyny cults because they are all based on fear and loathing of female sexuality, were bad news for women because marriage under the old eastern religion of Baal (actually Hinduism but the people who wrote the scriptures were either too ignorant or too bigoted to recognise it) women had the right to own property, do business and marry whom they chose. Suddenly though, women were vilified, denounced as being defiled and in a state of sin due to the natural functioning of their bodies. Not only that, they were not allowed any control over their own lives and were reduced to being the property of a man. Christian, Muslim or Jewish marriage is a bum deal for the girls.
I get really angry when fundamentalists of any persuasion start waving their Holy Book around as if it gave any respectability to their doctrines of hatred. So can we take a look at what the Bible actually says about marriage "the sacred union of one man and one woman in the eyes of God" (Let's be honest, The Koran does not bother with the eyewash, it more or less says "OK boys, you can have as many women as you can afford and you can do as you like with them.) It is not unfair to restrict this analysis to the Bible though, because the problems surrounding gay marriage only seem to exist in places where Christianity is the main religion.
Are you ready? If you are a Bible literalist it would perhaps be best if you sit down now, you might start to feel faint.
A marriage, according to the Bible, may be between one man and several women. Genesis 29, v 17 - 28: 2 Samuel 3, v 2 - 5 (that David was a really busy boy)
Nor does the Biblical view of marriage impede us boys having a bit on the side. 2 Samuel 5, v 13 (David again - didn't I see this guy on the Jerry Springer show?): 1 Kings 11 v 3: 2 Chronicles 11 v 18 - 21:
So us guys are at liberty to put ourselves about a bit, none of us will have any complaints there but what about the girls. Well ladies, even if you behave yourselves you are not in the clear (Deuteronomy 22, v 13 - 21) makes a number of points including: "A marriage will only be considered valid if the wife is a virgin, if she is not a virgin she will be executed." But surely all a girl has to do is follow that silver ring thing stuff and she will be an honoured and respected wife. You think so? The same verses in Deuteronomy
state quite clearly "if a man takes a wife and goes into her and detests her and charges her with shameful conduct and says "I took this woman and found she was not a virgin….." it then falls to the girls parents to prove she was a virgin. The legal flaw here of course is that if the man does not penetrate the woman what is in fact calling into question whether sex took place can be taken as proof of the woman's crime and just cause for her to be stoned to death simply because she has small boobs or bad breath or something.
Fundamentalists like to tell us that divorce is against their faith (why spend money on divorce lawyers when its so easy to have an unfaithful wife stoned to death?) but actually it is only women who cannot divorce their husbands. But not only can a man divorce his wife but (Deuteronomy again, 24 v 1;) he can not even show humanity towards her if her life falls apart. It seems that if a man divorces a woman because "he detests her" then to take her back is an abomination before God. Now there is a passage in Mark that contradicts this by stating that one married people can never be divorced but the problem there is that if the Bible is to be taken literally then it must ALL be taken literally because the Bible itself tells us that we humans cannot understand God, and so for some preacher to say "ah but you see what God really meant….." We do not have a clue what God really meant and I suspect he had little idea himself as he has never had to deal with the pressures of modern society.
Fortunately we do not take the advice of the Bible quite so seriously now as they did in nineteenth century Britain (and I guess it was the same around the rest of the Christian world.) Until about 1870 a woman could not divorce her husband on any grounds, nor was she permitted to own property independently or make any decision without hubby's consent. Men could not commit adultery against their wives, the offence was against the husband of a married lover; they were permitted to beat their wives to a pulp, play away from home, be tightfisted with money, pick their noses, read aloud bad poetry and fart in bed and the wife had no redress; it truly was a man's world yet all such unreasonable behaviour is condoned in the Bible. And President Bush and his advisors in the White House want to go back to these Biblical strictures.
Now people might think that having previously been quite honest about the fact that during my thirty year marriage I have strayed from some of the vows more than once I would be glad to have my behaviour exonerated or even to find my marriage is invalid (I always knew that, I had my fingers crossed at the altar) But I do love my wife and would be most reluctant to have her stoned to death for non - virginity. So on this question as on most others I do think the ancient pagan tribes had it right. Love each other, tolerate and forgive the failings of others and once two people make a personal commitment they should work out their own rules that both can live by. Get religion out of the picture and there will be more successful relationships. No rules, no expectations except those the individuals are prepared to commit to. And because the enlightened secular humanists of prehistory were so humane and civilised we can follow their example and have a system of marriage contract in which both partners legally accept certain responsibilities. All human beings are capable of accepting responsibility but when did you ever know God to accept responsibility for anything?
In the face of these arguments it is clear that secular marriage contracts need not be specifically heterosexual, in fact the Christian model of heterosexual marriage looks to be totally discredited. For that reason I cannot help but wonder why so many gays want to get married. All a good relationship needs is a personal commitment, mutual trust and understanding and a will to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of another person. With those qualities, enough in common to permit meaningful conversation and the grace to still like each other after a bad row people have the basis for a long lasting relationship. Anything else is just superstitious mumbo - jumbo and commercial exploitation. But if a couple want a religious ceremony and can find a church willing to co-operate then it is nothing to do with anybody else. The legal side of it should present no obstacle; people who have shared a home and held a joint bank account can surely organise the division of property between partner and family. So the problem all seems to rest on the fact that so many churches claim to be the one true church of God, the only one qualified to speak on his behalf. This alone should be enough to prove the case for getting religion out of the marriage contracts altogether.
Perhaps the gay community need a wake up call too, we used to look to them for a lead in iconoclasm, non - conformity and rebelling against the status quo, why do so many now want to pick up much of the baggage that goes with being straight? After all, if gay rights campaigns only seek to make gays more like heterosexuals then what is the point?