The “biblical” definition of marriage


Marriage (Photo credit: Lel4nd)

Billy Graham supports Mitt Romney, in part because he believes in “the Biblical definition of marriage“. Marriage involves at least three separate components that I can think of, and only one of them is relevant in a biblical sense.

The first component of marriage is the personal commitment to your partner, to be their other/better half, to cleave to them only, to be with them through sickness and health, richer and poorer, etc – this is a personal commitment which varies from person to person and between cultures, but this is not biblical. It’s a commitment that can be made in the absence of any religious or societal component, and, for most people outside of the accepted marriageable groups, this was as far as they could go (I’m thinking specifically of gays and lesbians, but it could equally apply to interracial relationships, or other “unacceptable” partnerships). This commitment has nothing to do with the validity or acceptance of the bible definition of marriage.

The second component is the cultural/societal/legal piece. There are regulations in Canada (and equally in the US and most other nations) around what marriage means, as a contract between the partners, and regarding the rights and privileges (and occasionally obligations) placed on the married persons in the eyes of society, the law, and the government. From a positive standpoint, this includes access to the benefits of the partner, the right to inherit when the partner dies intestate, the right to have access and make decisions about long term care when the partner is incapable, and the obligations of support for children of the marriage and the partner in case of marital dissolution. An aspect rarely discussed in the US is the number of partners involved, as it is assumed that this will always and only be two, but there is a legal definition, and associated penalties, for the commission of bigamy. These rights and obligations are based in civil law, with contractual and legal enforcement, beyond and outside any biblical definition of marriage, and can even be found in explicitly atheist states.

The final component is the moral or religious aspect. Surprisingly, the New Testament is mostly silent on the topic of marriage, with the passages about bishops being the husband of one wife seemingly implying that more than one wife could be the norm for other marriages. Additionally, the Old Testament contains numerous examples of polygamy (polygyny specifically), and has at least one injunction that could require polygamy (the surviving brother marrying his sister-in-law to ensure that she will bear a son to carry on her husband’s name). Interestingly, “fundamentalist Mormons“, who haven’t fallen away from Joseph Smith’s original revelation, still practice polygyny despite the proclamations stating that the Mormon church (cult?) no longer supports new polygamous marriages as of the late 19th/early 20th century. Regardless, if the modern church wishes to define marriage “biblically” as one man and one woman, they are welcome to it – however, this celebration and restriction is not impeded or encouraged by either the commitment element (lots of loveless marriages out there) or the legal/cultural component. The only remaining concern for Christians should be that, as churches, they could be FORCED to perform marriages between unacceptable partners, such as two men, or a black man and a white woman. However, I’m not aware of any law, or proposals for laws, that would force a religious celebrant to perform such a ceremony – if nothing else, membership in the congregation by one or both of the partners is often a requirement, and I can’t see that hurdle being willingly leaped by any of the unacceptable couples.

Bottom line seems to be that the religious right in the US is using the excuse of “the biblical definition of marriage” to support legal and cultural discrimination against gays and lesbians, to prevent them from receiving the same benefits, rights and obligations as the heterosexual couples do. Seems very self-serving, and totally unloving – but it’s the first plank of the Billy Graham organization’s direction for its supporters to use in picking a candidate to vote for, and is important enough to allow them to accept a Mormon as their choice for next president of the USA


About Tamara Wiens

Optimistic realist, quester, parent to 4 amazing children, casual on-line gamer, reader, runner, wannabe polymath, frustrated philosopher, successful sophist!
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