by Jonathan Lyons on July 6, 2016

There have been many forms of marriage throughout human history (despite what some might say). There’s the one so many think is the one and only definition: that between one man and one woman. But let’s examine the historical record.

The Bible (no, I am not religious) describes the following:

  • Man + woman
  • Man + wives + concubines — which one religious scholar called, as many wive as a man can afford and as many concubines as he can convince.
  • Male rapist + his victim — not even an unusual sentiment in much of the world.
  • Male + wife + her female slaves
  • Male + many (polygamy, obviously)
  • And so on.

And through much of history, a woman was considered the property of her husband — not an individual person. Oddly, that frame of thought still holds in some corners.

But marriage, as constructed in Western thought, also exists as a relic of thinking from a time when one would have been lucky to reach the ripe old age of 40. It was also (and in many camps, still is) and old-money mating system. No settling for love: Keep the fortunes intact.

When I spoke with one of our previous university chaplains, a few years back, she opined that it shouldn’t be a legal institution or governance at all, but should be the purview of religion.

Which is all fine and well, except:

  • Which religion(s)?
  • What rules?

With such questions, things get complicated fast.

I mentioned the lifespan issue earlier. What good does a lifelong legal commitment serve for someone, like all of us, whose life expectancy grows each year? Or for those of us advocating and hoping for radical life extension?

How much sense could a practice meant for people with a lifespan of less than 40 years possibly make to people with a lifespan of 400 or more?

So here’s my advocacy of a new approach: Redefine this for this age. Take the issue out of the distant past and consider the life issues of today. Consider thinking of marriage as a contract people who love one another sign onto for a specific timeframe. Leave religion — any religious persuasion — out of the equation. Let people be adults and behave like it, and let them make their own decisions about such things. Lose the legal and tax advantages the government here in the U.S. use to encourage marriage. Drop the homophobia, the racist aspects, and the polyphobia, and embrace the fact that grown adults can decide for themselves how to govern these issues.


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