Juan Cole reminds us that, um, “biblical marriage” was not between one man and one woman. Often is was between one man and multiple women.
But wackiest of all is the idea that the Bible sees marriage as between one man and one woman. I don’t personally get how you could, like, actually read the Bible and come to that conclusion (see below). Even if you wanted to argue that the New Testament abrogates all the laws in the Hebrew Bible, there isn’t anything in the NT that clearly forbids polygamy, either, and it was sometimes practiced in the early church, including by priests. Josephus makes it clear that polygamy was still practiced among the Jews of Jesus’ time. Any attempt to shoe-horn stray statements in the New Testament about a man and a woman being married into a commandment of monogamy is anachronistic. Likely it was the Roman Empire that established Christian monogamy as a norm over the centuries. The Church was not even allowed to marry people until well after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, since it was an imperial prerogative.
Ancient scripture can be a source of higher values and spiritual strength, but any time you in a literal-minded way impose specific legal behavior because of it, you’re committing anachronism. Since this is the case, fundamentalists are always highly selective, trying to impose parts of the scripture on us but conveniently ignoring the parts even they can’t stomach as modern persons.
1. In Exodus 21:10 it is clearly written of the husband: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” This is the same rule as the Qur’an in Islam, that another wife can only be taken if the two are treated equally.
2. Let’s take Solomon, who maintained 300 concubines or sex slaves. 1 Kings 11:3: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” Led him astray! That’s all the Bible minded about this situation? Abducting 300 people and keeping them immured for sex? And the objection is only that they had a lot of diverse religions and interested Solomon in them? (By the way, this is proof that he wasn’t Jewish but just a legendary Canaanite polytheist). I think a settled gay marriage is rather healthier than imprisoning 300 people in your house to have sex with at your whim. …
… According Mark 12:19, guys, if your brother kicks the bucket, you have to marry your sister-in-law and knock her up. Since the Bible approved of multiple wives, you have to do this even if you’re already married. If you think in-laws are hard to get along with now, try being married to them.
Seriously, my understanding is that in western civilization, our ideas about what marriage is supposed to be evolved over many centuries long after the Bible was canonized. . For example, before the 12th century or so only members of the nobility were married “in the church.” Peasants just kind of worked things out for themselves.
So all this Bible thumping and whining about the sanctity of marriage is really about people’s cultural biases. Even some people who are familiar enough with the Old Testament to know that some of God’s People were polygamists can’t bring themselves to see the disconnect between their deeply held beliefs about a “righteous” marriage and what the Bible actually says. This is something I discuss in more detail in Rethinking Religion, btw.
Speaking of polygamy, it’s fascinating the way conservatives are certain the next pillar of civilization to fall will be monogamy. Same-sex marriage and polygamy have nothing to do with each other, in my mind. But I guess to a conservative everything considered a “perversion” is dumped into the same box.
Predictably, the Court’s decision led to another of countless rounds of forecasts that the marriage-rights movement will now expand to multiples. (Like this.) Again, we’ll see, but I’m willing to stand by what I’ve long said: the case for gay marriage is the case against polygamy, and the public will be smart enough to understand the difference.
Gay marriage is about extending the opportunity to marry to people who lack it; polygamy, in practice, is about exactly the opposite: withdrawing marriage opportunity from people who now have it. Gay marriage succeeded because no one could identify any plausible channels through which it might damage heterosexual marriage; with polygamy, the worries are many, the history clear, and the channels well understood.
And has many have pointed out, it seems to be the hyper-conservative religious who actually go in for “plural marriages.” It’s currently not on the liberal/progressive radar, that I know of.
Rauch also said,
I’ve always believed that cultural conservatives misunderstood the gay-marriage movement: far from being an attack on the culture of marriage, it represented a shift back toward family values by a group that had learned the hard way, through eviction by their own parents and suffering in the AIDS crisis, how important marriage and commitment and family really are.
Mike Huckabee, who has appointed himself a spokesperson for God, has been calling for civil disobedience to protest marriage equality. But he’s a bit hazy about what that means.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what exactly are you calling on people to do right now? You say resist and reject this judicial tyranny. Spell out exactly what that means?
HUCKABEE: George, judicial tyranny is when we believe that the courts have a right to bypass the process of law and we’ve really seen it this week in two cases, in both the Obamacare case, which Justice Scalia called it – said we not – should call it SCOTUScare because they have rescued it twice, ex cathedra to the law, and then in the same-sex marriage ruling in which –
STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you calling for civil disobedience?
HUCKABEE: I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.
You’re going to see it on the part of Christian business owners. You’ll see it on the part of Christian university presidents, Christian school administrators. If they refuse to -
Stephanopoulos is another of those television bobbleheads who doesn’t know how to stick to a touch line of questions. Here he switched the conversation to county clerks and the like. He should have pushed Huckabee to be specific about the pastors. How will the civil law even affect them? They won’t be required to perform same-sex marriages, and I suspect Huckabee knows that.
And if Huckabee does know that, he is, in effect, bearing false witness. He is perpetrating a falsehood — that pastors will be required to perform gay marriages — in order to attract a following. That breaks at least one of the Ten Commandments. And he thinks himself godly, no doubt.