Conservatives’ concerns about marriage seem to be based on a past that is fabricated from their own anxieties and obsessions. George Monbiot in today’s Guardian debunks traditional marriage and the heterosexual nuclear family as recent myths. Christine Odone in today’s Daily Telegraph, for example, is upset about the sidelining of heterosexual marriage because a conference she was due to speak at has been cancelled.
‘Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman.” So says the Coalition for Marriage, whose petition against same-sex unions in the UK has so far attracted 500,000 signatures. It’s a familiar claim, and it is wrong. Dozens of societies, across many centuries, have recognised same-sex marriage. In a few cases, before the 14th century, it was even celebrated in church.
This is an example of a widespread phenomenon: myth-making by cultural conservatives about past relationships. Scarcely challenged, family values campaigners have been able to construct a history that is almost entirely false.
The unbiblical and ahistorical nature of the modern Christian cult of the nuclear family is a marvel rare to behold. Those who promote it are followers of a man born out of wedlock and allegedly sired by someone other than his mother’s partner. Jesus insisted that “if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters … he cannot be my disciple” [Luke 14 v26, 27]. He issued no such injunction against homosexuality: the threat he perceived was heterosexual and familial love, which competed with the love of God.
This theme was aggressively pursued by the church for some 1,500 years. In his classic book A World of Their Own Making, Professor John Gillis [cover illustration above] points out that until the Reformation, the state of holiness was not matrimony but lifelong chastity. There were no married saints in the early medieval church. Godly families in this world were established not by men and women, united in bestial matrimony, but by the holy orders, whose members were the brothers or brides of Christ. Like most monotheistic religions (which developed among nomadic peoples), Christianity placed little value on the home. A Christian’s true home belonged to another realm, and until he reached it, through death, he was considered an exile from the family of God.
You may also be interested in these postings at Queering the Church