Debate Magazine

It's Not Broken, So Leave It Alone

Posted on the 02 December 2016 by Doggone

It's Not Broken, so leave it alone

A 13th century French representation of
the tripartite social order
of the middle ages –
Oratores: "those who pray",
Bellatores: "those who fight",
and Laboratores: "those who work".

I see where once again we have the religious right trying to justify their exclusionary and punitive tendencies when it comes to marriage, this time in Missouri.  This seems well-intentioned, but it is misguided.  Among the problems with the proposal outlined below is the factually inaccurate notion that marriage has ever been primarily a religious institution.  That is false.
Recognizing that same-sex marriage is a real thing, a commitment that has existed with or without the role of religion OR government  has not 'broken' the concept of marriage.  It's not broken, so our legislators should stop trying to 'fix' it.
Increasingly I am seeing the role of conservatives as one of trying to turn back time, to a time that never was, in their misguided desire to coerce and control their fellow human beings.  Sometimes that is an attempt to restore the worst of the mid-20th century, and sometimes it goes back further to something more approaching the middle ages.
Marriage has NEVER been primarily a religious institution. Period. Full stop. That is crappy religious right revisionist history.  Marriage has always been primarily about property, and inheritance, with wives and children usually being considered property under a large portion of European Christian history, not much different than livestock, aka 'chattels'.  To again review the history of our terminology, to better define and understand the concepts:
[the] meaning of chattel can excite considerable emotion, as it refers to humans as property, i.e., slaves. Chattel, slave and the less common bondman and thrall are all synonyms for a person held in servitude by another. Chattel and cattle both come to English from the same source: each is descended from the Medieval Latin word capitale, which itself traces to the Latin caput meaning “head.”
Rather Christianity intruded itself into the religion biz as the primary recorders of property contracts that existed as part of alliances through what were largely political and economic based marriages.
Anyone who is skeptical of this factoid should investigate the role of plural marriage and legal, official, government sanctioned concubinage in European history that continued almost to the era of our own American Revolution.  It's fascinating stuff, but doesn't get a lot of coverage in most American history classes; rather the entire absence of this area of study leaves a vacuum that is filled by the assumptions that the religious right would like to see that perpetuates their intrusion into the freedom of American citizens and residents. Ignorance is simply ignorance, and frequently the foundation for intolerance, not bliss.
God only is involved as the Christian church sought to control more aspects of human existence, as a sort of power tripping monopoly.  That this put it in recurrent historic conflict with civil laws and government is sadly something that too few Americans know and understand. 
That is a failure of our educational system that should be addressed, but that is a tangential discussion here.
Americans, and particularly those in Missouri who suffer under the misconceptions of red state schools, should acquaint themselves better with the historic lessons of conflict between civil government and religious establishment efforts to extend their control and influence, such as that between Thomas a Becket and Henry the II, or the role of the so-called "estates of the realm" like that of the French 'ancien regime' where the first estate in society, government and the economy was the clergy, which controlled large sections of property with equally large revenues culminated in the French Revolution.  In England, from the middle ages onward, there was a simplified two-tier system: the first estate - clergy - was combined with the second estate - nobility -  in the house of Lords, with the remainder all lumped into the "commons" (what we are now sometimes referring to as the 99% who are not obscenely wealthy and privileged.)
Write this off to my esoteric interests which have in the past included an interest in heraldry for a brief outline of the UK background to American government.  In the UK, in the parliamentary House of Lords, there is something called the Lords Spiritual, aka the Spiritual Peers, a holdover from the middle ages.  Those are the 26 bishops of the Church of England; the regular nobility are termed the Lords Temporal, (temporal: 1. relating to worldly as opposed to spiritual affairs; secular. 2.of or relating to time.); not to be confused with the wonderful UK fantasy fiction of the Time Lords and Dr. Who.  I've always wondered if the concept of the Lords Temporal suggested the notion of the old television series in the UK which one could argue has taken on a life of it's own.
Nobility and the religious hierarchy were co-equal in government for a very long time in English history.  After Henry the VIII invented the C of E (Church of England, aka the Anglicans in the US) during the Brit version of the reformation, that role of the clergy was institutionalized in parliament, in the House of Lords.  And it continues to the present, although a topic of some controversy, and one we in the US should consider as we contemplate the very good concept of separation of church and state.
That institution of religion in government is something we in the US heartily reject -- and in the UK that role of the religious "Lords" is still having an active involvement in the course of government, as seen here.
"There are no restrictions placed on bishops in terms of how they participate, no bar on them getting involved in process."
He added: "If you look back through history, they haven't had a self-denying ordinance on important issues."
The Lords Spiritual - not affiliated to any political party - date back to the 14th Century and, apart from a few years after the English Civil War, have been ever-present in the chamber.
In 1847 their number was restricted to 26.
And so endeth today's history lesson.
This is a misguided notion that is predicated on a Christian-centric and European-centric view of human history.  It ignores what the rest of the world has done, and it ignores all of the pre-Christian European experience of humans.
From Ozarks

Missouri Bill Could Diffuse Controversy in Gay Weddings

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State Representative T.J. Berry (R-Kearney) has pre-filed a measure that would replace marriage licenses with contracts of domestic union.
Berry tells Missourinet a controversial Senate resolution that died this year in a state House committee prompted him to file the legislation. The resolution would have protected churches and businesses from penalties for denying goods and services for gay weddings.
Berry calls his proposal a compromise that would diffuse some of the controversy in that resolution.
“There are many, many, many churches out there right now that will perform any kind of marriage and that’s great. That’s fine but when you take and define it and argue it as a government when it was originally religious, then you start having this other discussion that isn’t appropriate to begin with,” says Berry.
He says he is indifferent about the Senate resolution, which is commonly referred to as SJR39. The measure was sponsored this year by Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis).
“We’ve gotten confused between government benefits and religious ceremonies and marriage has gotten caught up in that and it’s created tremendous controversy for lots of different groups,” says Berry.
He says his legislation would still allow the government benefits that apply to all married couples.
“I think what you would see is we would get back to government being in its role and religion being in its role,” says Berry. “Marriage has been, through history going back thousands of years, a religious ceremony not a governmental ceremony. So, that’s what this does and it applies to straight people, gay people, everyone exactly the same way.”
Whether or not SJR39 returns in 2017 is unknown but lawmakers expect it to come up eventually. Some conservatives are not expected to embrace Berry’s proposal, likely saying it doesn’t go far enough.
Marriage is a concept of a foundational commitment that is contractual and governmental, which MAY OR MAY NOT be spiritual as well -- as chosen by those entering into a specific marriage.  I don't see it as likely that any state, Missouri or other, will succeed in removing religious institutions from their involvement in sanctioning marriage.  Marriage, like government is of, by, and for people.
But that is not the same thing as bending over backwards to extend the control of religion into that institution.  We have ALWAYS had civil / non-religious marriage; marriage is no in any way dependent for existence on religion. It is first and last a decision made by two people to commit to each other.  That swearing to that commitment, that CONTRACT, might be taken more seriously for some people if it involved God as the implied enforcer of that contract is no reason to amend modern law to oblige the bigoted and narrow minded.  Frankly, given the high divorce rates in the so-called Bible Belt, it should be pretty obvious that God is NOT a successful guarantor of marriage, but the opposite, but neither should we interfere with the religious choice of those who still want a religious ceremony of marriage to be happy.
Marriage, whatever kind of legal marriage between two people -- just LEAVE IT ALONE.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog