When most think about marriage they think about two lovers making vows of lifelong fidelity. But love hasn't always been the motivation for this union and behind the wedding and vow is a purpose to it all that reveals the traditional definition of the word marriage.
Most cultures today accept a wedding as the socially exceptable way to officially kick off a marriage but throughout history there have been many ways to "take to wife". A man could konk a woman on the head and drag her to his cave or an army of men could raid a village and steal the virgin daughters. A more socially acceptable method of "taking a wife" among the Anglos might included a romantic encounter under the stars (or a barn, where ever). The act of sex was ceremony enough to be accepted by the community as a wedded couple.
Socially acceptable "weddings" in the Hebrew tradition include taking your slave into a tent, as with Abraham and Hagar, but the most common, preferable and peaceful practice was for the man to approach the patriarch of the home and pay him something in trade for his daughter, maybe 8 cows or so. Sometimes the father even asked the daughter if she was okay with the deal. The process was a legal contract between two men. The daughter now belonged to the husband. Note that a priest had nothing to do with any of this. This religious element came waaay later and has NO doctrinal foundation. Although these different methods of weddings range from horrific rapes to highly unromantic legal arrangements to enchanted nights under the stars, the understanding remains universal that once a virgin woman was "taken" by a man, she was considered his wife.
What Marriage Is Not
It's important to point out here what is NOT marriage. The original meaning of fornication was to have sex with a prostitute or harlot. In other words, sex without future commitment. The intent was only for sexual pleasure. The word "adultery" means to "take" an already married woman. "You stole my property, you thief! " ...Not to mention these women were NOT VIRGINS, so clearly not desirable for wives.
Multiply and Replenish
Why all the hassle over obtaining wives? With harlots there is no commitment, so what's the benefit that motivates these men to take on such commitments? The only conclusion I can draw is that a committed relationship with a woman is needed to make and raise a family! (seed). The word matrimony comes from the word meaning "mother". Marriage was specifically for making babies.
So, this understanding of traditional marriage brings up some controversial questions; People who are infertile...can they have a traditional marriage if they can't make babies? Under this definition of marriage and paired with the religious command to not have sexual relationships outside of a commitment of marriage, should these infertile people be denied the physical and emotional desires for a sexual relationship because of their physical condition?
In the past, strategic breeding was more important to people. The earliest reasons might have included an "evolutionary" purpose, to make strong, healthy people (no inbreeding). Then somehow inbreeding became desired (Royal blood, Jews, KKK, etc.). The desire for keeping the family DNA in the mix seemed really important to them. Is that still important today? I still get a thrill seeing the mixed DNA of my wife and I run around the house, so I know the natural instinct is still there, but I also know that I could love an adopted child just as much, and would be just as happy, proud and honored to raise them to become great people. In this way infertile couples can participate in the joyful institutions of parenting and marriage. But from this perspective, one could understand why gay couples feel that they also can be married and raise children, even under the traditional definition of marriage.
Since dismantling this topic down to its basic foundations, I now believe the definition of marriage DOES actually need some renovating, taking into consideration some modern understandings about individual rights, self worth, love, sexuality, emotional health, respect, freedom, race and family. These changes include restoring some of the traditional framework from the past, while completely removing the ridiculous and tacky ideas that we should be voting about private and personal relationships and the idea that we need a license for relationships! Read up on the history of the marriage license. It will sicken you.
Here are my ideas:
Erase the government definition:
Over the last 100 or so years the legal system has really embedded itself into family affairs. So much so that I think expelling it may take a few steps. The first step would be to dissolve the racket of the state marriage license completely and immediately. Getting a license (state permission) to marry is really absurd. As a temporarily legal patch, the state could recognize a "union" status declared by consenting parties for tax purposes, survivor benefits, parental rights, etc. These unions should not be exclusive to marriages, but for any consenting adults in any number or combination. Example: A mother and daughter should have the same legal privileges and protections as anyone else. Eventually and ideally there should be no special government privileges or incentives that require any information about relationship status, making this union status irrelevant. All of these arrangements ( shared property, survivor benefits, parental rights, etc.) should be made through private contracts and enforced just like any other contracts would be. The word "marriage" should not have any government mandated definition. Everyone should be free to live the desires of their conscience and accept or reject any definitions of "marriage" without persecution. Our society deals with different definitions of god, health, happiness without causing major disruption to our lives...we can deal with different definitions of marriage. The only reason it is an issue today is because the law forces all of us to accept one marriage. Into the fires of mount doom, I say.