Marriage, a sacred institution, but an institution nonetheless! You probably already knew that marriage was made up by us and adapted over time. Let’s jump back to the first marriages, and to do that we’ll need to jump back to some of the earliest settlements.
As groups began to expand, members of groups could specialize for a specific purpose to enhance the community. By specializing in something specific, you can use all excess resources as a means of trading for other needed resources.
Reduced testosterone in females, to benefit childbirth, meant that they were physically weaker on average. By a competition of strength, males became the dominant sex of our species fairly early on. This meant daughters could be treated as resources for trading.
Imagine that you’re a sheep herder and you have little excess wool. Your daughter is becoming more mature and you know the butcher is looking for a wife. You have the choice of keeping your daughter to work on the farm or you could fulfill the butcher’s need for a mate and likely build a beneficial relationship.
The butcher, happy to hear this news would probably even give you some meat as a deposit for your daughter’s hand in marriage. Now the butcher gets more children, you get cheaper meat, and everybody wins; right?
When you talk about marriage, you’re talking about more than just mating and partnership; you’re talking about an agreement. That agreement could be in exchange for resources or for political gain or just because it gives comfort from a commitment. In any agreement, you need a third party to verify and to this day, marriage licenses still need witness signatures.
If the blacksmith were to steal your daughter and get his brother to be witness, you would still want want to know there is a higher authority to manage the agreement. That higher authority most likely started as the leaders of the community and escalated to the god of that community over time. Now there was an omniscient god watching over the members of the agreement to make sure everyone’s vows are kept. Fear of god kept commitment easy!
Marriage soon became institutionalized and the institution was religion. Weddings took place on holy sites, god was called to bless the couple, and many religions implemented monogamy as standard practice. Women were seen more as people in the eyes of religion; but let’s be honest, they were still treated as property when an economic or political agreement could be met, Though it didn’t stop playwrights from using the inherent joy of a wedding to end a story.
Religion, to bring out our best, dissuades people from listening to their Basic Functions as many of them are seen as sins. One of the most heavily chastised Basic Functions is the sex drive. Women were already treated as property among men and judged for their sexual attractiveness as part of the deal making process. If the institution doesn’t like sex, and half of the population is judged heavily on their sex appeal, it creates the longest-running double standard in human history. Women must be sexual yet innocent, able to please a man but never given the opportunity to learn how. Women are both sexually desired and shamed for exploring their sexuality.
Let’s fast forward to the middle of the Industrial Age. Women are beginning to work and earn a living wage for themselves. Marriage has adapted into a legal document, not only to verify the agreement but to allow wealth to be shared. The culture propagated the expectation that women were primarily mothers and caretakers, not breadwinners. As the Entertainment Age gets into full swing, movies and TV shows propagated the age-old story that ends happily ever after with a heterosexual monogamous wedding.
The Information Age gives us access to a much wider variety of love and partnership than we originally understood from the institution. Those individuals who were attracted to people who did not fit the standard expectation began to find others like them (i.e. homosexual relationships). The information also allows us to see these people, who seem different from the majority, as still people. They are becoming less of a named demographic and more of a single description of certain friends and family. The increased information isn’t going to prevent our natural tendencies to fear what is different, different possibly presents danger. But the information does allow us to learn enough to conquer our fear and see each other as we truly are.
Marriage is starting to lose ground in some religions around the world due to their rigidity when it comes to the spectrum of love. Perhaps it’s time we took marriage not as it has been but as it’s meant to be: an agreement between two people to become partners in the eyes of an authority for as long as they both wish.