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Which 'Biblical marriage' are Amendment One supporters talking about?

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Supporters of Amendment One, the proposed constitutional amendment designed to ban same-sex marriage, are quick to wear the mantle of tradition, history and God's will. Their campaign, they say, is all about protecting "traditional marriage," or "Biblical marriage." So said Tony Perkins, the head of the ultra-right Family Research Council, when he recently told the congregation at First Baptist Church, "God has defined marriage. It is not up to us to redefine it."

At other times, support for the amendment is about defending history itself, since marriage is "an institution that predates the state of North Carolina, the Catholic Church and even western civilization itself," said David Hains, the PR guy for the Charlotte Catholic Diocese.

People who claim they know God's precise position on worldly issues may reveal an astounding level of hubris, but, from Rick Santorum to Franklin Graham, they're a dime a dozen in America these days.

With regard to "Biblical marriage" — a favorite term of opponents of same-sex unions — I wonder which Biblical version of marriage they mean. I imagine it's the standard one-man-and-one-woman combo, but the Bible also says a woman who marries but isn't a virgin should be stoned to death. Maybe that's not the one the anti-gay folks mean after all.

Perhaps they think everyone should follow the Biblical "tradition" of a man having a wife and a few concubines; hey, it was good enough for Abraham and Jacob. No, that's not it either? OK, then it must be the Bible's approval of a man having several wives, a la Gideon, Esau or the man-of-700-wives, Solomon. You're shaking your head, no.

Let's see, could Amendment One supporters be talking about the Biblical prescription that a woman who hasn't had any children when her husband dies must marry her brother-in-law and give motherhood a few more shots? No, that can't be it.

Well, then, how about the Bible requirement that slave owners assign female slaves to their male slaves? No, that obviously won't work.

Maybe the anti-gay, "Biblical" crowd is getting behind the rule in Deuteronomy that says a woman must marry a man who rapes her. No? I thought not.

The point? God may have defined marriage in the Bible, but the "definition" was all over the map, so its value as an argument for enforcing a specific type of marriage today is, to be frank, nonsensical.

The truth is that marriage historically has been as subject to change as anything else. Numerous forms of marriage, and a hodgepodge of conflicting rules about it, have been acceptable, even mandated, at different times and in different places around the world.

In ancient Greece, many thought the ideal union was often seen as being between an adult man and an adolescent boy. Gay unions were common in Rome until Constantine, the first Christian emperor, prohibited them in 342 CE. However, it wasn't until the 16th century that the Church required a church ceremony to validate a marriage.

Keep in mind, too, that pre-18th century, most marriages were arranged by parents or at least were more concerned with money and property than love. In fact, the norm of an avid "courtship," followed by marriage, only became common in the 19th century. Even then, the husband, for all practical purposes, owned his wife, while married women had hardly any legal identity at all.

Changes in marriage continued throughout the 20th century, veering toward more freedom for everyone involved, particularly women, who also benefited from the spread of new methods of contraception. In the U.S., we didn't end some states' practice of banning interracial marriage until 1967. I remember when that occurred, and, yes, people actually argued about it — old habits die hard for many people, as the fight over same-sex marriage proves.

The biggest change in recent history is the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. Government-recognized same-sex marriage was first established in Denmark in 1989. Other nations and some U.S. states eventually adopted similar laws.

It's not just that marriage has been subject to occasional change; the very concept of it has changed repeatedly, rising naturally out of societal changes, for as long as history has been written.

Same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships live in every part of Charlotte and every part of North Carolina. They deserve to be able to choose to marry — or not to marry — like everyone else. What's hard to stomach is that many people in this state who support Amendment One don't, and apparently can't, value those committed same-sex couples' relationships as much as, say, an Old Testament marriage that includes a slew of concubines. That kind of thinking — and the backward vengefulness it exudes — is what is truly sick in the current debate. Image Credit: rykneethling

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