The Blog

If Not God's Authority, Whose? Where Did Marriage Come From?

Who invented marriage? Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis says her God did. That's why she's been denying marriage licenses, citing "God's authority" and "God's definition of marriage." This is ridiculous on so many levels I don't know where to start.
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Who invented marriage?

Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis says her God did. That's why she's been denying marriage licenses, citing "God's authority" and "God's definition of marriage." This is ridiculous on so many levels I don't know where to start. (Actually, I do: Jail. Which is where Mrs. Davis is finally, deservedly sitting.)

But Rowan's not alone. A lot of people are staking claim to the tradition of marriage. I'm not surprised; now that Kombucha's huge, everyone's like: "Oh, yeah. I've been putting that on my Cheerios for years."

We do this "we did it first" thing all the time. Gather a bunch of hoop-a-philes around a beer keg and they'll swear Americans invented everything about basketball. Forgetting that the Mayans had a ball and hoop came called "pitz" centuries earlier.

Yes, it occasionally involved using a decapitated head instead of a ball. But it's nearly come to that at a Detroit Pistons game once or twice, so who cares about the difference?

Mike Huckabee cares - about marriage, anyway. I have no idea what he thinks about shooting hoops with heads. Although as mad as he's gotten, I can't imagine he'd be any more offended than he is by marriage equality: "For me ... this is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue."

Candidates and clerks aren't the only ones playing the Christian tradition card. In Iowa, one couple has decided to erect 1,000 billboards promoting their Christian view of marriage. An especially nice touch? They have a quote from God on the board. "Please... I need your help with this."

This is nonsense. For one thing, as anyone who's ever heard God knows, he only speaks in all capital letters. Secondly, however, it's not like everyone who walks down the center aisle is doing so in the Christian tradition.

Except they kinda are. (I know, I know... But stay with me.)

The center aisle is a traditional meeting ground in the Christian faith. Similarly: seating the family on opposite sides, the father giving away the bride, a white wedding dress, exchanging rings, the wedding reception and even throwing rice. At least one of these has been a part of every wedding I've ever been to, and all of them can have roots in Christian tradition. Perhaps it's understandable why some Christians are so possessive of the institution.

That doesn't mean conservative Christians have a right to be rabidly territorial about marriage. Marriage pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years. The Aboriginal people of Australia have a strong marriage tradition, a society that dates back at least 30,000 years.

In China, the tradition of weddings goes back to about the third century B.C. Here, too, there's a tradition of gifts and a reception following the wedding. Apparently, Christians didn't really invent the post-wedding party, either. (Please don't tell Mr. Huckabee, he's having a hard enough week.)

Does that mean that all those drunken toasts by the best man and endless plates of chicken alfredo are in the Chinese tradition? No, (although in all fairness it should be noted the Chinese did invent pasta).

For one thing, if marriage as we know it was coming from China, WalMart would have been selling it to everyone - gays, straights, Mike Huckabee - for the past 30 years.

More importantly, however, this points out that it's impossible to answer the question I started with. No one "invented" marriage. It's not something you can pin a date on, like the creation of the atomic bomb, patenting the typewriter, or who invented the car.

OK, I lied; it's exactly like the car.

Many people believe Henry Ford invented the car, but he didn't. He did, however, popularize it with his famous Model T, making it part of the American culture. So much so that many people errantly think he invented the automobile.

Indeed, much of what we associate with the modern car didn't come from Ford at all. The electric starter, an all-steel body, a single foot pedal to operate the brakes: Ford didn't invent any of these things, nor have them on his original Model T. They came from other companies, like Cadillac and Dodge.

Automobiles - like marriage - are what we recognize today because the world changes, and the things we use evolve to adapt to that change. As you might expect, Huckabee wants no part of this: "It's really not my place to just say, 'OK, I'm just going to evolve.'"

The irony is, you'd think as an educated Baptist Minister Huckabee would be glad that the definition of marriage has evolved - especially the Christian version. In the Old Testament, wives were basically property, polygamy was allowed, and, at times, a woman who had been raped had to marry her attacker.

The New Testament is certainly better. Although even there some interpret the Bible to say celibacy was a better life than marriage. Only if celibacy wasn't for you was it appropriate to go ahead and get hitched. Though this doesn't even begin to explain the Kardashians and Billy Bob Thornton.

Evolution and change is the nature of all things. Ironically, one American who did understand this was Ford, though he didn't always. So stubborn to change his Model T, he once said: "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black."

By 1927, however, sales of the Model T had fallen 80 percent since 1922. Almost too late, Ford realized his greatest triumph had failed to adapt. From this hard-earned lesson came the Model A, a car that once again sold millions. Ford even eventually offered the car in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Deciding that while black was nice, his cars would serve society and the company better with the colors of the rainbow.

Just like marriage.