Historical Scholars: Marriage Changes To Meet Societal Needs

Historical Gay Marriage

When gay marriage started coming to the forefront of the gay rights movement, social conservatives began screaming about the preservation and sanctity of "traditional" marriage – that is, one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation. Approximately 5 minutes later, rational people pointed out that the definition of what marriage is has changed radically over the generations. Now, various historians and scholars are chiming in to confirm that, yes, marriage has evolved to meet the needs and ethics of society.

Said historian Nancy Cott:

Far from viewing marriage as immutable, courts and legislatures altered marriage fundamentally in order to take account of societal needs and spouses’ evolving relationships within their households and in the larger society[…]Many features of modern marriage that we take for granted today — such as the ability of both spouses to act as individuals, to marry someone of another race, or to divorce for numerous reasons — were fiercely resisted as they were coming into being, and were viewed by opponents as threatening to destroy the institution of marriage itself.

Indeed, the only traditional feature of marriage that has been observed is its enduring elasticity, which has allowed it to change to meet the needs of any given society.


  1. says

    Well, duh!

    This sort of ties in with remarks by Graham the Younger that, to paraphrase, “God’s word is unchanging,” to which my response was “Life is change; stasis is death. You do the math.”

  2. Chris says

    1) If the purpose was for procreation, then old and/or infertile people should be denied the right to marry. But they are not.

    2) If it the defenders of traditional marriage are really concerned about defending marriage…where is the push to ban divorces and criminalize adultery?

    Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher never had a logical rational reason – just using it as an excuse to build up their hate organizations. Unfortunately for them, their names will go down in history as examples of bigotry and hatred.

  3. Geoff says

    We mustn’t confuse the poor, little, frightened haters with facts…and recorded examples from history. Please remember: The Earth is flat…and The Flintstones was a documentary.

  4. JackFknTwist says

    Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin was said to be “barren” in the New Testament – before the Angel was said t0 impregnate her. Does that mean that her original marriage was invalid, without the possibility of children ?

    Perkins thinks that was not a real marriage. And that notion that she was impregnated by an angel is adultery.
    That there bible is a mighty strange badly written mish-mash of early first draft screen plays.

  5. says

    Speaking of facts & history. Do a search for homosexuality throughout history and see how many articles there are that now claim homosexuality was condemned in all early civilizations pre Christianity and that the historians saying that it was an accepted part of society are deliberately trying to change history to advance a ‘gay agenda’.

  6. FFS says

    The one thing about marriage that hasn’t ever changed is that, from it’s first incarnation to its latest, it has always been entirely pointless and unnecessary.

  7. Sean in Dallas says

    @Seriously: because historically people were so open-minded. Why should you care anyway? Of course there’s a gay agenda, just as there’s a religious, bigot agenda.

    Learn how to live & let live. It really isn’t that difficult (other psychological barriers notwithstanding).

  8. jamal49 says

    @CHRIS For the record (and very under the radar for now), many GOP/conservative “think tanks” (an oxymoron if there ever was one when it comes to the GOP and/or conservatives) as well as GOP, evangelical-oriented, grass-roots organizations are actually lobbying in GOP-controlled states’ legislatures to change marriage laws to make divorce much harder to get and to abolish “no fault” divorce laws.

    The “Men’s Rights Movement” has been actively lobbying to change divorce laws they feel favour women too much. There is also lobbying to change the law to criminalize adultery again, to make it punishable by fines and prison terms.

    Don’t worry. The right-wing never sleeps in this country. Never take them for granted. Women and LGBT people are always maybe one or two elections away from having their civil rights taken away by evangelical and male dominated GOP legislatures.

  9. anon says

    It should be noted that the Greeks had several gods that would go around an impregnate married women all the time. Their offspring became the “heroes” of the Greek legends. The heroism and special abilities of these figures was explained by the divine lineage. No concern is made for the adultery and/or “inhuman” nature of the relationship, nor even of the fact in many cases the situation was basically a date rape. It was perfectly fitting, therefore, for the Greek New Testament to include such a story, though it took a radical new turn away from Greek hero worship. This suggests the divine pregnancy was added later to the story.

  10. says

    @Sean in Dallas
    Such an enlightened question. Why do I care that historians from Herodotus to present day are now declared by the religious right to have a ‘gay agenda’ when they stated that homosexuality was an accepted societal norm? Yeah. Why would any gay man who’s civil rights are under attack by hate groups funded by Christian fundamentalists care that they’re making an attempt to rewrite history & discredit even heterosexual historians for showing homosexuality as a societal norm pre-Christianity?

    That’s you idea of live & let live? Not so much. The willingness to accept lies as truth point to those psychological issues you bring up.

  11. Lexis says

    In history, marriage was often a same-sex affair. Two fathers would go into a room and hammer out the details of the contract, itemizing what the dowry and/or the brideprice consisted of.

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