It began to change. Young people had revolutionary new ideas about the institution and what it meant to them. The notion that people should marry for love, rather than for individual power, group survival, or any of a host of other historic reasons to bond. But the fight over marriage continues, most recently with the judicial decision in California that ruled Proposition 8, a state ban on gay marriage, unconstitutional.
On Thursday, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker lifted the stay on his earlier ruling, clearing the way for same-sex marriages in California to go forward beginning Aug.
Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is likely on its way to the Supreme Court, but this latest victory for advocates of marriage rights for gay couples may be a natural next step in the long and emotional evolution of marriage, say historians. The ruling has already sparked anger in opponents of gay marriage, an anger that may be linked with fear of social change in general.
Marriage has never been quite as simple as one man, one woman and a desire to procreate. Across cultures, family structure varies drastically. Early Christians in the Middle East and Europe favored monogamy without divorce. Some Native American tribes practiced polygamy; others, monogamy with the option to dissolve the union.
In some African and Asian societies, Coontz said, same-sex marriages , though not seen as sexual, were permitted if one of the partners took on the social role of the opposite gender. Inuit people in the Arctic formed co-marriages in which two husband-wife couples could trade partners, an arrangement that fostered peace between clans.
In some South American tribes, a pregnant woman could take lovers, all of whom were considered responsible for her child. According to "Cultures of Multiple Fathers: The Theory and Practice of Partible Paternity in Lowland South America" University of Florida Press, , 80 percent of children with multiple "fathers" survived to adulthood, compared with 64 percent of kids with just one dad. Increasing globalization has erased many of these traditions, but some persist. In America, Mormon splinter groups practice polygamy.
In Hui'an China up until the s, many married women lived with their parents until the birth of their first child.
And in the Lahaul Valley of India, women practiced polyandry until the most recent generation, marrying not just one man, but all of his brothers as well. The tradition kept small land holdings in the hands of one family and prevented overpopulation in the remote valley. The Western Ideal For much of human history, marriage was a way to spread resources between families, Coontz said. But the first drastic redefinition of marriage in the Western world came from early Christians, Coontz said.
At the time, a man could divorce his wife if she failed to bear children. Early Christians disavowed the practice. God had joined the couple together, they said, and a lack of offspring was no excuse to dissolve that bond. This was "unprecedented," Coontz said. As it stood, the early Christians weren't sold on marriage, anyway. Saint Paul famously said that celibacy was the best path, but grudgingly added, according to the King James Version of the Bible, "If they cannot contain, let them marry: Too much affection in a marriage was seen as a distraction from God.
In the Middle Ages, people went so far as to argue that love in marriage was impossible. The only way to true romance, they said, was adultery. First comes love The disconnect between love and marriage wouldn't change until the late s, when Enlightenment thinkers argued that the older generation had no business telling the younger generation who to marry.
From there, things snowballed relatively rapidly: In the early s, sexual satisfaction became a criterion for marriage. Then, in the s and s, people began to question the laws that made men the legal overlords of their wives. Suddenly, the idea that marriage was a partnership between two people with different gender roles began to dissolve. People sniffed at the idea of marrying for love, frowned upon the sexually liberated flappers of the s, and fought against the Women's Liberation movement of the s.
Emotion and ideology Some of those ideological debates still echo in today's debate over same-sex marriage, but research shows that there is no scientific reason to deny marriage rights to gays, said Sharon Rotosky, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky.
A June study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children with lesbian parents actually did better on many measures than children of straight parents. Other studies have shown very similar outcomes between kids with gay parents and kids with straight parents. Rotosky has found that even putting marriage rights up for debate harms gay and lesbian individuals.
In a study, she and her colleagues surveyed people living in U. But, said Rotosky, the outcome could be worth it.