Civil Marriage Rights: Opponents are Wrong About Polygamy, Part 1

0d134b75d9225df7d61170c2381198de.thumbnail.jpgPart 1: Polygamy in the Past

For months now, those opposed to marriage equality have spouted off about how for thousands of years marriage has been "one man, one woman."  They’re wrong, and anyone with an encyclopedia and twenty minutes can find the holes in that argument.

Rick Warren is big on repeating a historical lie that has been seized upon by conservatives:

For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion–this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jew–historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

"5000 years" in fundamentalist terms means heterosexual monogamous marriages were in place around the time the dinosaurs walked the earth man. Flunk!

In the Old Testament, men had multiple wives, a practice that seems to have dissipated by the New Testament times, due in part to changing economies (multiple wives are expensive!) and Roman Imperial law and influence.

The Romans were greatly influenced by the Greeks, though the Hellenistic and Macedonian practice of polygamy consider contrary to the Roman state, was banned. However, as divorce was also illegal in Rome, multiple families often arose.

Wile Romans had single spouse marriages, the wealthy took lovers of both sexes on the side, attended orgies and generally frolicked licentiously with courtesans and slaves, like their Grecian role models. Depending on their class, "marriage" could be simply cohabiting, or a legal contract, with no religious ceremony involved. In Rome, living together for a year constituted afectus maritalis, with rights and privileges of civil wedlock.

Founded in 622 CE, Islam allows for multiple wives, carrying on a tradition of the pre-Islamic tribes in that region. The Prophet had plural wives, as did many other historically important Islamic figures.

Polygamy, practiced in the United States the ancestors of the same church that gave millions of dollars to Prop 8 was only outlawed in the US in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln.  Mormons based their practice on the Old Testament fathers, and believe that there is no prhobition against polygamy in the New Testament.

 Recently, New Mexico state senator Bill Sharer

said his opposition to a domestic-partnership bill is based on the fact that through most of recorded history — "from the days of Confucius and Aristotle," he said — marriage has been considered a union of one man and one woman. "It’s not just a Christian thing," he said. "It predates Christianity."

He’s wrong. Aristotle taught during approximately the same time as the polygamous Greeks, and Confucius’ teachings actually spread and codified the practice of plural marriages.

Rick Warren claims Buddhism is one-man one woman marriage religions.

Marriage is a secular issue in Buddhism. Theraveda "discourages" polygamy, while in Vajrayana  a consort of either gender may be brought into the marriage to assist in spiritual practices.

India banned polygamy in 1860 while the country was under colonial rule. Polygamy was officially ended in Thailand under the Westernizing influence of King Rama VI, invalidating Warren’s claims of 5,000 years of Buddhist monogamy.

So what we have here is a bunch of historically ignorant guys trying to use a flawed apples and oranges argument about polygamy to ban marriage between two consenting adults.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.