NOTE TO THE READER: This essay was part of an assignment to write a definitional essay in the style of a classic writer. I chose to write in the style of Cowley. He spoke in an authoritative, cheeky manner that is intended to be a bit snarky. Please bear this in mind as you read my definitional essay on Marriage.
Professor April Lidinsky
January 30, 2012
Of Brides and Wives
“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam...”
Says the The Impressive Clergyman in the movie Princess Bride,
“And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva, so tweasure your wuv.”
Weddings scenes are common in movies, but few are more memorable. If you’ve seen Princess Bride you can’t forget these lines. The story is ultimately about the marriage of the beautiful Princess Buttercup and the question of who will become her husband. In this movie the princess awaits her prince charming to come and rescue her from the evil Prince Humperdink who is determined to make her his wife against her wishes. This classic comedy culminates in a wedding ceremony conducted by the speech impeded Impressive Clergyman declaring...
“Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today.”
He continues by defining marriage as a
“blessed arrangement” and “a dream within a dream.”
As romantic as that sounds, I would have to disagree with that characterization. My own marriage was certainly not a dream within a dream. As I reflect on my experience the words of Groucho Marx seem far more appropriate:
“Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?”
For fourteen years I lived in that institution striving to obtain the “wedded bliss” that I had heard so much about. Marrying the first girl I dated in college was perhaps not the wisest choice, but she fit the list of qualifications I had been instructed to develop when seeking a wife. Everyone seemed to think we were the perfect match for one another. There appeared to be no good reason for us NOT to get married, so we did.
The years were not void of happiness, there are three children to attest for some degree of pleasure in the bedroom, but bliss would certainly be an overstatement. The institution of marriage is a recipe, but having all the ingredients laid out on the kitchen counter does not a meal make.
A lot of marriage-talk has recently exploded in society, politics, religion and media. I confess, I did not give the definition of marriage much thought until I was barred from it. Yes, I am indeed barred from marrying the love of my life. I have been denied the many societal benefits of having a legal spouse simply because my love is a man named David. No doubt you may feel I am unqualified to speak on the subject of marriage since I am a divorced gay man living happily with my male partner of more than six years. But in my 46 years I have experienced life as single, married to a woman, divorced, gay single, gay partnered and now I simply desire to marry the man I love.
The marriage debate occurring in the United States today carries with it a swirling dust storm of buzzwords wherever it goes. Words like traditional, sacred, sanctity, Biblical and moral fly viciously around the debate. It is interesting to note that all of these words have some religious connection. According to many pulpits in America marriage has been defined for all of society by a Judeo-Christian belief system. In light of that, it would seem that marriage, as we know it today must be based on Biblical mandates. I have searched the Bible for the clear instructions as to what constitutes a marriage, for such instructions must exist if Evangelicals feel the liberty to speak so authoritatively. I desire to read and understand the Biblical outline for a proper wedding ceremony. How will you know if the union is “official” if there is no guide?
Having grown up in an evangelical, Bible believing home and having spent nearly two decades in pastoral ministry, the Bible is something with which I am very well acquainted. The sacred text opens with a man and a woman living together in a garden...naked. They are eventually kicked out of the garden by God and shortly thereafter, find themselves clothed and parenting two sons. There is no recorded wedding or marriage ceremony. They are simply commanded to go forth, be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth. Indeed they do this, although since they are the only humans on the earth, their sons apparently hooked up (married) with either their unnamed sister or their mother Eve in order to reproduce. That behavior certainly would not sit well in today’s society.
One does not have to leave the book of Genesis to find that marriage looks quite barbaric
in comparison to what is featured in Brides’ Magazine today. Lamech, Jacob and Esau each had more than one wife at the same time. And they were conservative in their number of wives. Nobody, including God, seemed to mind men collecting wives.
There are several stories of men who “take” a wife simply by quite literally…taking her. No ceremony. No fanfare. No celebration. A common method of marriage was to strike a financial deal with the gal’s Dad and then go have sex with her. You were then declared man and wife. Of course the wife had to accept the fact that she would most likely not be the only woman in your life. A man like Solomon (who wrote more than one book of the Old Testament and ironically was declared by God to be the wisest man to ever live) would have seven hundred wives plus three hundred concubines. That must have been an intimate affair.
David (who according to the Bible was one of God’s favorites) used his kingly authority to have sex with a woman and then have her husband killed so he wouldn’t know she was pregnant. There’s no mention of what his other eight wives thought of this addition to his collection.
After reviewing the Old Testament, any descriptions of what elements needed to be included in a marriage ceremony are mysteriously absent. The marriages simply consist of men choosing a woman and making her his wife by having sex with her. Very unceremoniously I might add, by this definition many polygamous men are roaming amongst us today. I can only imagine how many wives the average male college student has racked up in his four-year stint!
I determined to perform a review of the New Testament in an effort to reveal a better definition of what constitutes this thing you call “marriage.” My reading of the Gospels quickly featured a wedding story in which Jesus himself was an honored guest. Ah yes, Jesus’ first miracle performed on earth was at a wedding celebration. To the delight of the wedding party and all the guests, he turned ordinary well water into a vintage reserve wine that was unparalleled in comparison to the wine provided by the caterer. While I am certain that the guests must have talked for years about the “magician” who performed at the wedding reception, there is little record of any other details of the day. All ceremony details were left out, probably because they paled in comparison to Jesus’ scene stealing miracle.
My search focused on the words of Jesus. If marriage is one of the pillars of Christianity that it is purported to be then the Son of God must surely expound up on it in great detail. I recalled an exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day known as Pharisees in which the subject of marriage seemed to be their focus. The Pharisees were determined to entrap Jesus in a dead end debate, so this should be an interesting read. Alas, I am disappointed once again. The subject of their debate is not on marriage, but rather on divorce. Still no explanation as to what makes two people married.
Leaving the Gospels behind I explore the rest of the New Testament. My Advanced Theology class in college focused primarily on the teachings of the Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the directives for how to operate a church and how the people of the church should behave. I knew he would have much to say about husbands and wives. I was correct. Indeed he spends long passages talking about submissive wives, authoritative husbands, obedient children, but while he, a single-never-been-married-man, wrote the most about what it means to be a Biblical man, woman, husband, wife and child, he says absolutely nothing about what constitutes a legal marriage other than that it is “better to marry than to burn.” Apparently Paul had no sex drive.
I ended my search in The Revelation of John, the final book of the Bible. What do I find in this book about the end of the world? A wedding reception! You may wonder what a wedding reception has to do with the end of the world, but in the Bible it makes perfect sense. The end of the world begins with Jesus’ return to earth to call his “bride” home to heaven to spend eternity with him. According to scholarly and respected theologians, his bride is comprised of all his believers here on earth…past and present. You no doubt are wondering what makes this wedding official? A fine question indeed. I shall remind you that in my years of ministry and Bible study I held this element of Christianity at the pinnacle of all beliefs for it is what allowed me to call myself a “Christian.” A human becomes a part of the Bride of Christ by simply choosing him. No ceremony included. Anyone, male or female can marry Jesus simply by declaring their belief in him as their savior and suddenly they are included in the Bride of Christ who will be raptured up into an eternal paradise to enjoy the great wedding feast. In essence, being “married” to Christ involves…nothing but choice. No ceremony. No particular words or phrases.
I read the Bible cover to cover and there are only references to brides, husbands, wives, divorce, sex and a few other marriage related words, but absolutely nothing about what must be said or done in order to declare two people married. So I ask you, if marriage is so sacred why doesn’t the Bible explain that a ceremony must include the repeating of vows, the exchange of rings, the presence of witnesses, the authority of a minister, a government issued marriage license and the seal of a kiss? Getting married today is an elaborate production of all these elements and more. The ceremony is an assortment of religious ideas thrown into a melting pot that has become known as a wedding. The wedding is strictly a religious concept. People can choose to not have a wedding and go to a justice of the peace and still be declared married. No religious elements are required.
Marriage is a legal union requiring nothing more than a government issued marriage license and the presence of a judge, mayor, city clerk, town treasurer or a member of clergy. Wedding ceremonies are religious and may be considered sacred, sanctified, and anything else anyone wants tacked to it. Be my guest! Let your wedding be anything you want it to be. Include all the symbols, songs and religious speak you desire, but do not equate your religious ceremony with a legal union. The two are very different from one another and serve a completely separate purpose.
If you desire to celebrate your love in the fashion of a wedding ceremony, I will not prevent you from doing so, in fact I encourage you to have the wedding of your dreams. Use your special day to declare anything you desire. That is your right. Weddings are a very personal and usually religious affair. Vow your vows. Sing your songs. Pucker and kiss. Eat your cake. None of this concerns me. My legal union with David does not concern you nor does it invalidate your blessed arrangement, your dream within a dream. When David and I are declared married by a city mayor or clerk your own marriage will not be impacted for it was strictly a legal formality and had nothing to do with your religious ceremony called a wedding. Your faith and my legal union are not synonymous. Your wedding and my marriage are not synonymous either. If you doubt this, I encourage you to search the Holy Scriptures for the proper “order of service.”
I won’t crash your religious wedding, so please don’t crash my legal marriage.
In 2013 Joel and David were legally married in New York City.