Angela Bishop

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The Evolution of Marriage

Posted on July 1, 2018 at 11:17 PM Comments comments (79)
The legalisation of same sex marriage has finally passed into law on the 7th of December 2017 following the postal survey’s positive outcome in the prior November. The definition of who can marry will no longer be “a man and a woman” but will now be “two people” to the exclusion of all others.
While this change to the marriage law has been in the spotlight recently, it is interesting to reflect on the laws and rules governing ‘marriage’ that have changed often over the years, revealing  the changing lifestyles and values of the peoples of those times.
In a speech for marriage equality last year, Penny Wong said; ‘Marriage is an enduring institution, but it has never been frozen in time. Earlier generations have sought greater equality, and with each change (to marriage) came warnings that the institution would be irreparably damaged and that the
fabric of society would unravel.’
These warnings have proven unfounded. Marriage has endured because it has evolved, adapted and embraced change. These changes have been accepted by society and previous discriminatory practices are now unthinkable.
The origins of the word “marriage” come from ‘maritus’ which is from  Latin, meaning ‘husband’, “partner’ or ‘lover‘.  The act of marrying was to become a person’s legally recognised husband, partner or lover. The word ‘Wedd’originated from an Old Saxon word to pledge oneself. The original meaning of these words is no less suitable in the context of same sex marriage.
Despite biblical scripture detailing marriage rules in both the old and new testaments, the church has not always been required in the marriage process.
Not until 1076 did the Council of Westminster decree that ‘no man can give a female relative to a prospective groom without the blessing of a priest’. By 1600, European laws decreed that a priest is required to conduct all wedding ceremonies.
For the next few hundred years, the church had very definite ideas about who could be married, ideas that would seem strange to us today.
You could not marry a spouse with a different faith, people of different races could not marry, people with a disability or those could not produce children could not marry.
Different classes of people have been excluded from the institution of marriage based on their social or legal status, such as slaves or prisoners. Our indigenous people were not allowed to marry without permission from the state, a practice that persisted until the 1950s in some areas of Australia.
The idea of marrying for love, or to choose your own spouse is a relatively recent idea. Traditionally, a wedding or union was a financial arrangement between families and individuals with dowries, land and money involving many years of negotiations. Women were usually traded in these arranged marriages, to increase her families’ status, wealth or landholdings. Although this still occurs in
some parts of the world, young couples getting married do not have such great problems as their forbearers.
Until November 1942, the legal age for girls to marry in Australia was 12 and for boys it was 14. Tasmania was the first state to raise the ages to marry to 16 and 18 respectively with other states following suit later.
Even the person conducting marriage ceremonies has evolved. Until the 1970s, it was overwhelmingly the role of men of religion who were able to conduct a legal marriage. Today, male and female religious ministers, male and female civil celebrants or the registry offices can legally marry a couple.
In fact, around 75% of all marriage ceremonies are now performed outside of a church. This change reflects the way that marriage is viewed in Australia, and how the concept of marriage is evolving to reflect this.

And so, this is just another change to the structure of the institution of marriage which reflects the world that we live in. Recognising that all people in love, regardless of their gender, would be able to have that love recognised in a legally binding marriage ceremony. 
While this might be one more progressive change in the history of ‘marriage’, for many it is life changing and long overdue.

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