5000 Years of Marriage

So I just listened to a Daily Show episode where Jon Stewart interviewed our old friend Mike Huckabee about gay marriage. He (Stewart) asked, "if marriage is the bedrock of society, why would you want to limit it?"

And Huckabee replied, "Marriage is one man, one woman. For five thousand years, that’s the way it’s always been."

And I’ve got some problems with that.

Apparently Huckabee’s never heard of Sinbad, because Wikipedia, at least, defines concubinage as "the state of a woman or youth in an ongoing, quasi-matrimonial relationship with a man of higher social status"…and typically a man has an official wife, then several concubines, which are basically mistresses with legal rights.

And before anyone goes on about how it was just the Indians or the Chinese or whatever who had concubines, wise old King Solomon had a couple hundred.

Abraham, David, and Jacob were polygamists.

In Ancient Greece, marriage was a verbal contract rather than a legal one. The pederasts of old technically could have married men if they wished.

In the Mahabharata, Draupadi marries the five Pandava brothers.

Finally, in medieval and Renaissance Europe, marriage was a legal contract, a business deal. If populations permitted, polygamy was approved-of:

"On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years’ War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them."*

And in "Der Beichtrat", Martin Luther gave the Landgrave Philip of Hesse a dispensation to take a second wife; fifteen years earlier, he said that he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture."*

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here; mostly, I think, that Mike Huckabee needs to shut the fuck up and check his facts.

*Quoted or paraphrased from Wikipedia

Join the Conversation

  • Rachel_in_WY

    All you have to do with these conservative religious types is point to the old testament to make this argument ridiculous, but in my experience that doesn’t phase them in the least. Even though they have no way of countering this fact, they stick to their position tenaciously. It’s called dogma and defies all logic.

  • Transcend

    The authority of tradition is very powerful — it clearly appeals to conservative minds very deeply. Interestingly enough, liberals can make use of this authority as well: in the mid-1800s, Indian scholars overturned the practice of suttee by insisting that it violated original interpretations of “scriptural law,” rather than insisting on new pressures from Western society.
    Likewise, when liberals use scripture to simply debunk the authority conservatives cite, it doesn’t seem to do much; but when liberals appeal to tradition to build something up, it is notably more persuasive. Counter Judeo-Christian tradition by citing America as a country built upon slowly including more and more people under its aegis of rights and freedoms (as Jon Stewart did), and conservatives get a stutter.
    The point is that liberals tend to blow off “tradition,” but we can see how plastic an idea it is. (5000 years of traditional marriage? didn’t we overturn miscegenation laws in the 50s?) If it sounds too Machiavellian, fair enough, but I think we should recognize the rhetoric our opponents use and (sometimes) reappropriate it for ourselves.
    Liberalism has a tradition, too! Technically, it’s the tradition of human rights.

  • aleks

    Don’t the Huckabunch claim the world is only 4,000 years old?

  • Cactus Wren

    aleks: 6000. 4000 years from Adam to Jesus, 2000 from Jesus to now.
    And I’m glad to see someone else rebutting Huckabee’s argument in the accurate terms it needs: One man and one woman? In the Bible, marriage is defined as between one man and as many women as he can afford to buy or can capture in war.
    BTW, did you know that Moses’s mother was also his great-aunt? Exodus 6:20, “And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses”.

  • Sandra

    I think Jon Stewart called him on that BS quite quickly and completely on the show. Stewart was polite about it but he clearly told Huckabee that he was full of it and that marriage had been re-defined numerous times in recent history and bore little or no resemblence to the marriages described in the Bible.