Marriage and Other personal Relationships


WHY DO PEOPLE GET MARRIED? In the past it was almost a necessary stage of life, however with changes in the law and changes in social attitudes means that co-habitation is increasingly the preferred option for couples. Why is it then that many of this move on to get married? Which of these might be an essential reason for marriage? • • • • • • • sharing interests and hobbies companionship a stable relationship for bringing up children a long term commitment based on love and trust the best kind of relationship for sex having the backing and security of the law having more money to set up home

CHANGING ATTITUDES TO MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE: In the West our understanding of marriage is based on the JudaeoChristian tradition as put forward in the Bible and subsequently developed by the Christian churches. The Old Testament: • Unsentimental realism is a hallmark of the Old Testament view of sex: • Sex was a chaotic force that needed to be channeled through the medium of marriage. The Adam and Eve story in Genesis 2-3 directly mentions marriage in an aetological sense: because Eve was made from Adam’s rib the sexes long to be reunited in marriage, ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’… ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.’ This is consummated in the sexual life of a marriage- they are united as the one flesh through having sex. This is taken to be the original purpose of sex, according to the story.

attack that leads to miscarriage for example) is seen as an affront to the man involved as such acts are an abuse of his property. St.” This enjoyment of sex (strictly within marriage) is an important theme of the Old Testament. • Jesus chose to perform his first miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. The New Testament The Gospels: • Jesus has little to say about marriage in the gospels. Paul: • St Paul was a Pharisee before he became a Christian and some of his thinking about marriage and sex is based in this background. ‘ a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts’. Women were seen and treated as property of their husbands or fathers and no rights at all. as shown in the book of Leviticus.• • In the ‘Song of Songs’ sexual desire is also celebrated in a dialogue between a woman and her lover: For him her “rounded thighs are like jewels’ her breasts are like two fawns’ and her ‘kisses like the best wine that goes smoothly gliding over lips and teeth” she replies that he is to her. a downside however is that the sexual politics of this time were extremely patriarchal. He makes clear that he sees God’s hand the institution of marriage. his body is ‘ivory work.any offence (rape. and perhaps removes the relationship from the idea of a ‘property owning arrangement’ that was common at this time. this shows support for the institution. When he is asked about divorce however he makes it clear that the ‘one flesh’ idea of Genesis underpins his own (Matt 19). He inherited many ideas that the Jews were a chosen people and were called by God to distinguish themselves using (amongst other things) the Holiness Code. • Jesus also takes a dim view of divorce and says that it is either impossible (Mark) or permissible only in the matter of adultery (Matthew). encrusted with sapphires’ and his legs ‘alabaster columns hand were under my head and that his right hand embraced me. This makes many forms of sexual expression (often associated with the .

As long as only inferiors were penetrated by the citizen in the sexual act then the dignity of the male was not affected. Married life is however a forum where one can. however significant numbers also wrote against this that the release of semen was enfeebling to . since women were inferior. Inside marriage the partners have a duty to one another – sex is associated with sin and marriage is a way of containing this sinful possibility each partner should give the other the means to relieve their sexual tensions so that they can then concentrate on more important spiritual matters. d) There was the belief that while sex was good for you. c) Hetero/Homosexual love were not differentiated between in the way they are today. As soon as one becomes ‘in Christ’ one’s behaviour should be such that it does not unite Christ with sin: therefore Paul forbids adultery and visits to prostitutes for Christians. ‘live unto the Lord’ and so a Christian man should take a wife ‘in holiness and honour not in the passion of lust like the heathen that do not know God.• worship of other fertility religions) off limits – prostitution. There is also the key point that he considered that the Parousia was imminent and therefore people should be focused on preparing themselves for Second Coming rather than the complication of being involved in a marriage relationship. in fact homosexual love was idealized like romantic love is today. bestiality etc. Upper class male citizens should not be ‘infected’ by taking a passive role in their sex or emotional lives. This is a rather dim view of married life – the ideal is for celibacy and it is only for human weakness that marriage is to be tolerated. This meant: a) Marriage should be unequal. Paul had similar ideas about Christians – those who had chosen to be saved by Christ’s sacrifice and accept salvation (given freely by grace) should distinguish themselves by their ‘whiter than white’ sexual behaviour. adultery.” (1 Thess 4:4-5) • • • • Sex in the Roman world: Social status is the key to understanding sexual relationships in the Roman Empire. b) A male citizen could have sex with any one he liked. provided he did not have sex with a married woman (for fear of offending her husband). homosexuality. However St Paul does accept that people do have sexual passions and so should ‘rather marry than burn’ (with passion) and so have a legitimate outlet for these rather than fornicating.

However there is a down side to Augustine’s teaching.” (Compline Prayer) St Augustine: In the 4th century there was a debate within Christianity about sex. • This idea may have its view in the non-Christian ideas of the Stoic philosophers. ‘the one honourable fruit’ it was still sinful and. He considered that original sin was sexual and carried to us today through sex. all the way back to Adam.this view advocated celibacy in order to maintain virility. Some church fathers went so far as to claim that true Christians did not feel sexual desire at all. Augustine did regard marriage as a real good (not simply the lesser and the sexual act was harmful and dangerous. As a result monasticism and priestly celibacy became common and it was even considered a guide to how holy one had become by the lack of erotic dreams: “Tread under our foot the ghostly foe. as in many matters the most influential views belonged St Augustine and these came to influence the subsequent Christian views about sex and relationships until well into our own century. Sexual Asceticism: Early Christianity • Despite Paul’s guarded blessing. Therefore God permitted sexual intercourse for the sake of children. Augustine also grudgingly allows sex to be excused within marriage only for the reason that it may stop .’ • Justin Martyr (a Stoic convert to Christianity) commended the faith to others on these grounds. as Paul seemed to claim) and said that it brought 3 main benefits: a) Procreation of children b) To ensure faithfulness between husband and wife. That no pollution we may know.unless procreation was necessary. c) To be a SACRAMENT as a means by which God’s grace can overcome sin and ‘order’ or control the sexual urge. since this was one way that one could have ‘self mastery. early Christianity regarded marriage with suspicion and in fact advocated celibacy within marriage. These argued that rulers should rise above bodily desires and only have sex for the ‘sake of the city’ – procreation only. as containing the best of Graeco-Roman culture as well as the ethical basis of Judaism. however hard the Christian tried to lie back and think higher thoughts they would still be corrupted by the experience and become embedded in sinful thoughts.

outside matrimony is contrary to a man’s good. 1139 CE. however. Children need to be instructed by a man if they are to grow up well: Now a woman alone is not adequate to this task. Therefore God meant for humans to form partnerships to allow procreation without sin and a stable family environment. it is natural to the human being for the man to establish a lasting association with a designated woman. this demands the work of a husband. Richard Dawkins. No.fornication and adultery. . Hence. Therefore matrimony is natural for man. Aquinas Aquinas echoed many of Augustine’s views but placed less emphasis ion the idea of containing sin and extended the natural law argument – claiming that the central purpose of marriage lies in procreation and providing a stable environment to bring up the children. He does. over no short period of time.. This view also influenced the view that clergy should be unmarried and was ratified into church law at the 2nd Lateran council. in the UK it was within law for a husband to use moderate force to chastise his wife until 1891. we call this society matrimony.2 This is reflected in the way that. For this reason it must be a sin. for example. also have duties towards her in that natural justice demands that she should be cared for until death. as with no more child-bearing years in her. in whom reason is more developed for giving instruction and strength is more available for giving punishment . and promiscuous performance of the sexual act. since among all animals it is necessary for the male and female to remain together as the work of the father is needed by the offspring. rather. Summa Contra Gentiles. Aquinas argues that no one else would want her. 3.

2. Thomas Cramner (archbishop of the CofE) wrote a new marriage service which stressed that mutual companionship was one of the reasons for getting married. especially what one is taught about such things will seriously affect one’s mental health in later life. For this reason the idea of the ‘conjugal debt’ was expanded – sex was a duty for each of the partners to keep the other from sin. This was the time of Christendom – when the church was held to be the central authority in Europe and its law makers (e. Psychology: Freud and many others have shown that sex is not simply a biological matter and a healthy attitude to sexual relationships.among others. This was the first time that this had been acknowledged by Christianity. Changes to the traditional view: 1) Canon law: In medieval times the institution of marriage became central to society.. this was a result of abstinence and coitus interruptus initially. abstinence was now a legal obligation. This raised the autonomy women and is the basis of the idea of romantic love celebrated today. 3) The Reformation Protestants rejected the principle of clerical celibacy and this led to re-evaluation of marriage. Recent Challenges for the Christian view of Relationships: 1. Life expectancy and contraception: Since the Victorian age the world’s population has increased dramatically. This meant that smaller families became the norm in western countries.g. would argue with this out-dated type of biology being used as the basis for moral strictures of this kind. 2) Courtly Love: Lyrical poetry of this time enshrined this type of yearning affection between a man and an unattainable upper class woman and became a paradigm for how people felt relationships should be run. Peter Lombard) were interested in how they were to deal with the problems that people had in marriages. as has life expectancy. however as contraception became more and more effective .

Since this uncoupling of the link between sex and marriage by means of efficient contraception led to a different understanding of the purpose of marriage that built on previous understandings: In the preface to the marriage service it is made clear that there are 3 main purposes to marriage nowchildren. it is intended to help people grow close together and form stable families. in sorrow and joy. may strengthen union of their hearts and lives. to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord.churches had to deal with the fact that their members were using such methods to enjoy sex for pleasure. that husband and wife might comfort and help each other. . It is considered the right relationship for sexual relations to take place and this intimacy is said to be good in that it draws together the couple and strengthens their relationship. This key development in the Protestant churches has led inevitably to the current debates about the permissibility of same sex relationships and sexual expression between persons within exclusive and loving relationships not formalised in marriage. CofE stated this in 1908) but eventually gave these methods their blessing (CofE approved this officially in 1932. Therefore there are various rules that are imposed on personal relationships by the institution of Christian marriage. and again more emphatically in 1958 stating that the size of the family was firmly up to the conscience of the Christian couple). living faithfully together in need and in plenty.’ ‘It is given. and through the joy of their bodily union.’ 1980 Alternative Service Book ‘Marriage is given. Divorce is therefore a difficult subject – especially if one takes the view that marriage is a sacrament by which God has made the couple become ‘one flesh’ – as Roman Catholics do. It is a contract that is made between three parties – the couple and God.’ ‘It is given that they may have children and be blessed in caring for them and bringing them up in accordance with God’s will. companionship and unitive sex. The promises they make to God and to one another are to a permanent and exclusive relationship. to his praise and glory. both in prosperity and adversity. help and comfort. 1662 Book of Common Prayer ‘It was ordained for the procreation of Children.’ 4.’ ‘It was ordained for a remedy against Sin and to avoid fornication’ ‘It was ordained for mutual society. The penalties for breaking these promises are to sin against God and to hurt each other. All churches initially banned these methods (e. that one ought to have of the other. that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love. 3.g.

if either has previously made a vow of chastity. These are: if man was not at least16 and wife not at least 14. This is seen in the moment where the marriage is solemnized by the priest giving the couple God’s blessing. if either has been forced into the marriage. Luther had been a monk but enacted his views himself by marrying a former nun. Katherine von Bera. If a Catholic couple was to get a civil divorce they could not remarry in church and run the risk of being excommunicated. 2) Marriage is not exclusively Christian.They can therefore not allow a divorce to take place. Protestants. if one has not been baptized. Rather they are simply where a man and woman make promises to one another about their future fidelity and desire to have children. R Jones in Groundwork for Christian Ethics argues that these have often been used as a convenient way to allow couples to divorce by the back door. if either has murdered their spouse in order to marry again. Divorce is allowed on the basis of adultery (Based on Matt 5:32) but should not be considered to be easy.this is where the marriage is declared to have been void since there was (at least one of 12) impediments to its validity as a marriage. Remarriage can be allowed for the party who was not guilty in the previous marriage breakdown. if the couple are living together after an invalid marriage ceremony. 3) Marriage is a mystery or allegory of the relationship between Christ and his Church. The nearest equivalent is an annulment. Rather it is simply the name given to the institutionalization of the natural human desire for couples to live together. if either are in holy orders. however have long since regarded marriage in a very different way to Catholics. if they are blood relations. if they are directly related through the law. This is largely a result of the thinking and actions of the first leader of the reformation. as approved by God and try to live out their lives together with commitment and dedication such as Christ has for the church. if either is already married. if either is impotent. if adopted children (though unrelated) marry one another.from this point onwards they dedicate themselves to one an other and another stage in their spiritual life. whereas the Catholic psychiatrist Jack Dominian takes a liberal view but prefers the idea of annulment to divorce since he says that the church should look more carefully into what the minimum conditions are to call a relationship a marriage and then to rule a marriage nullified if no such marriage were to exist. Martin Luther (1483-1546). The C of E follows a similar line and has become more forgiving in their attitudes to remarriage in recent years. He claimed that: 1) Christian marriages are not distinctive – they are not sacraments and do not remove is left .

Monogamous marriage is a form of prostitution of women. come the revolution. 2) Marriage of Equals: • Instead Engels proposes a different notion of marriage. as frequently glimpsed in literature is outside of marriage as it is a restrictive institution that kills true relationships. • Monogamous marriage is based on the conflict between man and wife which has shown the problems of society as a whole in miniature. • . which because it is unsatisfactory has led to widespread infidelity. Marriage is a sign of such an unjust society which perpetuates a false morality at the expense of full and loving relationships. possessive institution. Other views of Marriage and Divorce: Why would a non-religious person wish to get married? Marxist views: Frederick Engels (1820-1895) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) regarded the Victorian model of a Christian marriage to be symptomatic of what was wrong with society. • He claims that monogamous marriage has never really happened before – it was all a sham way of men passing on their property to legitimate heirs and had nothing to do with real monogamy. based on the relationship of 2 equals living in a communist society where love and mutual trust can be expressed without the machine of capitalist exploitation cannot get in the way. true monogamy will be achieved. driven by greed and class considerations that continue to keep the structure of society in place and thereby stop true freedom and revolution from taking the discretion of the parish priest as whether they wish to perform a second marriage ceremony for that person. Monogamous marriage is supported by the bourgeois classes because it legitimizes the rights to power and will marry for the right reasons and therefore they will stay together. They regarded it as a materialistic.instead it was based on prostitution. it is the cause of the problem – not (as St Augustine claimed) the cure for it. • Real marriages are impossible in a capitalist culture since there is the constant danger of exploitation of one of the partners by another. • True love. However. 1) Marriage Is Exploitative Ownership: Marxism claims that is through the ownership of property that the bourgeoisie keep the proletariat down and exploit their labour for their own profit.

women must • • • • . • Male dominance and female submission are the accepted norms of sexual behaviour. and broadly define the respective roles of the sexes generally. lesbian separatists) tend to be suspicious of the kinds of sexual activity commended in centrist regimes: married. Under this view. • She points out that the elimination of the capitalist economic system has not substantially transformed women in socialist nations and thereby denies that gender inequality can be explained adequately by economic causes. in her Feminism Unmodified. Catharine MacKinnon. while the contractarian faith in informed consent is a sham because that same social conditioning limits the range of women's real opportunities and choices and nurtures a false consciousness about women's place in the world and in relationship to Men. Women are socialized to meet male sexual wants and needs in order to prove their own value and fulfil their socially created duties. in a well-defined relationship. reproductive. In her Lesbian Nation. monogamous. Radical feminists such as MacKinnon claim that socially constructed sexual roles make it extraordinarily difficult for women to identify and nurture their own sexual desires and needs. argues that the notions of ‘natural law' (religious) and 'autonomous choice' (utilitarian) which underlie traditional accounts are also fatally flawed.FEMINISM: In her Feminist Politics and Human Nature. but fails to highlight the true source of that oppression: the aggression and domination of men. and so forth. heterosexual. • Many feminists suspect that such carefully defined sexual activity facilitates in a direct fashion the general political subjugation of women. Therefore MacKinnon claims that women will always remain subordinate to men unless sexuality is re-imagined and remade. Such radical feminists (e. private. Alison Jaggar agrees that Marxism underscores the economic basis of women’s oppression. Jill Johnston champions the separatist position and endorses sex among women only as a way of making a political statement and transcending male oppression. The Christian reliance on natural law is misplaced because our sexual needs and desires are mainly a matter of social conditioning.g.

g. a biological revolution (e. particularly those prestigious positions which define political and social power. It portrays men as incapable by nature of anything other than oppression and exploitation. What events can ensure that such conditions pertain? There is a range of answers that include: a) The total separation of women from men. insist that such a posture is unnecessary and also limits women’s choices and denies even the theoretical possibility of engaging in non-exploitative consensual heterosexual activity. More general criticisms Taken literally. why should we assume that sexuality is so essential to personhood or womanhood? One of the assumptions feminists have made is that sexual activity implicates a woman's innermost being and most important constitutive attributes. The separatist view seems flawed because while it begins in a general disparagement of the idea of an ahistorical human nature. and women have the power and capacity to control access to and define themselves. do feminists view as morally permissible sex? Sex is morally permissible only if the traditional roles of male dominance and female submission are absent. But is that fact a biological necessity or merely a social artefact of male-dominated society? HUMANISM AND MODERN MARRIAGE: Utilitarianism: . such as children. it ends in reliance upon just such a notion. seems too broad and could be used as a justification for paternalism: if women are truly incapable of informed consent then why should they not be subject to the same paternalistic treatment that is afforded other groups. however. then. women are not politically victimized by their sexuality. on the other hand. including a female boycott of heterosexual relations. Critique of feminism a) Lesbian Separitism: Less radical feminists and non-feminists. and full access for women into the public spheres. What. who lack that capacity? Furthermore. This concession. one of the most important of which is sexual activity.• • undermine the domination and power of men in all relevant contexts. artificial reproduction) to liberate women from the fundamentally unequal tasks of child-bearing and rearing. some feminists suggest that virtually all women are incapable of informed consent because they have been victimized by extended conditioning by male-dominated society. c) Economic independence of women from men d) Pay for those women who provide domestic and socially necessary services which is comparable to the wages earned by men in the public sphere e) Obliteration of the distinction between 'men's work’ and 'women's work'. b) The decommodification of the female body.

In a rational ethic. looks to the consequences of a marriage in order begin philosophizing about it. marriage would not count as such in the absence of children. based usually on the ideas of J. are able to decide what they want to maximize their happiness in such a relationship. Those who oppose the idea of open marriages argue that like such a film the concept is a contradiction in terms and has an insufficient understanding of how humans behave and react in relationships. provided there is honesty between the partners then one can have a non-exclusive marriage relationship where both partners can look outside the marriage bed for sexual satisfaction.” Marriage and Morals (1929) . This makes fine Utilitarian sense.S. A sterile marriage should be easily dissoluble.This view. I think that all sex relations which do not involve children should be regarded as a purely private affair. as rational beings. Open Marriages: This idea claims that. and so the sexual partners should now legalise their relationship through marriage providing the children with insurance that the two parents will share the job of bringing them up and caring for them. and worthy to be taken seriously by a legal institution.Mill (1806-1873). The terms of the marriage/relationship are to be decided by the couple themselves as they. on another level their relationship may be deepened from knowing that their long term emotional needs are met by their life partner. for it is through children alone that sexual relationships become of importance to society. They argue that both partners will be happier in that their needs are satisfied and they are treating one another like adults in doing so. that should be no one’s business but their own. He argued that once children were born to the couple then the relationship could no longer be considered a private affair. Bertrand Russell and Serial Monogamy: Russell argues that the only serious consequence of sexual relationships was when children appeared and therefore regarded marriage as a stable environment for them to grow up in. however the film then proceeds to portray a marriage breaking down as the husband becomes consumed by doubt over his wife’s commitment to him and motives in marrying him. A good example of a Utilitarian approach to relationships and its danger can be shown in the 1993 film Indecent Proposal in which a husband allows a couple allow a man to sleep with the wife for a night in exchange for a million dollars. and that if a man and a woman choose to live together without having children.

whether men or women. polygamous in their instincts. there are those who will point out that such an impermanent view of marriage does not prepare children well for life and can have negative psychological effects on society and undermines the seriousness with which people might enter into a marriage relationship to begin with. ‘I believe marriage to be the best and most important relation that can exist between two human beings.” Marriage and Morals (1929) However. However. . but sooner or later sexual familiarity dulls the edge of passion. provided that there are liberal divorce laws. They may fall deeply in love and be for some years completely absorbed in one person. if not for the sake of children. are generally. he argued that.’ You could say that Russell’s vision is increasingly realized in secular society as it becomes more and more common to marry more than once in life and conduct a series of sexual relationships without any intention of marriage. Russell still had high praise for the institution. and then they begin to look elsewhere for the revival of the old thrill. adults need not stay together since they are by nature ‘serial monogamists’: ‘I think that uninhibited civilized people.However. Russell says that from a humanist position such an attitude does not undermine the institution of marriage but accepts that the happiness of the individual needs freedom to adapt and change to new circumstances in life.

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