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Traditional Marriage — Which Kind?

It’s odd that there are still some people who seek to challenge same-sex marriage under the pretense of preserving traditional marriage. I oppose traditional marriage. I suspect too that those who publicly claim to support traditional marriage really don’t, at least not on biblical grounds.

After all, exactly which form of biblical marriage should be held up as the traditional model?

Polygamy? The great biblical figures had multiple wives. Indeed, Solomon, to whom God gave wisdom and insight, had 700 wives.

If not polygamy, then what about other forms of traditional marriage found in books of the Bible, such as Deuteronomy, Ezra, Nehemiah and elsewhere, which forbid interracial marriage? Because of this Bible-based form of traditional marriage, it was illegal in parts of the United States up until 1967 to marry outside of one’s ethnicity.

My one wife and I come from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, and our relationship is enriched as a result. I am sure there are many others in Hawaii in racially mixed relationships who feel similarly. Yet such relationships would be in violation of traditional marriage, according to certain books in the Bible, and our relationships would be considered criminal and viewed as immoral had such discriminatory laws not been changed in the United States.

In the biblical tradition, a woman did not have the right to divorce her husband. (There are Christian churches today that view divorce as sin, citing passages from Mark and Malachi for support.) Because of this form of traditional marriage, where women enjoyed few rights, it was not acceptable in the United States for a woman to vote, hold elective office, attend college or divorce an abusive husband. Indeed, before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, a woman had difficulty obtaining a loan or a credit card on her own.

Even more astonishing, marital rape only was recognized as a criminal act by all 50 states in 1993. Before this, a husband could not be found guilty of non-consensual sex with his wife. Biblical passages, such as 1 Corinthians 7, which states that a married person does not have authority over one’s own body, but instead the spouse does, played a role in the ethos that shaped this form of traditional marriage where a husband could not be found guilty of raping his wife.

There are still other forms of traditional marriage I do not support. For example, the traditional marriage in which the wife is not allowed to have a career but must stay home while the husband works as the sole provider. Wives (and husbands) who choose to work in the home deserve respect. But careers can be just as fulfilling and life-transforming, and in our times, who would oppose the idea of a woman having the opportunity to gain an education so that she might pursue her own professional goals?

Some believe the arrival of Jesus Christ freed one from being bound to all the laws of the Bible, as Christ heralded a new tradition. In other words, traditions changed, the old gave way to the new, the traditional was no longer tradition. According to many in the Christian faith, Jesus was not married. The traditional form of marriage thus became no marriage. This explains the rise and development of monks and nuns in Christianity, as they sought to emulate Jesus’ celibate life. If Christians are those who aspire to be Christlike, married Christians continue to fail in this regard.

Beliefs about traditional marriage extend to notions of traditional family as well, where ideas and shapes of the family have evolved. Single or divorced parents along with their biological or adopted children and their children’s step-siblings and half-siblings are all family, despite being outside the traditional model.

The above issues center on the definition of tradition, but the real problem lies not in the definition of tradition, but in the misunderstanding of its function. Traditions are meant to provide continuity, not constraint. They inspire and stir innovation, and should not be invoked to mask discrimination. For many, knowledge and appreciation of one’s own tradition serve as a wellspring for personal growth.

In short, tradition is the source of change. In this regard, traditions are more akin to bridges and pathways than fences and gates. Standing tradition is thus an oxymoron.

It is an indisputable fact that the concepts and forms of marriage have changed over time. Change is thus a tradition of marriage. Those who seek to confine marriage to its traditional forms, therefore, violate the tradition of marriage.