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Religious Tolerance logo

Marriage, including same-sex marriage

Couples who are/were forbidden to marry.

couple registring their marriage
A couple registering their marriage

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Some criteria:

In various societies, in various eras, marriages are or were forbidden if the couple were:

bulletfrom different tribes,
bulletfrom the same tribe
bulletof different races
bulletof a particular race
bulletof different religions
bulletdevelopmentally handicapped
bulletof the same sex
bulletof different status (e.g. slave and free)
bulletof different castes
bulletof different socio-economic classes
bullettoo closely related

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Some examples:

bulletRoman Empire: A slave was prohibited from marrying a free person. The early Christian church was persecuted, in part, because of their refusal to obey this law.
bulletU.S. slavery: In the 19th century before slavery was outlawed in the U.S., marriages between slaves were not recognized by some U.S. states. The Louisiana Slave Code of 1824 stated:

"Slaves cannot marry without the consent of their masters, and their marriages do not produce any of the civil effects which result from such contract." 1

A North Carolina judge wrote in 1858 that:

"...the relation between slaves is essentially different from that of [a free] man and wife joined in lawful wedlock." 1

According to Rev. K. Scott Kirk of the United Church of Christ:

"Eventually, white ministers began to conduct church weddings for slaves. Historian John Blassingame notes that from 1841 to 1860, half of the marriages in South Carolina’s Episcopal churches were slave marriages. These ministers wanted to see slaves '...united under the laws of God, even if their marriages were not recognized by the laws of man'." 2,3

bullet U.S. miscgenation [interracial] marriage: Also in the US, miscegenation laws that restricted marriages on the basis of race were enforced in many states starting with Maryland in the 1660s. By the early 1960's at least 41 states had enacted such statutes at one time. 4 By 1967, 16 states still had anti-miscegenation laws in effect.

In 1959, Richard and Mildred Loving -- an inter-racial married couple who had been legall married in the District of Columbia a few weeks before -- were arrested in Virginia. They were found guilty to a felony and were not permitted to be together in the state for 25 years

The judge ruled:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races show that he did not intend for the races to mix."

They couple aeventually ppealed their case to the US Supreme Court, who In 1967, unanimously overturned the Virginia law and annulled similar miscegenation laws of 15 other states. 5 Persons of different races have been able to marry throughout the US ever since. More detailed information.

bullet Roman Catholic Church: In 1996, the church forbade church marriages if the husband-to-be was a paraplegic, and thus presumably could not engage in sexual activity and consummate the marriage. The couple was free to be married outside of their faith. This restriction still surfaces from time to time.

bulletPredominately Muslim countries: In most countries with Muslim majorities, a Muslim woman may not marry a man who is not of the same faith. This has produced some interesting results. During the late 1990s, a university professor in Egypt who considers himself to be a Muslim, wrote a book suggesting that Islam was in need of a reformation. Religious courts determined that he was no longer a Muslim and ordered him and his wife to divorce. They left the country instead.

bullet England, Wales, and Northern Ireland: Prior to mid-2017, couples had two options to marry in these three countries: a religious ceremony by a member of the clergy, or a civil ceremony in the local registry office by a civil servant. However, on 2017-JUN-09, the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland ruled that a Humanist couple could marry in a secular ceremony in that country. This ruling was immediately appealed by the Attorney General of Northern Ireland. More details. (Being written).

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On the other hand...

bulletAncient Egypt: A tomb of a same sex gay married couple Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep was discovered in 1964 in the necropolis of Saqqara, Egypt. The tomb dates to the Fifth Dynasty (circa 2,500 BCE), and shows that homosexual marriages date back over 4 millennia!

bulletRoman Catholic Church: A recent book by Yale Historian John Boswell demonstrates that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches both sanctioned and sanctified unions between partners of the same sex, until modern times. The churches used ceremonies which were very similar to conventional heterosexual ceremonies. 6

bullet Other countries: Same-sex, long-term relationships were once publicly acknowledged in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as Australia, Europe, India, Native America in more modern times. 7 However, they have not necessarily been called marriages.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Stanley M. Elkins, "Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life," University of Chicago Press, (1976). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Cited in Paul Finkelman, Ed., "Women and the Family in a Slave Society," Garland Science, (1990). Amazon.com online book store lists this book as currently unavilable (as of 2007-JUL)
  3. Rev. K. Scott Kirk, "It's about commitment," United Church of Christ, 1998-DEC, at: http://www.ucc.org/
  4. "Lewis et al., v. Harris, et al. Superior Court of New Jersey: Brief of plaintiffs in opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss," 2003-MAY-8, at: http://www.lambdalegal.org/
  5. The text of Loving v. Virginia is at: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/
  6. John Boswell, "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe", Villard, New York, NY, (1994) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  7. Paul Halsall, "Lesbian and Gay Marriage through History and Culture," at: http://www.bway.net/~halsall/lgbh/lgbh-marriage.html
  8. Photo by phanlop88. Published on 2013-MAR-20 as as Image ID: 100148279 by www.freedigitialphotos.net

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Related list:

bulletA list of books on same-sex marriages

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Copyright 1997 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-JUN-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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