Marriage is big news these days, especially since the president said in a recent interview that he now supports gay marriage. People from the left and right are weighing in. Some point to the constitution, some to the bible. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are insisting that this statement is in line with the way they understand the teachings of their Catholic faith. Really?
Recently, Discovery news published an article called “Marriage’s Bumpy History.” According to Discovery, marriage between the ancients originated as a way to give a man complete access to a woman and insure a his paternity of their children. Eventually it evolved to become a contract between two families as a means of increasing power, status and mutual protection by strengthening bonds between their households, tribes or fiefdoms. Of course, it was the men in the family who did the arrangements. Women didn’t figure into the equation at all.
They were currency, little more than slaves with no rights or say in how they would spend the rest of their days or with whom. If they were contracted to a ferocious or abusive man, so be it. According to Discovery the Church didn’t get into the Marriage business until the 11th Century when a thoughtful monk got the great idea that marriage should be a consent between the two people who are marrying. And so in the 12th Century the Church formalized the marriage vows and it took it’s place as one of the seven sacraments. In many countries even today parents will still arrange the marriages of their children and women are still considered property, first of their father and then of their husband.
Somehow in America this notion of women as property has been elevated to the revered status of “tradition.” Recently I was trying to help a young bride choose music for her Wedding liturgy. There are now several options for the processional into the church. The bride can choose to have both her father and her mother bring her down the aisle. In the same way the groom may choose to be escorted by his parents. Another option allows for the bride and groom to come in together. When I mentioned this the reaction of the bride was of total shock and horror. You would have thought that I suggested that she enter the church wearing fishnet stockings and black leather boots. How could she even think about letting the groom see her in her dress before she got to the altar? It’s bad luck, don’t you know, for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony. I tried to explain that this particular tradition began during the time of arranged marriages, when a bride and groom might not even know who they were marrying until they reached the altar. It’s a relic of the days when marriage was a legal contract between fathers or a girl’s father and a young suitor, sometimes even decided when children were infants. The father would walk his lovely young daughter down the aisle and “give her away” placing the girl’s hand into the grooms as well as the understanding of the exchange of money, property, goats or chickens. He brought a dowry so that the young man would take her off his hands. The groom would lift the veil and check to make sure the father brought the goods and didn’t try to pull a fast one.
“You mean my Daddy wouldn’t walk me down the aisle?” she asked wide eyed. “You mean I wouldn’t get to walk my little girl down the aisle?” This last statement came from my husband when I told him about the meeting. “No one’s going to tell me I can’t walk my little girl down the aisle. I’m with the bride on this one. It’s my prerogative as a daddy. She’s my little girl, not some puppy I raised just to give away to some slacker…” He was genuinely worked up and on a roll. I can understand that a little girl, especially in America, dreams of the day her daddy will walk her down the aisle to “give her away” to that special someone. I didn’t realize that it just might be daddy’s dream to walk his little girl down the aisle and look into a young man’s eyes as if to say, “You’d better be good to her or you’ll be dealing with me.” Okay, honey, but do you realize….never mind.