It appears that I ruffled a few feathers in last week's column. Several readers took umbrage with the following statement:

"Can we at least agree that so-called traditional marriage is a phenomenon of Western civilization? Those who oppose marriage equality based on biblical teachings must know that the notion of traditional marriage ends in the 4th chapter of Genesis."

Some accused me of being uniformed, but my specific reference was to Lamech who takes two wives in Genesis 4:19.

The Bible is not a linear document. Moreover, the 66 books that comprise it are not immune from the burden placed on other literary works, which is to be read in its context.

But the statement from last week's column unleashed in some the unfortunate concoction of emotion, assumption and personal bias. So I thought it appropriate that I focus this week's column on a brief history of marriage.

The definition of marriage is a subjective moving target embraced largely by those who view themselves as standing atop the citadel of so-called traditional marriage. It is the term "traditional marriage" that allows those who oppose marriage equality, based on biblical understanding, the belief that their position possesses the moral high ground.

I know marriage carries the long-established definition of being between one man and one woman, but marriage as it is articulated in the Bible bears little resemblance to what we now have in 21st century Western civilization. Marriage has been just as fluid in its evolutionary process as the rest of society.


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The primary purpose of marriage to which the Bible refers was procreation, and at least one child had better be a male heir. Sexual compatibility, mutuality, intimacy and certainly sexual faithfulness, at least for men, were neither values nor concerns of ancient marriage.

In this light, our contemporary, but antiquated notion of the word marriage becomes loaded with stuff that should not be part of the current marriage equality debate.

The Bible chronicles individuals such as Jacob, Moses and David as having participated in the common pattern of multiple wives.

I would dare say that such arrangements would be incongruent with the thinking and beliefs of most people in contemporary Western civilization.

For centuries, long after the Greco-Roman world served as the cradle of intellectual civilization, marriage was a privilege for the wealthy; its necessity was based on class.

Official marriage stood for centuries as a right reserved for those who had money, property and or a name to pass along. Neither the state nor the church saw a reason to marry the socially inconsequential.

Clearly, marriage has evolved since the days when the Old Testament prophets walked the earth. Five thousand years ago, the dissolution of a marriage could result in the perception that a woman could not bear children. It's been nearly 50 years since marriage was premised on procreation.

In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that marriage is not based on procreation. The case involved a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives. The Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy."

The history of marriage defined as one man and one woman depends greatly on where one begins the narrative; the same holds true for the procreation arguments being sufficient reasons to sustain the existing matrimonial paradigm.

Through this lens, opposition to marriage equality stands on the slender thread of emotion, assumption and personal bias, placing more emphasis on personal likes than constitutional values.

But that is the wonderful paradox of the American experiment, commitment to the Constitution is superior to how one feels. Equality can only be secure when it is granted to all with little regard for one's personal likes.

Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.