If my Facebook newsfeed is to be believed, almost everyone I know got married this weekend. They all looked like lovely occasions, congratulations everyone.
Being limited by time and space as I am though, I could only be at one special day, and it was a cracker. Right up there in the top weddings I’ve been to. I was almost choked up when they started the vows, blinking away tears by the time they’d finished, and then got over that quickly enough to eat lots, drink lots and dance the night away with old friends and new. Pretty perfect, all told.
To be honest, I’m still working out my relationship with marriage – the concept of it, that is.
Being the child of divorce gives you one perspective on it. Being engaged but never quite making it down the aisle gives you another. Being friends with lots of Christians who see weddings as the gatekeeper of legitimate sexual expression as well as the goal of any romantic relationship, and with plenty of others who are horrified at the idea of being married before 30, adds a few more into the mix.
And when you throw in the patriarchal trappings of marriage, the bit where one man gives away his daughter to another man, and the bit where there’s only space on the marriage certificate for father’s names and occupations, and the bit where (usually) three men stand up and make speeches with no word from the women, it’s tempting to give up on the whole thing.
But a good wedding can redeem marriage for me.
My dad’s wedding last year was one of those: a true celebration of togetherness, of welcome and hospitality, of friends and family, and love. It felt absolutely right to have this great gathering where we could all witness together my dad and step-mum’s public declaration that this is it now, they come as a package deal now. It was great.
And the wedding I went to this weekend, watching my two wonderful friends commit their lives to one another, similarly reminded me of the goodness of marriage. That beneath from the sexist legal baggage, the slightly grating references to headship, and the irritating assumption that married couples will want (and be able to have) children, there’s something good and precious and worth celebrating.
The idea that marriage, as we know it in our own time and culture, is a divinely ordained, universal phenomenon is… a little dodgy. You don’t have to be an anthropologist to recognise that, because you can just open the Bible and see marriage understood in a variety of forms. Most examples we have in the Old Testament involve polygamy, and it was prevalent enough in the New Testament contexts for Paul to suggest that church leaders should only have one wife.
But I can recognise that there’s something divinely ordained in the ideal of marriage: the total self-giving of people to each other, the commitment to love that is self-sacrificial and enduring, the public celebration of it with others who are loved as friends and family.
I can say that concept marriage is of God because God is love.
God is relational. God is self-giving. God is self-sacrificing. God is inviting and welcoming and faithful and true.
And that’s exactly why we need to fight against the patriarchal trappings that have attached themselves to our cultural institution of marriage. Those archaic features, like the erasing of women’s names and significance in the legal documents, are nothing to do with marriage as it reflects God. They’re everything to do with marriage as a business transaction. They point to marriage as passing over of a piece of property from one man to another. It’s a little too close to selling a cow, albeit in a rather extravagant way.
To shout out against that is not to battle against what God has ordained. It’s to battle for what God has ordained. If the institution of marriage is to be our best attempt at reflecting of the love of God, it’s got to be freed from the cultural absurdities that drag it back to an even more patriarchal era.
Free the love. Man.
(You can sign a petition here asking for mothers’ names to be included alongside fathers’ names on marriage certificates.)