Our enemies love to use the term “traditional marriage,” as though LGBTs aren’t as traditional as anyone else. But when the Scalias, Huckabees and Santorums go on about the “traditional definition of marriage,” constitutional or otherwise, what are they really talking about?
They probably don’t intend to refer to what marriage was 4,000 years ago — something similar to slavery. Or what it was in the Old Testament — largely polygamous? (Queerty readers, on that point, are apparently highly traditional.) And they probably don’t mean what it was under Emperor Justinian, when girls were betrothed at the age of 7.
Of course, it’s the men who claim to be defending “traditional marriage” who know the least about it.
In ancient Rome, it was considered gross for husbands and wives to be in love. According to the Stoic Seneca: “nothing is more impure than to love one’s wife as if she were a mistress.” And Plutarch called it “disgraceful” when a senator was caught kissing his wife in public.
In the 15th century, Bernard of Siena told parishioners to cool it with the wife-beating, and that they should treat their wives with as much mercy as they would a chicken or a pig. And Martin Luther wrote that he gave his wife a box on the ear whenever she was “saucy.”
Former slaves were finally able to marry after the Civil War, and in the late 1800s South Carolina became the first state to rule that men were no longer allowed to beat their wives. It wasn’t until 1920 — less than a hundred years ago — that wife beating was outlawed nationwide. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court overturned bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia. At the time, states defended their interracial marriage bans by claiming that they were — you guessed it — traditional.
In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned laws dictating that when a husband and wife have a legal dispute, “males must be preferred to females.” The young attorney who argued that case, by the way, was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who may understand better than anyone else on the Supreme Court why it’s OK and sometimes necessary for marriage to change.