Is marriage a one size fits all? Must it be that a man provides for a woman who is the homemaker? Or can marriage assume various formats? Must it be monogamous, or can it also be polygynous or polyamorous? At which point is it no longer considered marriage? In this essay I will deconstruct the various levels of marriage, what it entails at a minimum, what is workable and what is ideal. It is important for us in the modern world to have a nuanced understanding of what marriage entails so we can explore a myriad of marriageable options and also discount a myriad of options that already exists

Marriage as a contract

Contrary to popular beliefs around romantic love, which would give rise to a sacrament since love must be unconditional, marriage does not require love. What do I mean by that? Well, in principle all relationships are transactional. Most sheltered women would never marry a man who is homeless and on the street any less than a man would feel inclined to marry a prostitute. The reason is because the exchange of value would seem unfair. To a woman, if she gives herself to a man that she is supposed to spend a very long time with, it had better be worth it. In other words, she is literally asking herself what he can provide her with. It is transactional. Once she has ascertained that the man can contribute something of value to her life, she will go on to love him, but not before that. Many men are surprised to learn that when they start losing at life they often also lose their women. It’s because losing at life wasn’t part of the deal she signed up for and thinks she can possibly do better. Similarly, many women are surprised by men who divorce them once they discover the woman wasn’t as virtuous as she portrayed. Again, because the man was prepared to look after, work for, and protect a woman for the rest of his life who ONLY slept with him, not a woman who has slept with a bunch of other men. At the heart of it, marriage is therefore, a contract that involves an exchange of value often conflated with love. You may selflessly love your wife or husband, but that doesn’t require that you remain married to them. A man might forgive his wife for having cheated on him, but still divorce her. He might even financially provide for her if he’s rich simply because she’s the mother of his children, but he’d never want her as his wife,. He loves her, but he doesn’t want her for the exchange in value arrangement we call marriage. 

Marriage as sex

Traditionally, in the cultures of human societies globally, the taking of a woman to yourself was considered marriage because the consequences of having sex were often dire for a woman. In other words, having sex with a woman might result in pregnancy, placing an extra burden on the woman’s tribe. Hence, a man was forced by society to take responsibility for the women he knocked up and those women were to be called his wives. Sex was a way a man made his mark, branded his person and took possession of a woman who henceforth, would always be his and only his. In the earlier period of human society this was simply a matter understood. There wasn’t a set procedure in which people were now considered married. It was a matter of knowing that a particular woman was with a particular man and therefore she was his. It is noticeable in the early usage of language a ‘wife’ was simply called ‘his woman’ and the term wife was later evolved when societies created formal laws which nevertheless still predicated marriage on sex, Either it saw the procedure of marriage as making sex permissible, placing the proverbial cart before the horse; or, it was the act of having sex, that made the couple married- tied together. In the language of today we still say, “they’ve tied the knot” to represent their commitment to each other in marriage. However, none of it will make sense merely based on a marriage pronouncement in a procedure. It only makes sense when the man inserts his DNA into the woman, therefore pairing her to himself (when she isn’t promiscuous). In this sense marriage is sex. However, it isn’t ONLY sex, it is also the acknowledge that sex begets responsibilities that the parties are prepared to standby. 

Marriage as ownership 

Under patriarchal societies marriage was a transfer of ownership from one man to another. A father would give his daughter to a man in marriage. In other words, it was a forwarding of the responsibility, well-being and safety of a dependent woman into the hands of another man- the husband. When that man accepted that responsibility along with the right to sleep with her, then the two were considered married. However, if a man slept with a woman without accepting that responsibility towards her safety and well-being then he was committing fornication. In principle, because women are generally guarded up until they were given away, fornication wasn’t easily achieved. On the rare occasion that it did happen, the woman was often nevertheless seen as the ‘property’ of the man she fornicated with and he was obligated to her by the society. In other words, they were considered married. It was only when it wasn’t known that sex had  taken place and therefore no accountability that one could say the crime was now against God. That’s why in most religions the punishment for fornication doesn’t exist. Simply, when two people were found out, they were declared married, and only if they refused to accept that responsibility could they be called fornicators. On account of the difficulties of proving sexual misconduct many societies evolved customs to mitigate that complexity. It was to be assumed, for example, that if a man and a woman deliberately spent time alone together, that they were sexually immoral whether or not it could be proven was irrelevant. Similarly, it was considered abnormal for men to freely mix with women or for women to freely mix with men apart from what was necessary due to social needs and mutual cooperation. 

Marriage as a family system

Marriage and sex wasn’t only for the enjoyment of two people or so as to have a nuclear family. For the vast majority of human history people moved in small bands and tribes. Marriage was a means to grow the band or tribe because larger numbers meant more power and resources. In fact, it was completely the opposite of what we have today where it is conceived of that less marriage and less children equals more resources for oneself. In the world of yesterday, people simply could not survive in the solitary fashion people physically survive in today. It is questionable whether they are actually surviving because the lack of tribe has created mental illnesses. In addition to growing the tribe, it was also important to have strong offspring. Early on it was already known that incest produces weak offspring and hence it was amongst the first things that was outlawed. In order to know to whom the child belongs to it was important for the woman a man sleeps with to belong to him. In other words, if a woman slept with two men simultaneously, it wouldn’t be known who the father is and none of the men would lay claim to that child. In turn the child would likely suffer a life of poverty and also due to unknown paternity limit its chances of marriage because there was no way of determining with certainty the lineage of a child outside of knowing who his father is. Furthermore, property rights also included inheritance which could not be properly allotted without ascertaining paternity. Marriage is then a way to link father to child, and to foster familial ties within tribe. It also is meant to perpetuate stronger genes through avoiding incest.

Marriage also became a means through which families secured ties with other families on equal footing. In other words, the exchange in value wasn’t merely between the two who were getting married but also between the families. In this way people evolved laws prohibiting certain classes of people from marrying each other on the basis of status, color, religion and other metrics. An aristocrat could only marry an aristocrat with full legal implications. As a result, when a man from amongst the aristocracy wanted a woman who wasn’t on equal footing, he took her as a non wife, or what we might term a concubine. She was recognized as belonging to him, in the same way a wife would, but with a lesser status. The legal implications of inheritance and the rights a wife had would not apply to her. She would be his woman, would have to remain sexually loyal to him and be obedient in the same way a wife would. However, she wouldn’t inherit from him, didn’t require the same level of maintenance and was punished less harshly for indecent behavior. In the other words, she was a woman in which he was less invested in in principle, or had to be seen as being less invested in. Often, Caliphs and royalty loved their concubines more than their actual wives because normally the concubine was chosen by him, whereas the wives were arranged in the interest of tribal and political gains. In later years, when promiscuity became lawful concubinage became illegal. However, in earlier societies people understood that there were often situations in which people could not be lawfully married but could be lawfully together nevertheless. It was the natural gap that existed between legal marriage and adultery. In principle, adultery is when a married woman sleeps with a man other than her husband. It is a violation of his property rights, or to put more politely, his propriety over her. When a man sleeps with a woman he can’t marry for status reasons, or family reasons, while she is single, then it isn’t adultery. In the case that she is sexually loyal to him, and they remain together, then it’s not fornication. Hence the construct concubinage was also necessary to fill this particular gap, thereby making Semitic religions law complete. 

People ask me whether I am saying the Bible allowed for sex outside of marriage. I think this is both a good question and also a question that demonstrates misunderstanding. The Bible holds sex to be marriage, so to say that it allowed sex outside of marriage would be an oxymoron. However, if what you understand by marriage is standing in a Church in front of a priest to exchange vows, then yes, the Bible allows sex outside of that type of marriage, but expects people who have sex to behave as married. Meaning, the crime is irreverent non committal sex that does not carry responsibility, loyalty and ownership of the woman by the man. Sex in and of itself with a lawful woman- one that isn’t married or a blood relative- is not the actual crime. You’ll be surprised to know that if you read the Quran outside of the popular Shariah discourse then one could say the same understanding is expressed in it. However, both the Bible and the Quran have become the background players of established traditions which were and are useful for state regulation but which doesn’t give the fuller picture of what marriage is. 

Legally, it is required to have a marriage contract first and then to have sex. Otherwise the sex is considered o be illegal. However, scripturally, there are sexual ethics and principles that don’t assume the existence of a central government who regulates marriage in society. In that instance, the scope is broader than what religious people imagine it to be in terms of religious law. The legal system requires paper work and witnesses in order to mediate in disputes relating to marriage, inheritance and divorce. Circumventing the legal system, however, isn’t automatically fornication scripturally. The problem is that modern religious scholars haven’t found a way to legislate in modern times the institution of concubinage under the banner of Christianity or Islam and so there is in effect only one route to ‘marriage.’ What happens as a result is fornication! People have sex and then when the man acts possessive the woman will say, “I’m not your wife…” In fact, she is, but the understanding of marriage is none existent outside of the state. Similarly, a man will sleep with a woman and then when she wants him to ‘step up’ he’ll say, “Look, this wasn’t what I signed up for…” Naturally sex begets consequences and expectations which tie in with traditional marriage roles. 

Pre-marital sex

Pre-marital sex is a fairly modern concept that came into existence with the widespread use of contraceptives. Prior to our recent era of advanced contraceptives, pre-marital sex was known when someone fell pregnant without being married. The problem was usually solved by having the two get married at that point. Normally, the two at any rate wanted to get married but were prohibited from doing so for social and financial reasons. The problem with pre-marital sex is that there is no record for it. In other words, when a woman has sex with a man undeclared, she can have sex with any amount of men in similar fashion and then register herself as having been married once with her first marriage after sleeping with ten guys. In reality, it is her eleventh marriage but all those other ‘marriages’ were pre-marital. Hence, I propose women and men demand a contract with two witnesses for each sexual relationship that must be recorded on an international database where we are able to look up each and every person’s sexual history. The password must be given to unlock the profile of your prospective partner so you can see all their previous sexual relationships. They must also provide a termination contract when presenting themselves as single. People should have something like a credit-score which can be evaluated before getting married. In this way, the woman will be said to be married when in a relationship, and not single. I’ve seen women who are currently sleeping with a man and still they say they are single and open to dating other men. That type of behavior should be equated with adultery. There shouldn’t be such a thing as pre-marital sex because Biblically it is in effect an oxymoron. In the past it was assumed that a women who fraternized freely with men and was out and about on the streets was to be avoided. At present, because we have a highly integrated society and economy that relies on the labour of both genders, that assumption is no longer accurate. We must therefore come up with a sexual wrap sheet that we should force women to sign up for prior to having sex. If they refuse, they should be left celibate. The Church is wide open for nuns. 

Divorce Certificates

Marriage in the very conventional sense is supposed to be for a lifetime, or at least for a very long time. In the early period marriage was by default considered to be for a lifetime because there was no divorce. Until today, in most Christian marriage vows, the agreement is that they will remain together until death. However, divorce is a reality and hence divorce and remarriage became recognized as a bonafide way of regulating the sexual behavior of society. In Islam, a man has the right to divorce his wife unilaterally- and there is some disagreement on this- whereas a woman cannot divorce her husband. She has to apply for a separation on grounds that are considered lawful. One of the most common grounds is lack of sexual satisfaction because in Islam people should get divorced if they can’t hold within the limits of the marriage. The man, on the other hand, can marry another wife if his desires aren’t met by one woman. Since Islam is the last semitic religion to have come into existence it irons out the procedures of divorce more robustly than Christianity and Judaism by introducing a waiting period of three menstrual cycles or three months for non menstruating women before she can re-marry. Here is proof that what Islam means by marriage is sex. 

Muslim jurists unfortunately do not usually regard marriage as sex and hence would not allocate a waiting period for a woman who had sex outside of marriage, because for them having sex can take place outside of marriage. Whereas, the very reason why adultery is wrong is because two men cannot be wedded to the same woman at the same time. In effect when both men are married to one woman because they are both sleeping with her they have breached the law. The solution in the Quran is simply that the two who breached the law get one hundred lashes each, and that they be considered for each other- husband and wife. Whereas the first husband is no longer husband because an adulterer is unlawful for the believer. In principle the two who committed adultery are excommunicated, not physically but by never being able to marry within the community again. Therefore, if you follow the logic of the Quran, a woman who commits adultery isn’t divorced from her husband, the marriage is instantly over because she now has entered a new marriage. The hundred lashes she receives along with her new husband is NOT because sex is wrong, but because they didn’t observe the proper lawful procedure. She could have sex with the other man if he isn’t her blood relative, had she first gotten divorced, waited her three menstrual cycles and then slept with the other guy making him her husband. In contemporary Islamic understanding, however, where marriage doesn’t mean sex, a woman can technically have sex today with a man outside of marriage, get married formally tomorrow to another man and have sex with him also. There is no waiting period for her after having had sex with the first man. That’s because they have translated the word Nikah in the Quran to mean the formal marriage contract, when it in fact means sex (marriage). 

Ideally, what every woman must present who isn’t a virgin before she can have sex (get married) to a man is a divorce certificate. If she isn’t a virgin that must mean she was previously married. If she doesn’t have a divorce certificate that must mean she was promiscuous because there was no formal recognition or known commitment to the proper conduct within a marriage. If a woman sleeps with a man, and by that she doesn’t mean marriage, then she is in principle a loose woman. There is no telling how many such relationships she had prior to you, and hence she has no evidence of having gotten divorced and yet she’s not a virgin. Also, a divorce certificate helps protect the rights men have over women. It should indicate when the divorce occurred and that the waiting period was completed. That is like presenting a release form allowing the woman to marry again. Without that, she should be considered the wife of another even if she says she wasn’t married to her previous partners. If she slept with him, she was married to him. She needs to go back to him and request a divorce certificate, signed by him and her, and two witnesses. If we were to practice this, no one will have so called ‘premarital sex’ because they’d understand that there really isn’t such a thing and they would have to present a divorce certificate if the relationship came to an end. In other words, they’d think long and hard before sex, and only open their legs if they meant it, not for casual sex and temporary pleasure. 

When a woman presents herself for marriage without a divorce certificate and yet she has had sex before, she must go back and seek a divorce certificate from the man. If the man isn’t a believer he won’t care about a divorce certificate which means that she won’t be able t obtain one and that is sufficient proof that she is an immoral woman. A woman with morals would make sure the boundaries of the relationship is understood and that she and her partner are married. When the relationship ends, they will understand that now they are divorced. There won’t be a problem with writing out a divorce certificate. The insistence on a divorce certificate is what guarantees proper sexual conduct. No woman wants ten divorce certificates. Whereas some women will say they don’t want to be married ten times but will have sex with ten different men that no one knows about, so they can still present themselves as chaste later when they find the ‘right’ man. Therein lies the problem. With this system I am asking to be reinvoked (it already existed for thousands of years) every woman would think twice about opening her legs just for fun. It shows that her future can be ruined by her past, which is a demonstration of reality.

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