The De-Construction of Marriage

Marriage, as we know it is all but gone. And it’s our fault.  People will still get “married,” of course.  Couples will hold a ceremonies in front of friends and family pledging to build a life together. For a little while longer, at least.

Husband Wife Home

Reflecting on the day past or perhaps the day to come, a husband and wife share a moment.

Marriage has devolved into a mere cultural habit, effectively ceasing as a cultural institution. Regrettable, given my strong advocacy or Western Civilization.

Considering our recent social upheaval,  the de-valuing of marriage was  inevitable.  No surprise, given the Church’s unconditional surrender to the State.

Why The State?

The State did not always play a role in marriage. Colonial Massachusetts began requiring marriage licenses in 16391. Colonial America of course drew much of its civil procedures from English Common Law, which in turn borrowed from Roman law2.

Roman marriage was a contract between families.  No one expected state involvement, beyond civil mediation or enforcement.  Also important, the State did not issue marriage licenses, which meant less meddling.  A member of the priestly class presided at the ceremony. The wife often brought a dowry, depending on her family’s wealth.  The husband would have to return this dowery in the event that he initiated a divorce. Thus, both parties were unable to cash out and this in turn dis-incentivized the break-up of the family.  Practical considerations played their part.  But I don’t advocate a mercenary approach to marriage.  Our nation has had a front row seat to what that looks like.  I don’t want to be a part that and I doubt you would either.

Marriage Roman Soldiers Centurion

Sporting the transverse crest signifying his rank, a Roman centurion assess his unit’s position and status during a break in the action. In order to convince a man to take his place in the ranks, men needed to have a stake in the society they were called upon to defend. Note the chain mail of the late Republic. The famous segmented armor would be developed later under the rule of the Emperor Claudius.

Rome became strong because its families were strong. The family served as both the foundation and steel framework.  The Republic laid the building blocks upon this foundation. This was true up and down the socio-economic ladder.

One Man, One Woman.

The Romans, along with the Greeks and the Jews of the ancient world held monogamy to be the standard.  These three societies laid the foundation for Western Civilization, which should come as no surprise.

Monogamy was far from the only factor that set these early societies apart from their contemporaries. Monogamy still played a significant role.  The social conventions of Rome encouraged the shaming of philandering and hypergamy.  This lent tremendous value to social cohesion. In the ancient world, the norm in a given community was for 80% of the women to mate with the top 20% of the men. The middle 60% of the men shared the remaining 20% of the women in the usual way that matriarchal societies sort out the sexual market place. The bottom 20% of men did not mate at all. This meant that the feeble and the socially inept would not pass down their genes.

A Gentlemen’s Agreement Between Classes.

The Romans forced their last king to abdicate in 509 B.C. and established a republic.  The established residents self-identified as Patricians – those who could name their father. Asserting themselves set them apart from the wanderers and opportunists flocking to the fledgling city. These new men, the Plebeians, soon learned that numbers equated to power and they were able to wring numerous concessions from the ruling caste3.

True marriage bonds man and woman more completely than any sanction by the state - from

The marriage ideal confers status on both parties.

The Plebeians took their place in the ranks of the Legions.  They were expected to fight and possibly die in service to the Republic, therefore a strong incentive was required. Wives.  Rome demanded loyalty from its citizens, therefore Rome needed to give something in return. The Patricians, unlike their counter-parts inhabiting the deserts East of the Mediterranean, would not keep large seraglios at the expense of those working the forge, or harvesting the crops. The top 20% would have to concede some power to the middle 60%.

Marriage & Owning One’s Labor.

Every man able to provide for a household with his excess labor was permitted to do so, providing for a more prosperous society as a whole.  The middle 60%  were given a reasonable expectation for marriage and children, which gave the productive class more of a stake.  Even the poorest of free men could conduct his household affairs in relative peace without meddling by the State.  Today, that has all but disappeared.

In modern times, the State has displaced countless husbands in minority communities, while making significant inroads within the majority. This is why I have nothing but derision for homosexuals that agitated for civil recognition of their unions. All they did was invite the State to stick its mitt into their household.

The Church, has long ago transferred it’s oversight responsibilities to the State, thus resulting in that much less liberty for the rest of us.  With those responsibilities, came the effective surrendering of it’s moral authority.  Furthermore, the State’s oversight is augmented by judicial and executive powers which are enforced at the point of a gun.

Wrestling power back will prove to be an Augustinian task, since the State rarely, if ever gives up power on its own volition.


The solution? I propose a universal rejection of all marriage laws. No applications for marriage licenses, no civil involvement. Return marriage as a contract between two consenting parties presided over by the Church, the Synagogue, and yes, the Mosque. Does that sound radical? Why? Give me a rationale for involving the State in a covenant between husband and wife.

  1. Legislative Guide to Marriage Law, Iowa Legislative Services, Legal Services Division, 2005.
  2. Edward D. Re, The Roman Contribution to the Common Law, Forham Law Review, 1961.
  3. J. Langguth, A Noise of War, Simon & Schuster; 1994

About Phil Christensen

The trail behind me is littered with failure. The trail before me remains to be seen.
This entry was posted in Hearth and Altar, History, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The De-Construction of Marriage

  1. Randall Duncan says:

    Very well written Phil. I totally agree that the state has no business in marriage. Government makes a big mess out of just about everything they touch, look at Obama care, EPA, Dept. of education and I could go on. I wish they would just leave us alone except for military and border security, the latter of witch they can’t even handle.

  2. Cheryl Elferis says:

    “In modern times, the State has displaced countless husbands in minority communities, while making significant inroads within the majority. ” Could you please elaborate on this sentence? I’m not clear on what you mean. Thanks.

    • Glad to Cheryl. I’ll narrow my response to Americans of African descent. Veteran scholars such as Walter E Williams and Thomas Sowell have written extensively on the subject. Durning the Post War era, African Americans were entering the middle class as a pretty fast clip. The bureaucracy of Linden Johnson’s “Great Society” seemed to slow down and even dial the clock back on the progress that had been made thus far. My own interpretation is that by and large, families were broken up and The State elbowed the father aside and usurped his role. Census bureau statistics seem to bear this out. Unfortunately, we as a nation are nowhere close to coming to a consensus with respect to a solution.

  3. Liz Somma says:

    Hmmmm…..all I can say. Never really thought about marriage this way. 😉

  4. Primus says:

    Good post, Phil

    I am told that Old Believers (communities exist in Oregon and Alaska in the USA) do not obtain a marriage license from the State (I have not fact-checked this). IMHO, the State has no business meddling in what is a Covenant between God, one Woman, and one Man.

    Jesus stated that the divorce provisions in the Law (Torah) were given solely because of each human’s “HardHeart” (σκληροκαρδία in the original. Mt. 19:8 and Mk. 10:5; Mk. 16:14 is the only other use of this particular word in the corpus of the New Testament writings, and in the context of Mk. 16:14 further describes one who is unbelieving).

    I will make one other point here: the State can’t even get it right when it comes to protecting children. When the State asserts jurisdiction over a divorce with children, the State does not demand the two divorcing parties provide a home for their children, but rather mandates that the children be homeless, sojourning for periods of time first with one parent, then the other, in an endless cycle. They call this “joint custody”. Rather, the children should have a home, and if some sort of “joint custody” arrangement is in the childrens’ best interests, it should be the adults that are the soujourners, arranging between themselves who will be present with the children for what time periods, IN THE CHILDRENS’ HOME.

  5. deleeuw says:

    A bit off topic, but I believe Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry. I’m assuming as soldiers were more and more being sent to the frontiers etc., such would put a strain on the marriage.

    • Not under the Republic, particularly in the early days when Roman Legions resembled more of a national guard than a professional army. Under the Empire, the rank and file, drawn more and more from the head count and the local population, were generally barred from entering into a marriage contract. This restriction was later removed by Emperor Septimius Severus, because according to some scholars, the restriction was unenforceable since the State had no official involvement (issuance of marriage “licenses”). Prior to lifting the ban, Roman Soldiers serving on the frontier did enter into relationships with local women, siring children, often with the understanding (with her family one would presume) that they would settle in the area once his terms of service were fulfilled. (Campbell, The Journal of Roman Studies © 1978).

      Thanks for the feedback.

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