The Center for Unhindered Living

The Purpose of Marriage

During quite ancient human history, societies were matrilineal.  More recently, women bore children and guarded the fires while the men were out hunting.  There was a strict division.  However, about 10,000 years ago when agriculture developed, there was a drastic change. 

Women were organized and dominated tribal life. In this phase, womens' collective position was the best at any stage of human cultural development, including modern times. With the development of agriculture, women attached themselves to the soil, while men continued to hunt. Women produced and maintained the staple foods of the tribe. The women owned both the fields and the crops produced. They became highly organized in the kinship groups, dominating them. These matriarchal  clans dissolved marriage in its earliest form giving women more freedom, status and authority. The tribe predominates in matriarchy while marriage and family are insignificant. People identify themselves as belonging to their mother's tribe. A husband remains with his own tribe and a wife with hers. He must win her and keep her by ongoing service- hunting or helping clear the fields. The women can decide on forming and ending marriages. The husband will visit his wife's home at times and spend the night with her. The children produced are the wife's, never his.

Examples of matriarchal clans were widespread throughout the world, persisting into modern times. Many of the North American indigenous tribes were matriarchal. Among the Iroquois, the women only tilled the soil (with primitive hoes). They controlled the food supply, cooked the food, tended the children and made the clothing for the tribe. The men helped agriculturally only by clearing new ground. They also hunted, fished, made weapons and went to war. Marriages were generally arranged by the mothers and chief women. The husband only visited his wife's home (lodge or long house) occasionally. He was obligated to bring game or fish, and if he did not, she could divorce him. Married couples had the right to divorce whenever they wished to. Generally, if they had children, this was discouraged by the tribe. The women also dominated the ruling council. The women decided on war and peace and the disposition of prisoners. Inheritances were strictly passed from women to their children.

Other North American indigenous matriarchal tribes included the Wyandots, Narragansetts, Winnebegs, Creeks, Potawattamis and Pueblos. Some South American, Caribbean, East African, Southeast Asian and Pacific Island tribes had matriarchal organization as well" (1).

Of course, this began about 10,000 years ago.  There is ample evidence that matriarchal societies flourished.  So marriage was not always monogamous and it was not always for life. 

However, over time, men began to accumulate wealth and were able to buy a wife instead of serve for one.  This gave way to a patriarchal system where the strongest and wealthiest were those in charge.

Marriage rules were definitely developed as a control.  Only by requiring women to be monogamous could a man assure that the child she bore was his.  This was important because a man did not want to pass his money, land, holdings and title to someone that was not his blood relative.  And in the Jewish nation it became important to be able to prove what tribe you belonged to, because kings were descended only from certain tribes. 

In a matriarchal society, a woman could have as many men as she chose, so the men could never prove which child was theirs, and the power always resided with the mother, who could pass down her power and possessions to any child she chose, and no man could lay claim to them because he had no proof the child was his.  But in the patriarchal system, no matter how many wives he had, he always knew the children were his, and even if his wife was unfaithful, the child could still be considered his. 

Today, marriage is still used as an attempt to control those involved in it.    In the United States, having more than one wife or husband is illegal.  The marriage contract is a legal entity designed to discourage parties from dissolving their unions.  It is designed to encourage marriages to stay together, but if we have learned anything in this modern age, it is that a piece of paper has not been successful in keeping marriages together.  It has not been a deterrent at all.  50% of marriages still end in divorce.  How much easier would it have been if those people involved in those unions had been free to leave whenever they wanted.  It would be so much less messy.

Marriage seeks to control people's sexual encounters, intimate relationships, procreative abilities, and much more.   Legislatures seek to  force society to accept one particular  pattern of intimate relationships.  Who gave our government the right to legislate our relationships?   Today there is a debate going on about whether or not same sex couples should be allowed to marry.  Of course they should, because nobody should be allowed to decide for another person who they can marry.

Marriage laws and expectations are often unfair.   Should gays and lesbians desire to get  married like the rest of us?  Why would they want to subject themselves to constraints and limitations of marriage that we have accepted?  If I was them, I would boycott marriage and not seek to be involved in such a limiting, antiquated contract.  

People like the way marriage feels, in the beginning. It feels like security, it feels like belonging, like finally you have a place in the universe. You feel all warm and cozy. You feel like someone is taking care of you. 

For many people, the warm and cozy feeling changes, and it begins to feel very constricting.  So people hang on for weeks, months, years, instead of saying, "This isn't working for me" or "I love you, but there are aspects of this relationship that just don't fit with the way I want to live my life."  And people sacrifice what they really want out of life. because they are made to feel that they are wrong to leave.  They are told "You took vows, you can't break your vow."  I say, DON'T take vows.  And even if you get married, don't make unconditional promises.  Announce your love for each other at your wedding, don't make vows.

Even as I write this, I am involved in a relationship in which I have a strong desire to marry.  As humans we crave the feeling that we are permanently joined with that which makes us happy.   And that's OK as long as we realize the reality that we don't have to be controlled by society's expectations about marriage or relationships.  Be brave enough to forge the kind of relationship that works for you, unhindered by the obstacles society would place upon you.

Mature, Unhindered Relationships.

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Copyright 2004-12  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living