Is the ritual of marriage derived from religion?

Please excuse me if this has been asked before. I recently went to a wedding and the minister kept constantly preaching his religious propaganda and he kept mentioning how the two getting married are entering a covenant before god and blah blah blah.

My question is that is there more to the origin of marriage then being a “pact of conviction through Christ?” Can we safely say that there could be evidence that marriage has originally nothing to do with religion?


Posted: July 18th 2009

brian thomson www

I think we’re all agreed that marriage predates religion, and I have a theory (uh-oh!) about how marriage came about in the formal sense. Left to their own devices, our ancestors would have been mating and procreating as soon as they were able: at puberty. My theory of marriage has to do with parental involvement, as a means of influencing just who mated with whom, and when.

We still see today how marriage is a tool of diplomacy, when it is deemed useful for families or tribes to intermarry, and have that union enforced by a contract. Hence, the coupling of two young people is arranged, formalised by a ceremony, and celebrated with a party. I think this is the origin of the weddings we know. Just as a funeral is not really for the deceased, but for the living, it’s possible to argue that a wedding was originally for the families, and not really for the young couple who were getting hitched. (Do they really need it before having sex?)

Posted: July 24th 2009

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flagellant www

The short answer is that we can safely say that marriage originally had nothing to do with religion. Other contributors have pointed out that marriage, in various forms, pre-existed the Abrahamic religions. Wikipedia is particularly useful in this respect.

I have been to many weddings: in churches, in registry offices, and with the ceremonies conducted by a humanist celebrant. I have found all of them moving and satisfying – including those in church – especially where one doesn’t get the unwelcome dose of 'propaganda’, (as you put it).

Religious involvement with marriage dates back to the middle ages, or even earlier. Since then, as dark-age superstition was replaced with reason, and marriage became a matter of love rather than inheritance, it has become more of a civil matter.

As people begin to realise that there are alternatives to religious weddings, they are likely – in Europe, at least – to turn to civil ceremonies, recognizing that the religiosi have no monopoly of dignity and grace. Indeed, I spoke to one participant after a recent church wedding and she expressed similar irritation with the 'propaganda’ aspects. She fell short of saying she wished the ceremony had been civil instead, but I believe she regretted not having looked beyond her local church for alternatives.

Religion still maintains a grip on marriage, just as it continues to assume itself the only truly moral arbiter, pontificate about education, and trying to influence the legal system. It is all very well that people believe silly things; it’s another matter entirely when they try to influence the rest of us.

However, if one goes into a church – except for purely secular events, such as concerts – one must be prepared for the 'propaganda’. Long term, civil wedding ceremonies are likely to predominate. Before this happens, please remember that one goes to the ceremony to help friends and/or relatives celebrate their union. This is far more important than the irritation caused by 'propaganda’, especially if it falls on deaf ears.

Posted: July 24th 2009

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George Ricker www

You’ll find a wealth of information regarding your question here.

Throughout much of human history, marriage has been chiefly regarded as a social or business contract between families. Marriages have been used to consolidate political and economic interests. It seems evident that marriages of some sort existed in many tribal cultures and the rites associated with those marriages varied from the simple to the elaborate.

With the emergence of organized states and organized religions, marriage rituals were taken over in some societies by religions. However, religions did not invent marriage, and it has generally always been possible for couples to marry without involving religious institutions, at least in some societies.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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Reed Braden www

Everyone has a different answer to this question because everyone defines the word marriage differently.

Monogamy has been around for much longer than humans have been. If marriage is just a committed relationship between two people, then marriage is much older than religion.

Marriage, as it is with many people today, where it’s filled with symbolism of weddings, rings, vows, etc. is definitely derived from religious tradition. Much of that tradition can be pulled away from its religious origins and still have meaning for secular couples, but those symbols and traditions are definitely religious.

The legal definition of marriage (state marriage) should include all of those definitions and not discriminate based on the most commonly held definition of marriage, as is happening now with the gay marriage debate.

Sorry, but because there is no single agreed upon definition, there’s not a clean yes or no answer.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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SmartLX www

Nature’s a good place to look. Marriage pre-dates human beings, let alone religion. Creatures of many species mate for life. Some Christian groups praised the documentary March of the Penguins because the birds’ monogamy was a good example for humans.

Moving forward to the history of human marriages, in ancient Greece and Rome marriage had nothing to do with religion or government. If two people agreed to be married, they held a ceremony with witnesses for legal purposes and that was that. The ceremony itself was secular.

It was only later that religions gained social control over the “institution of marriage”. They don’t have complete legal control of it however, as demonstrated by the marriages that still happen in government offices with two signatures and a witness.

Posted: July 21st 2009

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