Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
“It is the law of the brothel. This type of marriage will never be anything but an immoral and scandalous concubinage. A form of incest.”— Spokesman for Catholic Bishops (El Pais archive)
On the heels of the Irish referendum, you may think the quote above was in some way related to the no campaign; so you may be surprised to hear those words were actually spoken 145 years ago.
Let me set the scene. The 1800’s are known by Spanish historians as the century of revolutions. Three monarchs were deposed, there were five civil wars, 130 governments and nine constitutions. In the specific time period I’m referring to, Isabella II had been deposed (1868) in what was known as the Glorious Revolution. She was replaced by Amadeo de Savoy as king, but he only reigned for two years. The first Spanish republic was then declared. In the midst of all of this turmoil, were the discussions regarding the 1870 law concerning civil marriage (1).
Until the 16th century, the most common form of marriage in Europe was of the common law variety, known in Spain as marriage of pure consent (2). What changed that were the directives of the Council of Trent and specifically its instructions on marriage. The Council gave the church all-encompassing powers over marriage. In a nutshell, they promoted celibacy, condemned concubinage, and here it comes: made marriage dependent on a wedding being presided over by a priest (and in the presence of two witnesses.) This was undoubtedly a response to the reformation as it reinforced the sociopolitical power of the Church by making itself (even more) indispensable in matters of everyday life. If one had been baptised, their only option for marriage was doing it within the church. The very Catholic Philip II, in his 1564 Royal Decree, then outlaws common law/purely consensual marriage (3).
This remained the status-quo in Catholic Europe until the 19th century when the Napoleonic code was enacted in France and Garibaldi had Pius IX locked away at the Vatican. Many in Spain knew that for society to progress, they had to adopt this new model that separated church and state- and what better way to do that than releasing marriage from the clutches of the church and giving it back to the people?
As expected the church fought back. In essence, between 1564 and 1978, civil marriage in Spain was only legal from 1870-1875 and 1932-1939. The church’s alliance with Dictator Franco secured their totalitarian theocracy well into the 20th century.
That digression into history was intended to show the sociopolitical factors that are the genuine shapers of religious doctrine. For too long people have been arguing the specificities of religious doctrine and traditions- when in reality those things are nothing but political tactics designed to control the greatest number of people for the greatest possible amount of time. Every religious diktat that has been imposed since the inception of monotheistic religion has been the result of a political calculation. And it wasn’t just marriage that was used to consolidate religious power, look up the imposition of confession (17th century), the generalization of mass (20th century), papal infallibility (1871), abortion (1869)- and many, many more.
When we engage in god says or the bible says discussions, as if either of those things had any validity whatsoever, we unwittingly lend credence to the hogwash that was created to indoctrinate the people it has successfully indoctrinated.
Discussions on gay marriage aren’t about gays. Discussions about abortion aren’t about abortion. Discussions about euthanasia aren’t about euthanasia. If they thought putting lipstick on macaques would reinforce their model of totalitarian patriarchy, that’s what they’d be pushing, and the animal rights groups who opposed the revelation that imposed putting lipstick on macaques would be their target. And if you’re getting the impression that what I’m saying is it’s all a farce that ignorant people fall for- you’re absolutely right.
(1) JOSÉ M. MIQUEL GONZÁLEZ, SISTEMA MATRIMONIAL ESPAÑOL.)
(2) ENRIQUE GRAHIT FERRER, EL MATRIMONIO CIVIL OBLIGATORIO:LEY ESPAÑOLA DE 1870
(3) Novisima recopilación de las Leyes de España: Libros I-II