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Case For Legal Recognition

Christianity, Marriage and the Law

Marriage is a human institution that is older than Christianity. However, given the important role of Western European, and especially English, culture in shaping Canadian culture and law, it is important to understand the historical links between Christianity and marriage and its impact on our law.

For centuries, the Christian Church did no attempt to regulate marriages in England or elsewhere. Marriage was seen as a private matter between couples, or in the case of the wealthy, a contractual matter between families or nations. However, in some cases the couple would have the priest bless them at their home or at the door of the Church. Boswell has argued that similar blessings were offered for same sex relationships at one time,[14] but there is no evidence of any such Christian ceremonies since the Middle Ages. Of course, First Nations recognized same sex relationships prior to the arrival of “Christian civilization”[15].

The Middle Ages was a time of private, and even secret marriages, and an age with poor public records and no mass media. The Church was concerned about respect for its moral rules about bigamy and incest. As a result, in 1200 the practice of banns was endorsed as part of Church procedures[16].

“Banns” is derived from an expression meaning an announcement. The concept is that the priest announces the intention of the couple to marry in an audible voice in the Church that they regularly attend. If there were no objections, traditionally after three readings on three consecutive Sundays, the couple could then be married in a public ceremony in the Church. This effort by the Church to exercise control over marriage sometimes ran afoul of the politically powerful, most famously in the case of Henry VIII. Henry broke with the Pope who had refused to annul his allegedly incestuous marriage to his brother Arthur’s widow, Catharine of Aragon.

[14] Boswell, supra note 5 Same-sex unions at 80-83.

[15] See generally Williams, supra note 5.

[16] Jacqueline Murray, Evolution of Marriage (2000) [unpublished].

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