Article Title:Marriage Equality: One Man, One Woman? Yeah, Right...
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:30th January 2013 - 11:28 am
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Story ID:12837
Text:Family First is once more ruminating hypocritically about the alleged "relationship" between same-sex monogamous marriage and polygamy. It's time someone told Mr McCoskrie that some of us are aware of Christianity's own polygamist past. It goes all the way back to the sixteenth century and Martin Luther, the very founder of Protestant Christianity himself- and an advocate of polygamy. What?!! Yes, that is correct. Luther believed that polygamous marriages were preferable to extramarital sex (or 'fornication') or adultery. Indeed, Luther and Phillip Melancthon, another early Lutheran theologian and pivotal figure, advocated that Phillip, Landgrave of Hesse (a German principality within the Holy Roman Empire) covertly and bigamously marry two women- Christine of Saxony, an invalid and alcoholic, and one of her ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe van der Saale. However, it doesn't end there. Instead of divorcing Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, Melanchthon also advised future serial monogamist Henry VIII to bigamously marry Anne Boleyn. Henry didn't take his advice, divorced Catherine instead and monogamously remarried Anne, future mother of Elizabeth I of England. (Meanwhile, Henry VIII also theoretically criminalised gay male sex within the Buggery Act 1540 at the same time, although there were few criminal prosecutions for it until the advent of the first "Christian Right," the eighteenth century Societies for the Reformation of Manners). However, Phillip of Hesse did take Melanchthon's advice and covertly married Margarethe in 1539. Amusingly, Phillip's sister Elizabeth couldn't keep quiet about her brother's multiple marriages, embarrassing Luther and Melanchthon seriously when she blabbed about it a year later. Altogether, both Margarethe and Christine provided Phillip of Hesse with nineteen children, so infertility wasn't a problem in that dynastic context. Nor were German Lutheran princes the only ones to undertake polygamy. Take Michael Kramer, a hapless Saxony Lutheran minister, and his multiple marriages. In 1525, the Lukas Town Council noted that the man had three living wives, although two of them had abandoned the poor fellow. He contacted Luther who counselled him to consider his two undivorced prior wives, Dorothea and Margaretha, 'spiritually dead" to him and contract a third marriage. Shortly afterward, in 1533-34, the Lutheran hierarchy would officially condemn the polygamist commune of Munster, occupied by theocratic revolutionary Anabaptists (a radical Protestant sect). Lutheran marital theology was still in flux at the time and working out whether or not it condoned divorce, and under what circumstances. This provided wives of Lutheran clerics with escape clauses if the marriages earlier contracted turned out to be unsuitable or distasteful to them, which unfortunately happened quite frequently. To be fair to the Lutherans, they weren't the only Protestants with these problems. Calvinist Geneva was scandalised when Bernardino Ochino published a Dialogue on Polygamy in 1563. They expelled poor Bernardino and his children from the Swiss canton, and three of the latter starved to death. Nor was this an isolated instance- celebrated English Puritan author John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, also defended polygamy in De Doctrinae Christianae in 1673, dictated to another after the author went blind and published posthumously. Nor did Lutheranism itself calm down after the passage of the Carolina (1532), German civil law that criminalised undivorced remarriages as bigamy and mandated divorce as the solution for unsuitable prior marriages, much to the anguish of Martin Luther himself. Unfortunately, in the seventeenth century, Johann Lyser wrote three polemical treatises that advocated polygamy and was forced to seek the protection of a sympathetic count. On that prince's death, Lyser was forced to flee to Hanover, where he was imprisoned, Italy and ultimately, the Netherlands. Destitute, he died in an Amsterdam garret in 1682, worn out by his ordeals. The eighteenth century witnessed similar theological radicalism- English Methodist Michael Madan (1726-1790) wrote a book entitled Thelyphthora, another defence of polygamy- much to the horror of other early evangelical Methodists. In Poland, Samuel Friedrich Willenburg wrote yet another volume on the subject, but the King of Poland ordered it incinerated in 1715. Nor has conservative Christian tolerance of polygamy evaporated completely today. Nigeria and Uganda have both been at the forefront of antigay African fundamentalist activity during the last decade, criminalising same-sex marriage in the case of Nigeria and threatening 'unrepentant' lesbians and gay men with death or imprisonment within Uganda's notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Straight polygamy is perfectly legal in both societies, and not only practised within Muslim communities. The Nigerian Celestial Church of Christ condones polygamy, as does the Lutheran Church of Liberia. Uganda last tried to criminalise polygamy in 2005, but abandoned the attempt that year due to Muslim opposition- much to the anger of Ugandan feminists, who regard polygamy as a violent and misogynist practise. Nor has Uganda criminalised marital rape, for that matter. I realise that some conservative Christians may object to my account above, arguing that I have welded together fragmentary accounts into a cohesive 'tradition' of polygamy advocacy within Christian early modern history. However, I would respond that if Bob McCoskrie can similarly do so with ephemeral and transient isolated pressure groups and selective focus on isolated Canadian Law Commission reports, as opposed to Canadian case law, which upheld Section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code in the British Columbian Supreme Court in November 2011, he should realise that turnabout is fair play. How can same-sex monogamous marriage possibly 'lead' to recognition of polygamy when there is an undeniable Christian historical tradition of far stronger polygamous advocacy which considerably precedes same-sex marriage equality, as well as the decriminalisation of male homosexuality itself? Recommended: John Cairncross: After Polygamy was Made a Sin: A Social History of Christian Polygamy: London: Routledge: 1974. Eels Hastings: Attitudes of Martin Bucer toward the Bigamy of Philip of Hesse: Brooklyn: AMS Press: 2004. Paul Robinson: Martin Luther- A Life Reformed: New York: Longman: 2010. Craig Young - 30th January 2013    
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