Willst Thou Unite With Me Civilly?

I had the unfortunate experience of finding myself in the middle of a marriage feud the other day. Perhaps not the kind you were thinking of however, this was an argument over the use of the word “marriage”. In effect one party was very upset at the notion of couples of the same gender being able to enter into a “marriage”, while the other party failed to see the harm. “It’s a biblical term, that’s been unchanged for thousands of years!” was the gist of it.

Now, politics aside, this was the breaking point for me. I’ll happily tolerate a difference of political opinion, and you are always entitled to express the issue that your religion disavows the marriage of people of the same gender (in which case it would of course be well within your rights to not marry someone of the same gender) but when it comes to willful stupidity about language, that’s when you’ve crossed me, and as such I decided to wade into the debate.

I can’t for the life of me work out how a grown woman could ever have not considered that the Christian Bible has, in fact, been translated into English, but there she was getting emotional about a word that has “remained unchanged for over 2000 years”. Of course at this point I felt it necessary to point out that the biblical word for marriage was not “marriage”, it was a bunch of different Greek and Hebrew terms across various different manuscripts and revelations, “kiddushin” and “laqah” being examples1. Secondly up, our term “marriage” comes from the Latin “maritare”. It means “to provide with a husband or wife”, as the term had to allow for bequeathment and polygamy, and as such the definition in the strictly traditional sense would be remaining completely unchanged.

I also asked her what she considered the most notable thing to happen during the reign of King Henry VIII. Unsurprisingly it was when he ousted the Catholic Church in order to change the definition of marriage.

I asked her if she would object to me marrying some jam and butter on a piece of toast.

She informed me that I was missing the point.

I informed her that she’s missing one too many brain cells.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on the language of love. Feel free to comment and discuss!


1 To quote from the book ‘An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible’: “Biblical Hebrew lacks a term equivalent to the English word ‘marriage’.” The reason we today use the term “marriage” to describe various biblical ideas and terms, such as laqah, gameo, mnesteuo, koinonia, kiddushin, hatuna, nisu’in etc. etc. etc. is because, surprise surprise the meaning of marriage has changed over time to accommodate all these terms. Go figure.


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