The idea that the state should promote, sanction, and regulate monogamous relationships gained currency in the 16th century as a reaction to Europe’s first sexual revolution. Public, group, and what we now call homosexual sex were commonplace, prostitution was rampant and generally unpunished, pornographic books and pamphlets were widely popular, and laws against adultery and divorce went unenforced. Martin Luther and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation seized upon marriage as a means though which to curb unchristian freedoms and bring about social order.
Until then, the Church alone had recognized and overseen marriages, but Luther and the reformers wanted a more powerful and “worldly” enforcer of God’s laws .. Moved by these injunctions, governments across Protestant Europe seized control over marriage and instituted rules to enforce it.
On this side of the Atlantic, shortly after the ratification of the Constitution, the newly-formed states, acting in their own professed self-interest, enacted laws that made it more difficult to end marriages .. According to the lawmakers, the “dissolution [of a marriage] ought not to be dependent on private will, but should require legislative interference; inasmuch as the republic is deeply interested in the private business of its citizens.”
The Union government required that all newly freed slaves under its care in refugee camps “who have been living or desire to live together . . . be married in the proper manner.”
After the war, administrators of the Freedmen’s Bureau, who were charged with making the ex-slaves conform to American norms, were ordered to coerce their charges into marriage so as to bring them into civilization
Dissolving a marriage became slightly less onerous in the 20th century .. but the institution’s state-sanctioned moral apparatus continued to keep most of us from pursuing our individual desires ..
So let us say to our gay brothers and sisters fighting for the “freedom to marry,” who once led the fight for freedom from marriage: be careful what you wish for—you’ll probably get it.