What is Social Evolution?
Sociocultural evolution is the combination of theories of cultural evolution and social evolution, which is how cultures and societies develop over time. Social evolution deals specifically with theories of social change from which human societies move from simple to more complex forms of organization. Some of the leading theorists are: Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons and Emile Durkheim.
Applying the principles of social evolution, we will trace how the institution of marriage has not remained the same institution over the millennia. It has grown from a simple arrangement made by parents, to include an elaborate system to include many forms of marriage.
Dowries made their appearance in Europe after 500 B.C. The “worth” of the bride was directly related to the financial status of the family, including land holdings. Future “worth” of the bride would be decided prior to her birth, and often parents promoted future couplings when the children were at a very young age. This would involve negotiations and espousal contracts, and betrothal rings were exchanged.
Anglicans brought several customs to the New World; in Scotland love knots on the bride’s dress were untied to ease the pain of future childbirth, in Holland “banns” (announcements) were posted for three days before the wedding could proceed, and in France, chefs began adding icing to cakes, the forerunner of the bridal cake. But, Puritans believed that these customs were excessive, and that marriage was not an unbreakable union blessed by God. It was a civil contract, without rituals and could be dissolved by humans. To them, it was true love that was the foundation of a good marriage.
Marriage was meant to be based on common belief, condemned marrying outside of their religion and marriage between first and second cousins was forbidden. A marriage would also have to be accepted by the families and entire Quaker congregation.
The Victorian Era
Finding the best beau was one of the very few ways in which a woman could move up in society, and etiquette dictated exacting rules of courtship, to ignore which would be unforgivable. For example, you could not kiss until you were engaged. The minimal amount of time between engagement and the wedding was three months. To be unmarried by 30 was an economic hardship to the family.
19th Century South
The English traditions and standards were the norm, with parents still playing a role in developing couplings and promoting that love would follow after marriage. First cousin marriages and prenuptial agreements were also part of the norm. April would become a favorite wedding month as this is when jasmine and camellias would bloom.
American Wild West
With land to be tamed, there was little time for courtship, and a few weeks was good enough. To avoid peak farming months, weddings were held in very early spring or the winter. The wedding itself was a simple affair, often lacking enough food to go around. Dancing became the focus of the party.
Mail Order Brides
The early settlers of the American continent were mostly men, seeking a bride from Europe. And during WWII many soldiers wrote to ladies back home seeking engagements also. By the 1980s, Western men began seeking outside their own country, many times to Asia, seeking a wife. Once the Iron Curtain fell, Russian brides became available. During the same time period, the introduction of the internet replaced the older paper catalogues.
Divorce existed back to ancient Mesopotamia but during Roman times, it was believed that “marriages out to be free” (matrimonia debent esse libera). Either a husband or wife could seek to dissolve the union, where prior a magistrate held this power. During the reign of Christian emperors, the divorce laws were relaxed the upheld in varying degree. By the 10th century in Europe divorce was out of favor, but annulments were common. Civil courts had no power over annulments, which were determined by the Church. Divorce was granted only because one party had violated a sacred vow. If both had broken vows, the divorce was denied. The Church lost it’s power in the 1920s, when civil courts regained their control of divorce laws in America.
The history of Mormon polygamy begins with claims that Mormon founder Joseph Smith received a revelation from God on July 17, 1831 that some Mormon men would be allowed to practice “plural marriage”. Polygamy was illegal in the state of Illinois so a splinter group, led by Brigham Young, moved to Utah. What had been kept private from the rest of the country was revealed in 1852 when the Apostle Orson Pratt began preaching sermons of plural marriage. By 1856 the Republican Party’s platform was to “prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery”. By 1862 the Congress and White House issued the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. The LDS Church believed that plural marriages were protected by the Constitution, but lost their 1878 Supreme Court case (Reynolds vs. United States). Penalties of ignoring the act could include disincorporating the church and seizure of church property. Members fled to both Canada and Mexico. In 1890 LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto announcing the discontinuance of the practice. The LDS Church now ex-communicates members found practicing polygamy, however it is estimated that 18,500 Fundamentalists still maintain plural marriages (Salt Lake Tribune).
Interracial Marriage in the U.S.
During the years of slavery, “marriage” was not acknowledged between a couple of slaves. Seen as property of a master, blacks could be sold to separate owners, splitting up couples and families.
Interracial marriage was illegal in 19 states until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in Loving vs. Virginia, a landmark civil rights case, that Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” was unconstitutional, thereby lifting any restrictions on race in regards to marriage.
Will gay marriage be the latest step in social evolution in the U.S. view of marriage?
Attitudes are rapidly shifting in regards to gay marriage.
2008 Polling question: “Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to marry, giving them full legal rights of married couples, or not?” In a June poll, 42% replied should. In an August poll, 47% replied should. (pollingreport.com)
A Harris Poll released in early 2000 shows 57% oppose gay marriage, while 15% approve.
In 1996, the Gallup Organization found that 68% of American adults opposed gay marriages; 27% were in favor.