How Did Marriage Become Religious?

Isn't it time we divorced religion from marriage?

Last updated on Mar 01, 2023

wedding in church / Shutterstock

According to SmartMarriages, about 70 percent of couples get married in a church. Yet, how did marriage and religion become so closely intertwined? Despite what you may think, marriage didn't start off as a $30,000 religious ceremony.

If the Bible is to be believed, the first marriage took place without a $10,000 dollar Vera Wang dress. The bride and the groom were in the nude and consummated their union by hanging out with a snake (not a double entendre). After being kicked out from the Garden of Eden, Adam's descendants had complicated marital relationships often involving more than one wife and several concubines (I'm looking at you King, Solomon).


RELATED: What It's Like To Marry An Atheist When You Believe In God

When I got married, I wore a white dress, carried pink flowers, and toasted with a bubbly drink in fluted glasses, but I didn't get married in a church.

I chose not to get married in a church, because, at that time in my life, the church was not a place I felt at home. Yet, despite the lack of a church, my marriage ceremony had significantly religious overtones. Scripture was read, there was prayer, and after my brother forgot his tuxedo the name of the Lord was called several times. 

In more recent history, Western European marriages started out as business contracts to establish hereditary lines.


According to the book The History of Human Marriage,  in the early Christian era, marriage was considered a private matter not regulated by the church or the state. In fact, the church didn't fully take over the business of marriage until 1563 at the Council of Trent. Religion and marriage, in the context of history, seem to be newlyweds. 

RELATED: Why Falling In Love Is So Darn Hard For Strong Women

So why do we insist on involving religion in the discussion of marriage? 

In the Iowa Supreme Court decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry, Justice Mark Cady wrote: 

“Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring that government avoids them. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all.


RELATED: 15 Daily Habits Of Couples Who Have The Deepest Life-Long Bonds

My faith is important to me and informs how I relate to the world around me. So, it makes sense that at my wedding, religion played a role. Yet, it continually baffles me that in discussions of public policy regarding marriage it's difficult to divorce faith from the conversation. Isn't this where we need to separate church from state?

RELATED: 10 Things That Will Never Happen If You Truly Love The Person You're With


Lyz Lenz's writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times, Pacific Standard, and others. She is a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.