I agree entirely with the courage and determination you express, dueeast - and I too think marriage is not a bit of fluff, but rather a serious commitment. Probably the most serious one you can make - if not, certainly up there.
But just to play devil's advocate… contrary to what a lot of Christians believe, marriage predates Christianity. The Ancient Egyptians practised marriage - or at least, there's a lot of evidence to suggest a form of legal bond of monogamy, a life partner. hmt
(or hemet - heiroglyphics almost always omits vowel sounds) is the ancient Egpytian word for “wife” (and hi
is “husband”, though this is infrequently used since most funerary texts are written by men, about men).
Yet from the 13th Dynasty (1795-1650 BC) on polygamy was common among kings and some of the ruling elite. While one principal wife (hemet nesw weret) was chosen, others were probably taken by the king in order to assure a royal heir, or cement relationships with foreign countries or even powerful regional leaders.
However, Ancient Egyptian marriage was not necessarily a monogamous affair. Kings, as noted above, often had hundreds of wives, and it was an early practice to pay the father of your bride a dowry - usually the same as one would pay for a slave. However, marriage was a social institution practiced by all classes in Ancient Egpyt.
For a more humanistic form of pre-Christian marriage, try Ancient Rome. There was no specific civil ceremony required, but marriages were frequently accompanied by much revelry and partying, religious blessings and ceremonies, and many traditions - all it took beyond that was the acceptance of both parties that they wished to join in marriage.
Although not a legal necessity, some weddings, usually the first marriage of elite couples was accompanied by much revelry and song, as featured in one of Catullus' poems. It describes the celebration of the marriage with dancing, singing and the brandishing of torches. Ribald jokes are shouted at the bride and nuts are scattered as she makes her way towards her husband's house. The groom arrives before the bride so that he can personally invite her to come and share his home.
The woman also gained her husband's social status once married - clearly an advantage for us women! In fact, a wife and mother, a matrona
, held a position of respect and responsibility, and even had a role in public worship.
Roman marriage was monogamous and also for life - in as much as marriages are today, or probably more so. Divorce was only for the upper classes and the very rich, and in early Roman history, unheard of since marriage was considered a sacred institution (much like the Roman Catholic church considers it today).
An Ancient Roman bride wore an engagement ring - in fact, the engagement ring seems to be one of the oldest surviving traditions, possibly even predating the Romans and certainly appearing in many different cultures. It was once believed that a vein ran from the third finger of the left hand to the heart - and the circle of metal symbolises eternity. Roman brides also wore white, and a veil, and had a bridesmaid.
And for something a little more obscure, how about this from pre-Christian scandinavian history?
During pre-Christian times the process of becoming husband and wife was a five-step process following the courtship period. The first step was the betrothal, when what was already known was announced: the couple was going to marry. The second step was the marriage ceremony, when the father of the bride gave the bride to the groom and the bride's parents gave a party. The third step was the trip from the bride's home to the groom's home, which was dangerous because of the risk of bandits. The fourth step was the wedding party to which all important personsÃ¢â‚¬â€friends and relatives of the bride's parentsÃ¢â‚¬â€were invited. The final step was the bedding, when the guests at the wedding party followed the newly married couple home and watched them go to bed (Carlsson 1965). The two were now a married couple.
I by no means intend to belittle what your marriage meant to you, dueeast, but I think study of our cultures is extremely interesting… and marriage is something that has been around for a lot longer than Christianity.
I mean, China has marriage, as does India, and neither of them are known to practice Christianity widely. :)