So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took his side and closed up its place with flesh. And the side that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2: 21-25
There is no marriage ceremony here, no vows. There's just a man, looking at a woman, proclaiming their togetherness, followed by a narrator/editor adding meaning to Adam's proclamation. And yet, Christians who want to exclude anything outside of heterosexual marriage from not only the church but society, will use these verses to support their rhetoric.
What's actually happening here?
A friend of mine, Dr. Mika Ahuvia, professor of Judaism at the University of Washington, once told me that paired couples existed before this was written. For who knows how long, the people from the culture from which this story was birthed has long been engaged in paired relationships and this story is reflecting the society in which they were living.
One of my favorite examples of the reflection of the context of the author(s) of the creation stories is in *both* creation stories, the only specific animal named is cattle (or in some translations, livestock). In Genesis 1, it's, "cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth," and in Genesis 2 it's, "The man gave names to all cattle and to the birds of the air and to every animal of the field." Why name cattle and not lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!)? Because to the people who were writing this, those were the important animals. The context is informing the writing. So it is with "a man leaving his mother and cleaving to his wife."
Historically, marriage has gone through huge transformations over time -- it even goes through transformations in Genesis. Adam and Eve were not married, but were partnered by God, had sex, and had children together. Eve was created as a partner for Adam -- helper in this context, in the original language is more like partner and is not a subordinate role, and it was just them. As we move through Genesis, we are introduced to husbands and wives and we begin to see that men are able to have many wives (again, being informed by the context rather than informing the context). When we get the ten commandments, women are in the category of property along with house, slaves, and animals.
For much of western history, women were akin to property and their importance was in creating the family line through which property would be passed down (hence men could have many wives but women could only have one husband -- gotta know whose property is going where). Marriages were often arranged for social status rather than love or comparability (and this still happend around the world both implicitly and explicitly). In this way, much of what scripture says about marriage is rather irrelevant, as the whole idea of marriage in our context is vastly different than it was 2000 years ago.
In the United States, the main narrative around marriage is that we marry for love. That's the story we tell ourselves and each other. We make a huge mistake when we superimpose lessons from a time when marriage was about property (and women were that property) over our very different context. That's not to say we can't take lessons on marriage, or more broadly how to relate to one another within family structures, from scripture. We do, however, need to do this in light of the context of the original writing and our own times.
What this story of creation and realtionship can tell us is that human beings were created to be in relationship with God, creation, and one another. We were not meant to live in isolation, but in community -- particularly in community with other humans. We are called to help one another as partners and to be co-creators with God in this world, creating relationships and naming them -- and ourselves -- as we see fit.