Revere the reverent, honor the honorable,
But don’t help one who does you harm,
Or give your heart to one who loves you not.
Leave him who does not care for you,
Who would without a thought abandon you.
Finding that the tree has no fruit,
The wise bird flies off into the big wide world.
In later Hinduism it seems that it was impossible for a wife to leave her husband although a husband could expel his wife on whim. This is affirmed by the Ramayana where Rama abandons Sita just on the suspicion that she had been unfaithful. At least in India, probably within both Buddhist and Hindu communities, the fate of an abandoned wife was probably a grim one. In his beautiful book about pre-modern Burma, Soul of a People, Fielding-Hall says that when a young man and woman fell in love they just moved in with each other and if their feelings towards each other changed they just parted company, the woman often keeping the house or taking everything he considered hers with her. Even today apparently, the Burmese government has trouble getting people to register their marriages. I can’t remember what traditional Kandyian law in Sri Lanka says about divorce but as I recall it was regulated by law.
I have always been bewildered by the conservative religious hostility towards and opposition to gay marriage. The usual justification for this hostility is that it ‘undermines the family’. But being just a simple monk I would have thought that the biggest danger to ‘the family’ would be the liberal divorce laws in most developed countries. And there is no doubt that such laws have had an impact on divorce rates. In the US in 2008 40% of marriages ended in divorce and in the UK in 2007 11.9 per 1000 of the married population got divorced. And then there is co-habitation, living together without being married. In my country Australia a whopping 22% of couples were co-habiting in 2005 rather than being married. In the US in the same year 4.85 million couples were co-habiting. It is even illegal in seven states but the law is no longer enforced. Isn’t it strange that religious conservatives are not campaigning against liberal divorce laws and pressing for the criminalizing of co-habitation in the name of ‘the family’. In Australia they now have a political party called Family First Party led by an Assemblies of God pastor. The party predictably opposes same-sex marriage but just as predictably is silent about the country’s burgeoning divorce rate and high rate of co-habitation.