The organisation Planting Peace recently put up a billboard in controversial county clerk Kim Davis' hometown:

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Dear Kim Davis, The fact that you can't sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we've already REDEFINED MARRIAGE.

They then clarified their intent in their press release (emphasis mine), which implies that the Bible defined marriage as involving three goats and a cow. However, they did not provide a Bible citation for that claim.

Following the June 26th Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Rowan County clerk Kim Davis refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in her home state, citing that doing so compromised her religious beliefs. That day, she became the poster child for the anti-gay movement.

As has been painstakingly observed time and time again, the anti-LGBTQ movement is comprised of a substantial number of zealots who unfailingly refer to their rigid interpretation of religious text to narrowly define “traditional” institutions and values. They pick and choose what they wish to convey as immoral and unacceptable, while seemingly sweeping lines of scripture just a few letters away completely under the rug.

The Huffington Post, reporting on the same issue, also makes a similar claim (emphasis mine):

Non-profit organization Planting Peace just erected the above billboard in Davis' hometown of Morehead, Kentucky. The message is plain and simple -- if Davis is going to use Biblical rhetoric to justify her opposition to same-sex marriage, she might want to take a closer look at how else marriage has been redefined in relation to the book's sacred teachings.


We hope you understand the Bible a bit better now, Kim!

Was marriage ever defined in the Bible or other religious texts as "selling your daughter for three goats and a cow" or an equivalent phrase?

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    I interpret this as an example (synecdoche) of providing a dowry. There are several biblical references to providing dowries, which when combined with our knowledge of traditions, could be understood this way. Would such an answer satisfy you? You seem to be expecting the Hebrew equivalent of "three goats and a cow" to literally appear in the Scriptures. (This might be better asked at Hermeneutics.SE.)
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 3:23
  • 1
    @Oddthinking If such a literal quotation exists, I would definitely accept that as an anwer, but if it does not exist, an answer regarding dowry prices would be acceptable too.
    – March Ho
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 3:26
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    Please go to huffingtonpost.com/ken-oneill/… for a blog on the person who claims to have authored the "three goats and a cow" statement. It has nothing to do with any Scripture from any religion, and more to do with marketing a novel named "The Marrying Kind", both written by Kevin Oniell.
    – user28927
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 17:21
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    Which version of the bible? None of the bible was originally written in English, so it would be unlikely to be interested in defining an English word.
    – bdsl
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 13:10
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    Taken at face value, even if this was an actual statement I feel like it's a stretch to consider it "redefining marriage". The end result was still man + woman after all. This would be more redefining a woman's place in society. A better example would have been something about concubines or maidservants (which I've seen elsewhere). Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 14:38

1 Answer 1


In the past, if a male wanted to marry a female, he'd transfer property, animals or goods to her father. The idea is of giving something valuable in return of a marriage; marriage was just a business deal about trading girls and money. This is called dowry (1) and it is well evidenced in the bible, for example:

Genesis 34:12:

"Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage." -

Genesis 24:53:

The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.

Exodus 22:16-17:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.

And so on

If marriage was defined as a father selling his daughter for "three goats and a cow”, then it would be dowry, but searching for the term "three goats and a cow" on:

returns no matches.

Moreover, one very interesting case was found, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a cross-reference resource for Bible students worldwide, analyzed Genesis 34:12 and made the following commentary:

Ask me. On the practice of purchasing wives, De La Roque says, Properly speaking, a young man who would marry must purchase his wife; and fathers among the Arabs are never so happy as when they have many daughters. They form part of the riches of the house. Accordingly, when a young man would treat with a person whose daughter he is inclined to marry, he says to him, 'Will you give me your daughter for fifty sheep, for six camels, or for a dozen cows?' according to the rank of her family, and the circumstances of him who desires to marry her.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge made a similar analysis to the claim in the question.. The author of the claim could have been inspired by the analysis of Genesis 34:12, but we can never know unless the author makes a statement.

Conclusion: Apparently, this seems to be a made up example, but it is an example based on real traditions from the Old Testament (see Genesis 34:12 and Treasury of Scripture Knowledge's analysis). The spirit of author of the claim's argument is correct, marriage was about dowry, but it seems the claim is an example made to create rhetorical effects.

(1) Goody, Jack (1976). Production and Reproduction: A Comparative Study of the Domestic Domain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 6.

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    Technically, dowry is the payment made from the bride/her family to the groom. The groom's payment to the bride's family is a bride price or bride service.
    – jwodder
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 20:31
  • @jwodder Though dowry and dower (a related concept where money is transferred from husband to wife) share the same etymology meaning roughly "to give" so using dowry as a neutral form to cover both dowry specifically and bride price seems to be acceptable. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 13:33
  • 1
    Correction: Marriage of a minor girl involved giving bride-price to her father; marriage of an adult woman required giving the bride-price to her herself. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 16:41
  • Wouldn't "a father selling his daughter for "three goats and a cow”" be defined as slavery? It's rather presumptuous to assume that Christianity (or any religion, or group of religions) are the sole arbiters of what is a marriage. And in many cultures, a dowry is paid to the groom, not by the groom so having many daughters is not considered good fortune.
    – RobG
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 6:37
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    I don't know where you get "just a business deal" from, none of your quotes say it was ONLY about business. Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 14:16

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