“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
How could anyone be against marriage equality? Marriage is something ordained by God, certainly marriage is innately good. Equality is a good thing, this is why we set up rules in sports, to make sure the playing field is equal for both teams. The same can be said for society, we set up rules in our society to make sure people all get to participate in life with an equal footing, at least we try. Since marriage is good and equality is good, certainly marriage equality is good.
It all sounds good, on the surface. The problem is the words are loaded with hidden meaning. The question of marriage equality as it has been presented in American culture and media is deeply flawed. The way these two combined words are used is intended to ward off criticism by making anyone who apposed such a thing look like they are either against marriage or equality. When, in fact, those who appose "marriage equality" are passionately for upholding the sacred institution of marriage in an equal way. To say they are for marriage being equal to other kinds of relationships would be false, but that is not an issue of bias against people who are attracted to the same gender or anything of the sort.
I will explain, but first, marriage, as it is being used in this post, needs to be defined. It should be noted that as a Christian who believes God is the inventor of marriage, I would define marriage differently if I was attempting to only address Christians. My goal in this post is much broader. As a result, I want to use a definition that has a chance of being accepted by people who hold no religious convictions regarding the morality of practicing homosexuality. So, In an attempt to be unbiased in my language, I will define marriage without reference to gender. A marriage is a relationship where two individuals have made public proclamations of commitment to fidelity and the relationship is such that if both parties have bodies that are functioning properly and are of appropriate age, children are possible without the involvement of a third party of any kind.
Before you say that my definition is smuggling in gender without an outright appeal to it, hear me out. I will admit, up front, that the consequences of this definition is that marriage can only be between two people of complimenting genders. However, to focus on gender prior to discussing the nature of marriage and why marriage is important, is to put the proverbial cart before the horse, it is premature.
Sometimes the nature of something needs to be understood before a person can understand its purpose, but in this case the nature or essence of marriage cannot be agreed upon. So, I am going to take a different approach here. I would like to do some reverse engineering. The debate about the definition of marriage starts with the wrong premises and, as a result, ends up arguing about the wrong things. In order to understand the purpose of marriage, it is instructive to point out what it is not about. As I point out what marriage is not about, I am not saying these things have nothing to do with marriage, I am only suggesting that these things are not the primary purpose of marriage.
Sexual pleasure is not the purpose of marriage. In society at large, this ought to be obvious since people seek and find sexual pleasure outside of the bounds of marriage all the time. It is true that Christianity and other religions hold sex outside of marriage to be morally wrong, the culture at large does not share this view. Yet, people often see this as a reason to support same sex marriage. Sexual pleasure, as repulsive as it may be to many, often finds its fulfillment in morally reprehensible practices that need not be mentioned here. Yet, there is no significant movement to make marriage between adult men and children or people and animals legal. If sexual pleasure was the driving force in determining what ought to count as marriage and what should not count, then no matter how aberrant the practice, marriage should include all kinds of things that people intuitively know is wrong. It should be noted that in healthy marriages, sexual pleasure is certainly part of the equation, it just isn't the driving force.
Emotional expression of love is not the purpose of marriage. This is probably the reason too many people get married. They "fall in love" and without much thought they end up getting married. Unfortunately marriages that don't find their way to a deeper commitment are frequently short lived. Love within marriage ought to stir ones emotions in a positive way. That is to say, when another person is committed to your well being and they express that commitment, it should result in "feeling love", but the emotions are not the driving force or primary purpose in marriage. In spite of what television, movies, and other sources tell society, it isn't about how you feel.
Legitimizing a person's identity is not the purpose of marriage. If a person's identity was not legitimized apart from marriage, what would that say to all the single people of all ages? Certainly a person's identity does not need legitimizing in this fashion. In fact, I would argue that it is dehumanizing to require marriage in order for a person to legitimize their identity. This is probably the driving force behind much of the marriage debate, and this kind of reasoning is tragic and harmful to people who have decided not to get married no matter what reason is given.
So, if marriage is not about those things, what is it about? In short, it is about society.
I realize that very few people are likely to think about society when they get married. Could you imagine the proposal, "honey, it isn't so much that I love you, but I am concerned about society...will you marry me?" That sounds ridiculous and any thoughtful person would turn around and run the other way. Ridiculous as it may be, this deserves some more thought. Commitment is an essential ingredient in marriage, without it a marriage will almost certainly fail. Love ought to be expressed through commitment, at least in part. Without commitment love is simply an emotion, and given enough time, it will pass. It is much easier to envision a marriage proposal where a person expresses their love by some sort of verbal commitment to the relationship. What is so important about commitment? Simply put it is the stabilizing factor in a marriage and marriage is the stabilizing factor in society at large. Marriage provides consistency and stability for children giving them the opportunity to grow up and become good, productive members of society. It is difficult to find a study or psychologist who does not think stability in a child's home life is essential to their overall success and that instability is detrimental to a child's growth and success.
Given the previous, let's go back to the definition I gave at the beginning. Marriage must include a commitment because that is what provides stability, without a commitment all is lost. In my definition I limit it to two people. The primary reason it is limited to two people is because when an additional person is added, it creates difficult dynamics that have a significant impact on the stability of the marriage. As a Christian I also have other reasons for limiting it to two people, but that is not the focus here. Public proclamations are important because they provide opportunity for accountability. Public does not mean on a street corner, it just means with other people who can hold those getting married to account. This is often the role of the wedding party no matter the size of the wedding party. Fidelity is important for the same reason that limiting the marriage to two people is important. Infidelity, even if agreed upon, introduces instability to the relationship.
The part of this definition that many people would have a hard time with is the last part. The qualifications in the definition are important. It is appropriate to restate the last part of the definition: the relationship is such that if both parties have bodies that are functioning properly and are of appropriate age, children are possible without the involvement of a third party of any kind. The basic premise is that marriage is about children and society in general. So the qualifications for the possibility of children are important. Notice the definition does not require that a couple actually has children. The definition allows for nature to take its course, so to speak. The definition also allows for the possibility that there might be medical or even psychological problems that may keep a couple from having kids. It also allows that age may be a limiting factor in preventing children. The general rule is that people who get married have kids and the fact that there are exceptions does not negate the general rule.
If marriage is about children and society, in general, why would it be a good idea to expand the definition? Some, at this point, would drag out red herrings about hospital visits, health insurance, and so on. The problem is that none of those things need to be addressed by changing the definition of marriage. There are either already ways to address those kinds of things, or they could be addressed without changing the definition of marriage. Some might even make arguments regarding adoption and other such things, but again those arguments miss the point. It is common for unmarried people to adopt children, the marriage title is not needed. While uncommon it is not unprecedented for single women to have children by both natural and artificial means. Again, marriage is not required to have children. In other words, there doesn't seem to be a need to adopt a definition of marriage that overtly embraces or denies same sex relationships.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.