Definition of Marriage
Definition of Marriage
My library contains three dictionaries; their definitions of marriage vary in context, but ultimately each source supports the same definition. The definitions of marriage are as follows:
"The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife," "The state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law," and "Social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc."
The 21st Century finds this definition being challenged. People wish to redefine what has always been in order to suit their own purposes and circumstances; they want to change the definition of marriage simply because it does not fit into the “wants and desires” of today’s society. Today’s society wants it all, and right or wrong they are ready to fight for it, but who makes these decisions? Who decides the redefining of history, the redefining of a sanctified ritual, and do they have the right to make those decisions? More importantly, do we let them?
The first great challenge to the definition of marriage came from people who have demanded the right to marry those of the same sex. As these people have been granted some legal privileges by the state that are similar to those who are married, yet another cry has arisen from cohabiting couples that they too should have the same privileges without having to be married. In addition, there are even more voices being raised by those who believe that the laws against polygamy should be overturned. Others, they want marital law opened up to include various combinations of people (polyamory).
In the background, there are lurking those who desire the lifting of age restrictions, the right to marry their siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and perhaps even their own parent or child. The common thread that runs through all of these arguments is moral relativism: why should not people have the right to marry any and all people?
The human institution of marriage predates recorded history and is universal throughout all human societies.
The meaning of marriage has never changed; it has never been anything other than the union of men with women.
While there has been sanctioned polygamy in various parts of the world—generally meaning men with multiple wives—monogamy has been by far the norm throughout history and throughout all cultures on this planet.
Laws regarding marriage are the oldest codified by man, but the concept of marriage between a man and a woman existed long before the existence of written law, and thus is far more than a political institution.
Marriage has for millennia been the cornerstone of the family, and in turn, the family has been the foundation of civilization. There may not be an American left who has not been affected by the breakdown of the family, and its resultant social instability.
G.K. Chesterton observed that the family provides the principle check against the power of the state. Many Communist theorists include dismantling the family as a necessity to establishing totalitarian power for a collective state.
The natural family unit claims rights not granted by the state, but natural rights that the state is obliged to recognize. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, "The family is the natural and fundamental unit of society."
Same Sex Marriage
Douglas Farrow writes in the current issue of Touchstone magazine:
"Crafty fools ask foolish fools, 'What harm does same-sex marriage do to your marriage, or to your family?'
"The truthful answer is: Same-sex marriage makes us all chattels of the state, because the state, in presuming to define the substance rather than the accidents of marriage, has made marriage itself a state artifact.
"Those who have trouble connecting the dots here—which lamentably includes many defenders of the traditional institution—should take time to consider the fact that the new “inclusive” definition, in striking procreation from the purview of marriage, has left both parents and children without a lawful institution that respects and guarantees their natural rights to each other.
"Opening up marriage in principle to non-generative unions really means closing it in principle to the inter-generational interests on which it has always been based. From now on, the handling of those interests will be entirely dependent, legally speaking, upon the good graces of the state. Every citizen will stand naked before the state, unclothed by his most fundamental community, unbuffered by any mediating institution with its own inherent rights. Nor should it be overlooked that, what the state has the power to define, it has the power to define again and again, and even to dispense with."
At the heart of traditional marriage has always been the practice of monogamy. Monogamy is the freedom to be virtuous and responsible; the belief in objective truth and universal morality, it is oriented toward children and the future. Monogamy anchors men to their wives and children through the deliberate focus of their sexuality.
The rising culture today is polyamory— a practice defined as having more than one intimate relationship at a time. Proponents of polyamory demand freedom from any sexual restraints believing that the pleasure of the individual is the ultimate goal of human beings.
The polyamory lifestyle requires the existence of an awesome welfare state to care for the results of its irresponsible citizenry. The entertainment industry promotes polyamory as a great joy. The results in the real world are tens of millions of aborted babies and even more out-of-wedlock births. Illegitimate births are up 900% in the past 50 years. The results of polyamory in the real world are an inordinate amount of broken homes, and what has become a pandemic of sexually transmitted diseases.
Is there is a serious problem with all of this? Yes, there is. Children who are reared without an intact family that includes both their natural fathers and mothers are vastly more prone to promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, drug usage, suicide, crime and imprisonment. It is unequivocally proven that no arrangement of the rearing of human children produces healthy, productive citizens as does living one's life with your natural mother and father into adulthood.
Meaning of Marriage
Robert George wrote an article in First Things magazine entitled What Marriage Is—And What It Isn't in which he stated, "The bodily unity of spouses is possible because human males and females, like other mammals, unite organically when they mate—they form a single reproductive principle.
"Although reproduction is a single act, in humans (and other mammals) the reproductive act is performed not by individual members of the species but by a mated pair as an organic unit.
"What is unique about marriage is that it truly is a comprehensive sharing of life, a sharing founded on the bodily union made uniquely possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman—a complementarity that makes it possible for two human beings to become, in the language of the Bible, one flesh—and thus possible for this one-flesh union to be the foundation of a relationship in which it is intelligible for two persons to bind themselves to each other in pledges of permanence, monogamy, and fidelity."
The Catholic Theologian Germain Grisez: "Though a male and a female are complete individuals with respect to other functions—for example, nutrition, sensation, and locomotion—with respect to reproduction they are only potential parts of a mated pair, which is the complete organism capable of reproducing sexually. Even if the mated pair is sterile, intercourse, provided it is the reproductive behavior characteristic of the species, makes the copulating male and female one organism."
Robert George: "The true meaning, value, and significance of marriage are fairly easily grasped (even if people sometimes have difficulty living up to its moral demands) in a culture—including, critically, a legal culture—that promotes and supports a sound understanding of marriage.
"Furthermore, ideologies and practices that are hostile to a sound understanding and practice of marriage in a culture tend to undermine the institution of marriage in that culture. Hence it is extremely important that governments eschew attempts to be neutral with regard to marriage and embody in their laws and policy the soundest, most nearly correct, understanding.
"The law is a teacher. It will teach either that marriage is a reality in which people can choose to participate, but whose contours people cannot make and remake at will, or it will teach that marriage is a mere convention, which is malleable in such a way that individuals, couples, or, indeed, groups can choose to make of it whatever suits their desires, goals, and so on.
"The result, given the biases of human sexual psychology, will be the development of practices and ideologies that truly tend to undermine the sound understanding and practice of marriage, together with the development of pathologies that tend to reinforce the very practices and ideologies that cause them."
Institution of Marriage
The Oxford philosopher Joseph Raz has noted that, “Monogamy, assuming that it is the only valuable form of marriage, cannot be practiced by an individual. It requires a culture which recognizes it, and which supports it through the public’s attitude and through its formal institutions.”
Robert George: "Even if monogamy is a key element in a sound understanding of marriage, large numbers of people will fail to understand that or why that is the case—and therefore will fail to grasp the value of monogamy and the point of practicing it—unless they are assisted by a culture that supports, formally by law and policy, as well as by informal means, monogamous marriage.
"What is true of monogamy is equally true of the other elements of a sound understanding of marriage.
"In short, marriage is the kind of good that can be chosen and meaningfully participated in only by people who have a sound basic understanding of it and choose it with that understanding in mind—yet people’s ability to understand it, at least implicitly, and thus to choose it, depends crucially on institutions and cultural understandings that both transcend individual choice and are constituted by a vast number of individual choices."
Marriage has long been about children and property. The desire and necessity of producing a male heir to assume one's property, titles or trade, was the subject of much consternation for millennia. In order for marriage to remain the cornerstone of civilization it is important that society supports it. Marriage has proven itself indispensable to the nurturing of the young. Strong marriages create strong families. A marriage is of public importance and affects far more than the two people who wed.
Are Fathers Necessary?
The religious, cultural and legal doctrines that support marriage have weakened. Welfare has made marriage not only unnecessary, but also undesirable to some as it causes the loss of their governmental support. The State has replaced the father in millions of homes; in many cases it is the family’s source of support, and for many women it has become irreplaceable. A “father” is no longer needed; a father would remove the support that in some cases is depended on for survival. Should the State be the caregiver and source of financial support for our nation’s children? Apparently to postmoderns the answer to this question is "Yes."
The social liberals who want to redefine marriage are of the belief that individuals should be able to do anything they want as long as it does not immediately harm another person. They could care less what harm is done to others in the long run, especially the harm done to children. Their lack of belief in moral truth leaves then unwilling to consider millennia of human experience, wisdom, custom and tradition.
There is no question that broken homes harm children, and there is no question that illegitimacy harms children. The only question left to ask is: why do so few care? In the name of tolerance, the stigmas that were attached to divorce, adultery, cohabitation and illegitimacy have not only been removed, they are no longer even considered to be moral problems at all and instead have been deemed "rights." Anyone who disagrees with this viewpoint is simply termed "judgmental." The new focus of our society is now based on feelings and emotions. Prudence and propriety are now seen as archaic. If it feels good, do it!
The Purpose of Sex
Those who wish to redefine marriage posit this ancient institution not an end but a means, like money—it is a means to get what you want. But money is only green paper. And human beings have higher purposes than mere animal desires. We seem to have lost the point that sex is designed by nature for reproduction—not pleasure. It is, of course, pleasurable, but that is not the biological point of sex. That leaves us asking, what is the point of marriage? What one can get out of it?
Divorce and infidelity are running rampant. Many middle-aged men trade in their wives for younger "trophy wives" with little legal or social pressure to do otherwise. Law and public policy no longer even consider what is "good" for our society.
Conservatives who break the old rules are readily called on the carpet as hypocrites. The liberal solution to hypocrisy is to have no principles—then you can't be one. What happened to permanence and fidelity? When did marriage vows become archaic sounding?
Means or an End?
It used to be that knowledge was an end to itself. In college curriculums today, knowledge becomes a means to get something else. Is marriage merely an instrument to get what you want from another person? If the romance or infatuation dies, is the marriage over? Is marriage no longer a lifelong organic—bodily, emotional, spiritual, economic—union of a man and a woman? Do people care about the environment in which their children are reared? A husband and wife have entered into a union unmatched by any other combination—a union based on every level of the human person.
Only a Man and a Woman Can Consummate
Throughout most of human history the consummation of a marriage was the key point regardless of fertility. A marriage not consummated could be annulled according to civil and church law. A marriage could not be annulled for infertility—unless of course you were Henry the VIII.
Should Government Support Parents?
It is estimated that children cost parents $15,000 per year per child. If the government will no longer offer financial incentives to assist with this cost—and many childless people are steadfastly opposed to this now— the result will be that people will choose to have fewer and fewer children. This has in fact already happened.
Does anybody care? They should. It takes 3 children per family to create a growing, robust economy in a nation. 2.1 children per family are required to merely replace the dying. In America (and Western Civilization), the birth rate is about 1.4, meaning that the nation is committing suicide, only kept afloat by immigration. Countless ancient bloodlines have come to an end. We used to care deeply about posterity. Now, one can sense an attitude of "it won't affect me. I'll be dead before it happens." A healthy society needs children.
The Law Is a Teacher
The law is a key issue in this discussion. The law is the one great teacher of the next generation. We've learned that through the legalization of abortion. Once the state said it was alright, abortions skyrocketed. The termination of a pregnancy is now officially sanctioned by the state. This is why so many Conservatives are incensed over public, tax-funded schools handing out birth control. It signifies to the young that premarital sex is sanctioned by the state regardless of what their old-fashioned parents say.
Is traditional marriage unfair to all of these other groups who want to dismantle it? A group of social liberal activists ran a full-page statement in the New York Times in 2006 titled "Beyond Gay Marriage." Part of that statement said this: "Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. While we honor those for whom marriage is the most meaningful personal--for some, also a deeply spiritual--choice, we believe that many other kinds of kinship relationships, households, and families must also be accorded recognition."
The stated goal of these prominent gay activists is no longer merely the freedom to live their lives as they want. Rather, it is to force you, your family, and the state to recognize and respect their myriad choices. The result of meeting these demands will be a culture, a legal system, and a government that considers a monogamous, exclusive, permanent sexual relationship of child-bearing and child-rearing nothing more than one among many lifestyle choices. It leaves the claim that marriage is normative for the flourishing of spouses, children, and society--not to mention any attempt to enshrine in law this unique human good--would be considered bigotry. In other words, marriage as a social institution would be destroyed.
In 2006 a group of thinkers produced a paper supporting traditional marriage, known as the Princeton Principles:
The 10 principles that summarize the public value of marriage and why society should endorse and support the institution:
- Marriage is a personal union, intended for the whole of life, of husband and wife.
- Marriage is a profound human good, elevating and perfecting our social and sexual nature.
- Ordinarily, both men and women who marry are better off as a result.
- Marriage protects and promotes the wellbeing of children.
- Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.
- Marriage is a wealth-creating institution, increasing human and social capital.
- When marriage weakens, the equality gap widens, as children suffer from the disadvantages of growing up in homes without committed mothers and fathers.
- A functioning marriage culture serves to protect political liberty and foster limited government.
- The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.
- "Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.
Hadley Arkes, a political scientist at Amherst, writes:
"There is finally no getting around the fact that marriage cannot be detached from what we might call the "natural teleology of the body": namely, the inescapable fact that only two people, not three, only a man and a woman, can beget a child. The hard, obdurate fact here is that if marriage is detached from this natural teleology of the body, it loses the defining features, in principle, that cabin its meaning and establish its coherence. Homosexual families" cannot produce 'gay children.' Children must come into being through the only kind of family that nature knows.
"There is indeed, in the strictest sense, one meaning of sexuality, and when I say that it is the plainest meaning, I would simply say with John Paul II, that it is the meaning 'imprinted in nature,' in the very presence of gender. A 'natural teleology' is at work there -- that something in the nature of sex, in the strictest sense, must be at the core of marriage, or the understandings that have sprung up around marriage, and that these understandings are likely to be largely the same in all places, quite regardless of the local culture, because the intrinsic meaning of sex -- and the moral understandings surrounding sex -- are likely to be in all places the same.
"Why that point should be so obscure to us today is indeed one of the mysteries of our age, or it is a measure of how the inventiveness of political argument may obscure the plainest facts of our nature."
Marital sexuality has reproduction as its true end. Other sexual acts are a mockery of this—mere genital stimulation.
A debt is acknowledged to a speech by Robert George in New York at a Socrates in the City event, from which I took notes.