The Abolition of Marriage (1)



Just over 10 years ago, the Netherlands became the first country in the history of the world to recognize relationships between people of the same sex as “marriage.” Since then, a number of countries and states in the United States have followed suit in the most unprecedented social experiment (and social revolution) in human history.

Supporters of so-called same sex marriage will often argue that marriage has taken a number of forms over time, and that even the Bible describes several different marital structures. They conclude from this that the monogamous, heterosexual relationship we know as the norm for marriage is only one possible form among many that have been used.

Up to a point, this is true: marriage has taken a variety of forms – monogamy, polygamy, and more rarely polyandry. What the argument misses, however, is what all these forms have in common: they are all heterosexual. Even in a polygamous marriage, the wives each marry the husband; they do not marry each other. In fact, prior to 2001, no society in human history—including those that openly accepted homosexual relationships—had same sex marriages.

It is thus no exaggeration to say that same sex marriage does not reflect an expansion of marriage but its abolition. The reason has to do with the fundamental anthropological purpose of marriage.

The purpose of marriage

All societies throughout human history have recognized marriage. In all cases, marriage has been given a privileged position vis à vis other kinds of relationships. The reason is simple: marriage ties fathers and mothers to each other and to their children to provide a stable environment to bring children into the world and to raise them. Other secular purposes, including passing on the family property to (legitimate) heirs, flow from there.

To put it differently, marriage exists as a way to regulate sexuality, because sexual activity can result in babies, and without an institutional structure to raise them, those babies can be a disruptive element in society. Within stable families, however, those children guarantee the stability and continuity of the society. Children are the future, and thus it is in the interests of society and of the State to privilege the one institution that can ensure their proper integration into the culture.

The usual response to this is to point to marriages of people who cannot or do not want to have children. Doesn’t this disprove the argument that marriages are for the next generation? Not at all. Legs are made for walking. Just because some people cannot walk does not alter the purpose of legs. Marriage works the same way: childless couples do not alter the basic purpose of the institution.

Marriages were thus intended to be permanent, or at least long-lasting, to provide a context for sexual activity and the reproduction that accompanies it, and to establish a stable environment to raise children. This definition does not depend on Biblical support, though it is worth noting that Malachi 2:15 points to this as the point of marriage as well.

Ideally, both in Scripture and in cultures worldwide, affection and emotional closeness accompany marriage, though in most cultures these follow marriage rather than preceding it. At the same time, however, given the basic anthropological function of marriage, emotional attachment is not an essential element of the institution.

The deconstruction of marriage

In the modern West, we have inverted the historical priorities connected to marriage: emotional connection is seen as what matters most, and the other elements are largely ignored. In fact, we have systematically destroyed all of the major building blocks that have historically defined marriage:

    • N-fault divorce means that marriages are no longer permanent. Eight years go, while teaching an undergraduate course on marriage in history, I commented that my wife and I had been married for 25 years. The class looked at me incredulously, and one of them said, “I’ve never even MET anyone who’s been married 25 years.”
    • We have separated sex from reproduction through contraception and abortion.
    • We have separated reproduction from sex through in vitro fertilization, surrogate parents, etc.
    • 48% of first children in the United States are born out of wedlock, separating marriage from childbearing.[i]
    • The hookup culture has separated sex from marriage.
    • We subcontract raising our children to daycare and the public schools, separating parenthood from childrearing.

We have thus shattered every essential element of marriage. The consequences have been dire. The sexual revolution has not produced the happy, emotionally well-adjusted people it promised. If anything, freer sexual activity has resulted in an epidemic of an ever-increasing number of sexually transmitted diseases and of depression, particularly among young women. And children raised in single-parent households are at increased risk of poverty, drug use, criminal behavior, psychological and social problems, and suicide.

In view of these consequences, one would think that the obvious solution would be to work to shore up marriage. Instead, it has been to embrace these changes and to shift marriage to emphasize exclusively the only component of traditional marriage still standing: emotional attachment.

Unfortunately, emotional attachment is an inadequate foundation for marriage, whatever the Disney princesses might suggest. Romance is a great joy and is an important support for marriage, but even more fundamental is a kind of commitment that is untouched by changing emotions or moods.

When the feeling of being in love fades, as it will, only a firm, unwavering commitment to the marriage will prevent divorce.

But emotional attachment is all that’s left of marriage in the popular imagination. In the undergraduate class on the history of marriage I mentioned earlier, I asked why all societies had marriage and held it in high regard. Not a single student said anything about children. Raising the next generation isn’t in the picture for them at all—it’s all about them, their emotional needs, and the desire to connect to another person.

And that’s why same-sex marriage is so appealing: if it’s only about emotional attachments, why not allow same sex couples the right to marry?

The only problem is, that isn’t what marriage is about historically and anthropologically. What we increasingly have today is called marriage, but it bears little to no resemblance to the real thing.

It would in principle be possible to recover a culture of marriage, but with same-sex marriage this becomes impossible. This change codifies into law the end of the focus on the next generation that has been the essence of marriage throughout history. So those who say same-sex marriage won’t affect heterosexual marriage are simply wrong. It changes the nature of the institution in fundamental and quite likely unrecoverable ways.

A society without marriage

Europe and America are have embarked on one of the most audacious social experiments in human history—creating a society without the historical institution of marriage. No society has ever attempted this, and given the foundational role marriage plays in society, there’s no way to predict what all the results will be.

In fact, the full impact of the change won’t be known for at least two generations.

The earlier stages of the deconstruction of marriage have had a few generations to work, however, and the results are anything but positive. Despite ideological biases among the researchers, it is becoming increasingly obvious that statistically, alternative family structures are not as good for children as intact biological families. Children learn different, complementary things from both fathers and mothers, so the loss of either is going to be detrimental to the development of the child.

Of course, there are dysfunctional biological families, and successful single-parent households, and even households with same-sex partners raising children; but statistically, the biological family remains the best for the children.

One would think this would be obvious. Unfortunately, ideology trumps common sense on this point.

Along with its impact on families, however, the abolition of marriage will likely change our relationship to government and introduce significant social and legal costs on those supporting the historic understanding of marriage. We will explore some of these changes along with the role of the church in the next article.


Next Steps

What does your church do to prepare people for marriage and to strengthen the institution of marriage itself? Ask a church leader or pastor about this.


For more insight to this topic, order the book, The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller. You might also read the article, “The Dangers of Same-Sex Marriage,” by Regis Nicoll.

The Meaning of Marriage (Part 2)

1 Comment

  1. These same sex couples most certainly should not engage in any kind of same sex relationship at all period. Homosexuality is not only contrary to Biblical teachings it is also in direct contradiction of Gods Laws as well. Homosexuality is considered sodomy. Sodomy is also in direct contradiction of Gods Laws. A man shall not engage in sexual intercourse with a man. Nor shall a woman engage in sexual intercourse with a woman. If you want my honest opinion I think that all same sex marriages should be abolished completely. Those are my sentiments exactly. God has instituted marriage between a man and a woman and the procreation of children. And it shall not be violated in any way, shape or form. What these particular individuals are doing is totally defiling the marriage bed as a direct result of their most despicable acts. What these particular individuals are doing is not only direct contradiction of Gods Laws it is also in direct violation of human nature as well. If God would have intended for men to be totally engaged in a same sex marriage He would have created Adam and Steve and not Adam and Eve. In the Catholic Church they always emphasize that same sex couples deserve respect and concern. They further contend that you should hate the sin but love the sinner. Sure, we should love and respect these particular individuals. But we must completely refrain from any further association with these particular individuals at all times. Yes, we should love and forgive these particular individuals. But we must be completely leery of them each and every time. In the Catholic Church homosexuality is a mortal sin. And you most certainly should not receive The Sacraments if you are in the state of mortal sin. If in the event that you do receive The Sacraments while in the state of mortal sin you are most certainly receiving them unworthily. And you are most certainly receiving them under very false pretenses. If you so desire to receive The Sacraments once again you must go to confession on Saturday Afternoon and confess your sins to God. And you must make full amends for what you have done. After you have received full absolution for your sins and are truly repentant of them then you will be deemed worthy to receive The Sacraments and not before. You must fully resolve not to commit the same sins over and over again. As the old saying goes: Actions do speak louder than words. Showing that you are truly sorry is much more important than the actual words used. Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominate sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. It's psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. The number of men and women who have deep seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. Leviticus 18:22: You will not have intercourse with a man as you would with a woman. This is a hateful thing. Let us all pray that homosexuality comes to an abrupt end effective immediately.
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