|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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.