On the Death of Marriage (or, History’s Holy War)

Good creatures, do you love your lives?
And have you ears for sense?
Here is a knife like other knives
that cost me eighteen pence.

I need but stick it in my heart
and down will come the sky,
and earth’s foundations will depart,
and all you folk will die.

On the occasion of today’s March for Marriage in Washington, I debated whether or not to write this post at all, or to at least title it “The Post That Will Get Me in Trouble with Everyone.” But then, I did just write a post about the responsibility of being a prophet. So I must beg your kind indulgence as I take a few minutes to do “something that is not easy.”

Those who know me well enough to…well, to be reading this ‘blog know that I am a supporter of the traditional concept of marriage, on both the religious and secular levels. On the religious side, belief in marriage as the covenantal sharing of humanity in God’s union and creativity does not allow for anything other than the permanent coming together of a man and a woman as one to be considered a marriage. On the secular level, I have never thought that normalizing the joining together of persons who cannot procreate, or the separation of those who can, serves the necessary ends of the state (NB: I said “normalizing;” there may always be exceptions with just cause). Nevertheless, I know a great many people, including family and dear friends, who for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of passion, have no problem at all with divorce or with marriages of convenience (for green cards, legal benefits, etc.) or with the legal allowance of same-sex marriage. I am fortunate that in most cases these stances of ours are not the be-all and end-all of our relationships, and we can engage in debate and discussion on this and a variety of topics on which we disagree while still loving each other and enjoying each other’s company.

However, there are some people – whether they are among my friends and family I do not know – who advance the argument that to oppose same-sex marriage is to be “on the wrong side of history.” Those who make such a dangerous statement speak not so much of what has come before but of where they anticipate being in the future. History is, after all, written by the winners, and those who have found a way to win will therefore place the losers on the wrong side when the dust has settled and the ink starts to flow. But to students of history – that is, of what has come before – they seem more like the narrator of the above-quoted poem by A. E. Housman. The things they say make sense to them only because they are the centers of their own universes, to the point that to defeat them is to end the world. History shows, however, that marriage has been uniformly recognized across times and cultures as having a distinct purpose and function, whether it be civic or religious or (as is most often the case in ancient cultures) both. Alternative lifestyles and relationships, whether condoned or condemned, were never seriously considered on the same level as marriage. The modern concept of exclusive sexual orientation itself, be it heterosexuality or homosexuality, was born of an era of sexual repression only 200 years ago, and the many attempts since to reconcile these increasingly diverse modes of physicality without offending anyone have resulted in the sex-obsessed and psychologically unsustainable mess that is modern gender theory.

Nevertheless, there is a kernel of truth in the advocate’s boast: history has led us to this moment. Those who complain of same-sex marriage tipping us over a slippery slope fail to recognize that this particular slalom began long before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts got involved 10 years ago. For decades we’ve turned a blind eye to divorce and co-habitation, to willfully childless unions and just-as-willful single parentage. We’ve lauded euthanasia and abortion while failing to defend the widow and the orphan. We have made the family a slave to free love, and made children the servant of two masters. We have inch by inch, bit by bit, allowed everything that made marriage the singular institution it was for millennia to be chipped at and whittled away, all the while trying to provide temporal incentives for couples to engage in an increasingly meaningless practice. And then the idea comes to light to allow loving relationships between people of the same sex to partake of marriage just as those of the opposite sex do, and we act surprised. How do we dare be surprised? When we’ve let the ultimate unitive and procreative act be reduced to a convenient system of tax breaks and streamlined paperwork for people who enjoy having sex with each other, any couple of any sort would have to be crazy not to want in on that game!

To supporters of traditional marriage who truly see with history’s eyes same-sex marriage is not, as some would have it, the most unallowable of all offenses against marriage. To assert such a thing is disingenuousness of the highest degree. Rather, it is merely the most glaring reminder that marriage as the world has known it no longer exists in the world. It is now “a knife like other knives.” Marriage is dead, marriage remains dead, and we have killed it.

Yet its shadow still looms. Some of us who are tasked with living in the world while remaining not of the world marched today in Washington not to discriminate against any particular group of people, or to advocate for the safeguarding of an institutional relic that has in popular opinion burst its oppressive definitions. They did it because they have recognized that civil marriage cannot be preserved but must be revived, that the truth about what makes marriage unique must not be enforced but proclaimed, and that through their demonstrations the world is not to be condemned but invited to conversion. For members of the Church, that means sharing what God has revealed about what makes marriage the most unique of social institutions, and the implications involved for trying to redefine that reality. As I close these thoughts, I would like to share it with you as succinctly as I can.

God created and sustains all things: the Father spoke His Word, and through His Word breathed His Spirit, and that action continues to this day. Humanity He created after the divine Image, which included an inherent complementarity. When a man and a woman come together, then, their union mirrors the creative process and the original intent of creation. Just as the Trinity of Three Persons is and acts as One God, so the man and woman cling to each other and become one body. And just as through the Three Persons of the One God life is given to all things, so through the union of the man and the woman does life generate within the race of beings made after God’s own Image. It is in this union that humanity participates most fully in the act of creation; when sex is directed towards its naturally unitive and procreative end, the very beauty and power of the Creator is brought to bear within human activity and the original dignity of the human race is reaffirmed. This union therefore is regarded with such sanctity that the Lord Himself declared that once God has brought the two together no earthly power must separate them again. The Church safeguards this union as one of its seven Sacraments (there’s that word again – sacer), Christ’s promises to us through which He gives grace to the members of His mystical Body. Even the books of the Bible itself describe with remarkable consistency the relationship between God and Israel, and by extension between Christ and His Church, as that of lovers, the bridegroom awaiting the arrival of his bride so that they may be as one for ever.

To sunder that union, or to call it something that it is not, or to involve in its participation pairings that however full of love cannot fulfill or be ordered towards its natural end, is to say that none of the above is true. If we have not communicated that effectively in the past, then we have failed. We beg your forgiveness, and ask that we work together to find loving ways of making that reality live in the world again.