Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is marriage?

This seems like a very basic question, but it is at the heart of the current same-sex marriage debate. Yesterday, the American Supreme Court barely agreed to declare the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. One of my favorite justices, Antonin Scalia, disagreed with the Supreme Court even hearing this case in the first place. He said the court really had nothing to do with this and should have rejected the whole thing.

In any event, 5 of the justices disagreed with this dissent and went ahead and removed DOMA. DOMA was put in place by Bill Clinton to define marriage, on a federal level, as only between a man and a woman. Now that this is no longer in force, the federal government can now start redefining marriage.

Of course, as expected, many people celebrated this ruling. From my own Facebook page, there were many people who seemed very happy about this. Ironically, Bill Clinton applauded this decision, even though DOMA was enacted during his presidency.

But the question that no one really talks about much is "What is marriage?" In all the debates, the only thing I hear is "equality". But in any debates, the terms must be defined.

In all of human history, cultures have recognized marriage and it has always been the union of a man and a woman. This is no coincidence. Marriage exists because of children. If there were no children, there would be no marriage. Because cultures saw that a child does best with his mother and father, marriage held a special status. It was honored and promoted. This is a special relationship that was recognized as the most important because it was the building block of a family, which is the building block of society.

But it is beneficial from a biological point of view also. A pregnant and new mother left alone in the wild is in great danger. She is very vulnerable. Having a man to protect and serve her gives her child the greatest chance at survival. It is also beneficial to a man who can help ensure his genes will be passed down.

Jesus Christ lifted marriage to an even greater place when he made it a sacrament and something holy. So what is marriage? According to the Catholic Church, marriage is "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring."

This may be the Catholic definition of marriage, but it really is the basic understanding of marriage that all cultures held for many millennia. An essential element of marriage is the sexual complementarity of spouses, because reproduction is an essential aspect of this union.

So if this is the definition of marriage, not allowing gay marriage is not about inequality or bigotry, it's about definitions. It's not discrimination to refuse to call a circle a square.

But what has happened? Basically society at large has changed its definition of marriage. Strangely, most people cannot even define it. They will say some platitude perhaps about marriage being a commitment two people make to one another. It's extremely vague and unspecific to the point where MANY things could be considered marriage that people would never consider marriage. Two good friends can make a commitment to one another, but that's not necessarily marriage.

I've even asked people how they define marriage. They struggle with it a lot. Many will say two people who love each other and want to commit to one another. But if this is the definition, are arranged marriages invalid? Plus, our society in general seems to have a distorted view of "love". Love, in modern terms, is more accurately described as "affection", it's just an emotion. But real love is action, it's putting your spouse's interests first and caring for them in good times and bad. Affection is great, but what marriage requires is true love. But back to the question. What if for a particular period of time, a couple does not feel affection? What if they are going through a hard time? Is their marriage automatically ended? I would say absolutely not.

And if marriage is just about love, however modern people define it, why is it restricted? Even with gay marriage, there are still restrictions. Siblings cannot marry, nor can a parent marry a child. Most gay marriage advocates would say incestuous marriages are wrong. But who are they to judge. Why should I listen to their moral code? What about polygamy? I've asked several gay marriage supporters why we can't have polygamous marriages. Their usual answer is they don't know anything about that and cannot comment. Others say it's just too different. But again, would they accept any of these same arguments used against gay marriage? They too are moralizing. They too are defining marriage based on their own personal belief systems. I've rarely come across anyone who both agrees with gay marriage and all those other types I've mentioned.

Marriage is something, it has a definition. Calling a circle a square doesn't make it one. If circles are forced to be called squares, we will always have to specify what type of "square" is being referred to. Language is pesky like that. It needs to be specific or new words will emerge.

If marriage can be anything, then marriage is nothing.

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