Preserving Sanctity of Marriage

The subject of this piece is “that bwessed awangement, that dweam within a dweam,” marriage. Marriage is one of the most misunderstood concepts in recent history. This misunderstanding can readily be seen in “On gay marriage,” a piece written by Mauricio Najarro in last week’s Record. In it, Najarro declares marriage to be “barbaric” and “a sin against humane society.” However, his entire thesis is corrupted by a strange misapprehension of the goals of marriage, in which marriage is defined by individuals seeking happiness. Such misunderstandings are unsurprising among college students as the college lifestyle is about as far as you can possibly get from the realities and responsibilities of marriage.

Unfortunately, this misunderstanding of marriage is not limited to the young. On June 10, 2003, the High Court of Ontario endorsed gay marriage by arguing: “Through the institution of marriage, individuals can publicly express their love and commitment to each other. Through this institution, society publicly recognizes expressions of love and commitment between individuals, granting them respect and legitimacy as a couple.” I am fairly certain that I have never read a more deficient definition of marriage. Marriage is not about individuals, it is not about expression and it is certainly not about getting state approval for your love. Those may be the more readily apparent aspects of marriage, the ones that show up in movies and poetry, but they form only a small part of the real story.

Indeed, it is a very good thing that marriage is not about public expressions of love or commitment. Because that would put the state, as the regulator of marriage, in the position of declaring what is and is not acceptable love. This is not a power that I ever want any government having. Love is now, and always should be, free from government intervention, with the usual disclaimers about consenting adults applying.

Marriage however, is entirely about the concept of family and the rearing of children. That is why the state gets involved, not only because it has a vested interest in the creation of future generations, but also to assure that those future generations get the best chance to become productive and vibrant members of society. Every study ever conducted on the matter, every bit of reason and common sense applied and every second of the thousands of years of human experience on this planet have shown that the traditional family is by far the best structure under which to raise children. There is a reason why pretty much every human society, no matter its religion, culture, or geographic location, has come up with the same model for marriage and the family.

Same-sex marriage would be a direct affront to the idea that marriage is principally about the care and protection of children. As author Maggie Gallagher puts it, “Same-sex marriage would enshrine in law a public judgment that the desire of adults for families of choice outweighs the need of children for mothers and fathers. It would give sanction and approval to the creation of a motherless or fatherless family as a deliberately chosen ‘good.’”

The problem with the modern conception of marriage is that it is phrased almost entirely in the terms of individual happiness. Najarro embodies this conception when he argues, “Happiness should not come from placing supreme value on any one thing or forcing others to conform to a set of moral values that one extends universally.” He does not seem to realize that marriage has little to do with producing individual happiness. Marriage and family are concepts that generally limit the happiness of the individuals who enter into them. Entering into a marriage and creating a family requires a commitment to the idea that there are things more important than selfish pleasure. Marriage is about men and women coming together and putting their own desires aside for the benefit of their children and each other.

When Najarro writes, “Modern human relationships are too complex to conform to convenient ideological patterns,” he is stating something that is partly true. Human relationships are very complicated. Marriage is useful in that it ignores these complexities. It does not matter what urges, desires, and goals you have.

Within the bonds of marriage, your primary concern must be to your family. That is a big part of the beauty of marriage. It cuts through and dismisses all complexity and nuance, declaring that once you put on that ring you are no longer just an individual. You are a mother or a father. You are a husband or a wife. And the well-being and happiness of your children, your spouse and the family as a whole are infinitely more important than your own.

Marriage is not about personal expression and it is not about love as happiness. It is about love as sacrifice; the sacrifice in putting aside your own dreams and happiness in order to create, guide and protect life. Thus, it is not a sin against society, nor even just a convenient aid to the development of society. Rather, it is the foundation of society itself.