March 29, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
As a blog dedicated to topics of love, religion, and politics, I’d be cheating the world if I didn’t take a moment this week amid the discussions in the Supreme Court to discuss the debate on gay marriage. But rather than argue about whether the traditional marriage side is more right or wrong than the marriage equality side, I think it’s much more important to clarify what exactly is going on in this debate.
I see two big problems with the whole discussion that no one really wants to talk about.
The first is that the core of what is being argued in reality isn’t whether homosexuals are equal to straight people under the law. It’s what the definition of marriage actually is. And no one wants to admit it.
The second is that both sides are currently too busy demonizing the other to actually see any value in what their opponents believe. It’s not only making it harder and harder to have any intelligent discussion on the subject. It’s tearing our nation apart.
I found these to be pretty fair and descriptive definitions of the two views of marriage that Americans seem to hold, and they were written by people who are much more intelligent than I am.
Conjugal View: Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.
Revisionist View: Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable. The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear.
If the conjugal idea of marriage is true, gay marriage, along with poly-amorous marriage and any other definitions (Between human beings. Let’s not get crazy, “gay marriage will pave the way for legalized bestiality” crowd) aside from one man and one woman for life, make no sense at all. If the revisionist view is best for society, than restricting it to only people who love one person of the opposite sex is a horrible form of discrimination. I would add that it would also be discriminatory to restrict it to only pairs of people since there are people in society who desire polygamous marriages, although the source I quoted above limits it to the union of two people.
The problem is that neither of these are what is reflected in the current laws of the land or what we see in society. We currently live in an awkward middle ground where no one really knows quite what marriage is, but everyone has an opinion on what it should become.
In order for conjugal marriage to be the predominant form of marriage in the United States, we would need to change a lot of laws that would cause a huge storm among liberals and conservatives alike. For starters, no fault divorce would have to go. Although it should remain legal, there would also be no reason for the elderly to get married. If you want to look at extreme scenarios (I don’t think this would be the case, but it’s a popular argument against the child-centric view of marriage), couples could be forced to prove that they are fertile before being married or promise in some way to have at least one child in the next 5, 10, 20 years. And only married couples would be allowed to adopt, which I think many traditional marriage supporters don’t realize is currently not the case. As the law stands right now, gay couples can adopt in over 20 states and single parent adoption is legal across the nation, meaning gay couples can raise children across the country but only one of the two can legally be the parent.
For revisionist marriage to be the law of the land, it would need to extend to all groups of people who desire to spend their lives together and share the burdens and blessings of domestic life. It is less of a contract for the protection of some special interest (children) and more of a legal recognition of a meaningful relationship between two or more people.
But before we start taking sides, we have to realize that the question is not about “which of these reflects my marriage or what I want my future marriage to be?” The discussion is about which of these should our society recognize as marriage in the law. Although I plan for my marriage to reflect all of the beauty and awesomeness of the conjugal, sacramental ideal of marriage, I’m not sure if our country can handle conjugal marriage as the law of the land. We are a nation that, in general, doesn’t know how to love and turns to marriage for self-fulfillment rather than for self-gift. I believe that in a country battered by the consequences of the sexual revolution, suffering from an addiction to pornography, contraception, and pre-marital sex, and with a divorce rate around 50%, and the sixth highest in the world, we can’t realistically hold everyone to the incredibly high standard of conjugal, spousal love, especially since it seems like a majority of Americans don’t want it anyway. For better or worse (probably worse) marriage has been an adult centered rather than a child centered institution at least since no-fault divorce became the law of the land, and I don’t see very many people actually wanting to undo that redefinition of marriage.
I think it would make things a lot easier if we recognized that we are using the same word to talk about two different things, just as I can use the same word to say how much I love me a deep dish, meat lovers pizza, as I will use to tell my future wife on our wedding day that I love her.
Unfortunately, no one wants to talk about definitions because as a whole the marriage debate has degenerated into large-scale name calling similar to the behavior that I thought people had grown out of when we outgrew our elementary school playgrounds.
The pro gay marriage side I feel is the worst about this, but the traditional marriage camp isn’t a whole lot better. Many of the talking points of gay marriage activists seem to revolve around telling their opponents that they are bigots and hate all gay people, even though a majority of them have close friends and family members who are gay who they love very much. It’s offensive and shuts down successful dialog. It also is about as unfair to them as it is for a pro-lifer to call all abortion supporters racist eugenicists. Sure, there are pro-abortion people who promote abortion as a means to keep the poor and ethnic minorities from reproducing (such as the founder of Planned Parenthood herself, Margaret Sanger, who believed that lighter-skinned races were superior to darker-skinned races and advocated coercion to prevent the “undeniably feeble-minded” from procreating in her book The Pivot of Civilization), just as there are supporters of traditional marriage who don’t want gays to get married because they are sinful sodomites who are damned to hell and don’t deserve a lick of love or respect from anyone, much less the government.
But they both represent a small minority, and characterizing an entire population of people based on the worst among them does a disservice to everyone and prevents the two camps from engaging each other in discussion.
With that being said, the traditional marriage supporters are allowing themselves to stoop to the same level, stating that gay couples will be bad parents and that they are trying to deprive children of the right to a biological mother and father. This guy has a good idea of what’s going on and what needs to change. In an effort to defend love, Christians all over the place have forgotten about the call to love and show compassion that is the core of Christ’s message.
So here’s my challenge to you. Ask yourself, what does marriage actually mean, and what should it mean in the law? What laws regarding marriage would best serve the common good of our country? If you identify yourself as a supporter of marriage equality, take some time to learn about why your opponents think marriage is such a beautiful thing that needs to be defended. Also, think about why we have laws regarding marriage to begin with. Why is it in society’s best interest to support stable relationships? If you identify yourself as a supporter of traditional marriage, think about the plight of the homosexual community in the United States today. Think of what it would be like to walk in their shoes, or talk to a close friend or family member who is attracted to members of their sex and ask them about their life experiences. What are ways that you can make them feel more loved rather than isolated from others in their communities? I’d love to hear your thoughts.