Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marriage - what is it?

The comments on my previous post didn't really deal with the difference between fact (what we perceive to be) and truth (what does that mean). They dealt with marriage and what constitutes marriage.

For Christians living in the United States, there are two different kinds of "marriage." The first is legal marriage - marriage recognized by the state. This is where the state recognizes that the two (for now) people have entered into a special relationship where they share power of attorney and rights of survivorship. Spouses inherit without paying inheritance taxes (again, for now) and there are many legal benefits that a spouse enjoys (such as joint ownership of property aquired during the marriage, etc.)

There is also the religious marriage - or for you catholic types out there, the Sacrament of Marriage. I will discuss the religious aspects of marriage in another post. This post will be concerned simply with the secular institution of marriage.

Right now, both forms of marriage are under attack - primarily by heterosexuals who desire sexual freedom, but still want society's sanction for their lives.

So, what is marriage and why should the State give special priveleges to married couples
Marriage is supposed to be the life long union of husband and wife. Even civil marriages assume (or they used to assume) that the union was going to be life long. It was never designed to be "two people who love each other" or a temporary ("starter") union.

So why do I say that marriage is under attack? It is not under attack because of "gay marriage." Gay marriage is the result of downfall and failure of our culture to understand marriage, not the cause of the downfall of marriage.

Today almost 40% of all births occur outside of marriage and approx 50% of marriages end in divorce (this includes 2nd and 3rd marriages that have a much higher failure rate than 1st marriages).

We have changed marriage from a lifelong commitment to live together in sickness and health, till death do us part into a temporary commitment that we keep until a better offer comes along. We have changed the definition of "love" from caring for the other in good times and in bad times to an fleeting emotion of affection that affirms our personhood and contributes to our self-perceived psychological health. Anything that causes us to think less of ourselves can be (and should be) jetisoned from our lives like so much garbage.

We have turned marriage into a temporary partnership - much like a limited liability corporation where any party can leave the partnership at will - and, if you have a good enough lawyer - take the majority of the assets of the partnership with you!

I believe that it has been the unintended consequence of "no fault divorce" that led to the downfall of marriage as an institution. Our society now sees marriage as just another disposable item that can be discarded the moment it no longer meets our needs.

The natural consequence of marriage being disposable is that it is no longer really held in high regard. Too many in society simply don't care.

Into this culture comes the request of homosexual men and women to also have marriages where the state grants all the rights that they grant heterosexuals in marriage. With how our society now views "marriage" this is not unreasonable. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable.
So, why does the State give benefits to marriage? The State gives special privileges to married couples for two reasons. First, the family that starts out with husband and wife is (generally) the best place to raise children. Put in biological terms, the institution of marriage evolved as a trade off. The husband and wife promised mutual sexual fidelity to each other as a way of caring for the children and for the husband to insure that the children he provided for were his. This arrangement goes far back into time. The second reason is that stable partnerships are of great benefit to society. Health and wealth and happiness are all higher among married couples (especially long term married couples) than they are among similarly aged single or divorced persons. Society functions better when its members are happier, wealthier, and healthier. This alone should be a good reason for society to encourage (e.g. provide benefits for) marriage.

What I would like to see is for marriage to regain its place as a life long union - where it is difficult to get a divorce and where no-fault divorce is not allowed. Apart from this, the state could offer a "civil partnership" where any number (why should partners be restricted to two?) of adults can join in this partnership and gain some limited benefits - such as power of attorney, the right to inherit without taxes, the right to be covered by employer health insurance, etc. It should be rather easy to join into a CP and rather easy to get out of one.

Phil Snyder


Jim said...

Hi Phil,

Surprise, I agree with much of your post. I am not sure marriage is under attack as much as it is dying of indifference.

I am not sure I agree with the premise you advance that married people are better off and that therefore society has a basis to privilege marriage. It might equally be that a tradition of privilege has led to the benefits you observe.

Given the rise of Islam in America, I think we do need to consider new ways for our law to address multi-party marriages. Either that or we have to take the ABC's view that we will inevitably internalize some aspects of Sharia.


plsdeacon said...

Hi Jim,

I take your point about correlation and causation between the wealth, happiness, and health of married people and the privileges that married people enjoy in the USA. But it makes sense to believe that marriage is the cause of the personal benefits, not the legal status of marriage.

I've been married to my wife for almost 22 years. I can't imagine life without her. She cares for me and I care for her and I always know that there is someone else looking out for me and my best interests and so does my wife. That bond has allowed us to pool resources and not hold back on commitments out of fear of the other person leaving. This safety and attitude help each other become wealthier and healthier and happier. I can say that I am as happy or happier now than I have ever been in my life and I am much happier than I was when I was single.

Phil Snyder

Man's Man said...


If the new Prayer Book can italicize the pronouns in the ordination rites, it can and must, a fortiori, italicize the pronouns in the wedding rites.

The New Testment is explicitly adamant on the point of male-only ordination. The Episcopal Church has "discerned a more inclusive way" and sets aside the plain prohibition in favor of "justice."

By the identical process, males must be allowed to marry males sacramentally. Inclusive ways for the goose are inclusive ways for the gander.

The idea that you or your ilk can pronounce on public policy is so silly I won't engage it. Obviously, gay civil marriage is essential under the terms of all of America's founding documents.

According to the Book of Common Prayer, it is also essential in theological terms.

Gosh, this isn't even algebra, it's just simple addition of one-digit numbers.

plsdeacon said...

Your comment is so full of non-sequitors that I don't know where to begin.

But since the original post is about civil marriage, let's start with that. It seems odd to me that only now, after over 200 years of living under the same constitution, we are only now seeing that "Obviously, gay civil marriage is essential under the terms of all of America's founding documents." Let's look at your words.
"Obviously" - this is a word used to shut down conversation and dialog. It indicates that if you disagree, you must be lacking in mental abilities.
"Essential" - this means that we cannot exist without gay marriage. History has proven you false since Western Civilization has existed for some 2500 years without gay marriage

Next, Please be respectful in your tone to anyone on this blog. "The idea that you or your ilk can pronounce on public policy is so silly I won't engage it." This is a very disrespectful tone as it tells me you consider me to be less than human and not an citizen of the United States. Any citizen in the US is allowed to pronounce on public policy. I guess that only allowing those that agree with your position to pronounce on public policy is also "essential under the terms of all of America's founding documents."

If you cannot discuss ideas and give evidence, then I will have to put comments into moderation and remove yours.

Phil Snyder

Dale Matson said...

Let's say for the sake of argument that "civil partnerships" qualify the participants for employer health insurance. Would you as an employer want to hire a man with 20 wives and have all of them on your health policy? What about the kids too?

plsdeacon said...

I think it would be up to each employer to determine who is or is not covered by health insurance. The employer could determine (under my scheme) to cover only married persons or only one spouse. Likewise, the employer may say that they will cover multiple partners, but only subsidize that coverage in a very minor way.

Of course, I tend to be somewhat of a libertarian when it comes to government mandating what empoloyers can or cannot offer their empolyees.

Phil Snyder