Ok; I’m not an idiot. I do realize that marriage envisioned as I’ve outlined it, is becoming something of an endangered species. Recently, CBS marked Valentine’s Day by pleading against conceiving of marriage as wed’lock’; and just last week I saw Sara Gilbert express the prevalent view when she asked why anyone should throw away a life of happiness over a promise?
In the minds of most, marriage is (despite the vows that are actually made) a contingent arrangement, which is entered into for the purpose of individual personal fulfillment and sexual expression and whose very legitimacy depends on the presence of romantic affection. ‘Marriage’ means pretty much the opposite of what it has always meant. This is to say that in the minds of most, the institution of marriage is already dead as an institution.
The result can be seen in the broken families of our community, and the effects of that sort of experimentation with human formation are just as apparent in our society. Marriage as an institution was created to answer a real need. When the institution goes away, the need is left unanswered.
But the point of this letter is to acknowledge that if this is what we as a society mean by ‘marriage,’ then I see no reason not to extend it to whomever feels a romantic attraction for another and wishes to express their current conviction about the route that their personal fulfillment must take.
That seems clear, and fair.
It also seems clear to me that conservatives who wish to denigrate same sex couples, while subscribing to the revisionary conception of marriage which the same sex couple wishes to enter into have little ground to stand on.
Apart from simple bigotry, the principled embrace of casual sex and the growing Divorce Culture necessarily involves the legitimacy of Same Sex Marriage. This is because all three share the same vision regarding the purpose and definition of ‘marriage.’
And so this is why we find ourselves where we do: in a discussion about equality and rights. We are dealing with the concept of marriage in most people’s heads- not the institution of marriage enshrined in our law.
It’s a problem that the two diverge. The current struggle is an attempt to reunite them…the disagreement is over how this is to be accomplished.
I have a concluding point, but before I make it I want to say that behind all of these innovations (premarital sex and divorce are hardly innovations, but in the past they were lamented because society understood that people get hurt. The reality of divorce is a necessary grace in our fallen world, but it was also seen as a failure with significant consequences) is the elevation of Romantic Love. This is a good thing in so far (according to my Xian interpretation) Romantic Love enables us to see specific persons with all the value, which their humanity affords. In reality, all of Adam’s sons and Eve’s daughters are worthy of adoration. Eros makes that clear to us about a particular human being. Even Hitler was loved by Eva Braun. But Eros is not worthy of worship. He is fickle. He is incapable of providing neither personal fulfillment; nor a continuing foundation for society; and so those who spend their lives in pursuit of him find themselves without a home… or a family. As wonderful as the god’s visitations are, chasing ‘true love’ isn’t the way to happiness or human flourishing. You don’t have to take my word for it. Look around.
In the end this is a failure of imagination. We are unable to see the beauty of fidelity and domesticity- of dishes, and diapers, companionship and warm familiar softness. We’ve traded that for the pursuit of continual roses, horse drawn carriages and breathless passion. Kids, there’s a lot more dishes than carriages in life. If your happiness depends on candlelight, then you’re screwed. I have the electric bills to prove it. The truth is that you can still have the breathless stuff occasionally with a committed relationship, but it doesn’t work the other way around. ‘Always breathless’ is just another way of saying ‘dead.’ And… there are always others along for the ride. Always.
Its possible to say ‘no’- even to Eros, even while appreciating his caress. Can we imagine that doing so can truly be the more beautiful thing?
To say that the imagination of most is immature and shriveled isn’t to endorse the situation; and to say that we have a problem with imagination isn’t to say that we ought to bring our legal code down to meet it.
Marriage as an institution still exists, and there are those who still see the beauty of a committed, loving faithfulness… for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. It is beautiful. It’s as beautiful as your mother, and the gift she is to each of us. You don’t have that gift because your Daddy is a virtual Don Juan. Nor do you have it because there aren’t admirers crossing your hot mother’s path. We have that gift because your mother loves you and your Dad… just as she promised to.
Love you all.
Letter I– The Discussion
Letter II– Equality
Letter III– Institutions
Letter IV– Human Stuff
Letter V– Children, Love and Sexual Restraint
Letter VI– What I Meant to Say
Letter VIII– Why I’m Not Straight and Hope You Aren’t Either