Marriage and the Civil Society

In much of the recent public discourse about marriage one hears a good deal about the personal appurtenances and fringe benefits of marriage but never any meaningful discussion about the place of marriage in society as a whole. Yet how can a society define marriage by law without at least determining how the civil society in toto will best be served by such sanctioning of marriage by the state? Only after making such a determination should a society proceed to define the salient parameters of marriage, including who can and who cannot marry.

If, for example, a society chooses to define marriage as a civil sanctioning of a union of two people who have a strong attachment to each other for whatever reason, and nothing more, or if a society chooses to view the purpose of marriage as a means to enable two individuals who are committed to each other to have access to certain legally sanctioned fringe benefits, such as health insurance or inheritance of an estate, then obviously marriage between homosexuals should be legal. This of course is more or less the definition that the progressives put forth.

But if society chooses to define marriage as a union of individuals based solely upon mutual consent, gratification or benefit, then the obvious question follows: why just two? Why not three, or four? Why not polygamy, which is legal in many societies even now? Or why not incest, as was common among ancient Egyptian royalty?

If marriage is to be only about providing a legal construct for the union of two people for their mutual benefit and gratification, then why should a married couple have any rights to keep and raise children as opposed to the state deciding who is best suited to the task of child rearing, inasmuch as the raising of children is no longer a defining characteristic of marriage? Remember that once the state decides that the begetting and raising of children is not an essential attribute of marriage, but merely an accidental attribute, then the state becomes legally empowered to control the fate of children any time the state so wishes, since such state control over children will not violate the essential defining attribute of marriage legally guaranteed by the state.

If marriage is to be nothing more than the recognition of an abiding close commitment that two people have chosen to make toward one another, why should the state bother with a religiously inspired institution like marriage at all? Just set up laws that allow for individuals to designate whom they wish to name as their next of kin or "significant other" pro tempore with regard to certain legal or social necessities which depend upon such a designation, as well as laws which deal with any natural issue that might arise from such relationships. Leave the traditional institution of marriage to the realm of religion. After all, the secularist could easily make the point that the civil sanctioning of marriage represents an infringement of religion upon the secular society and violates the famous "separation of church and state" mantra so beloved by the left. As things presently stand, clergymen perform a religious ceremony which the state then recognizes as being legally binding upon the married person's status in civil society, a status which comprehends many legal responsibilities, benefits and preferences. From the point of view of the purely secular state, no religious ceremony or custom should have that type of authority in matters pertaining to the civil society. Is not such a mingling of the religious and profane spheres intolerable? No, better that the state be rid of that quaint religious institution of marriage, and thereby avoid the dreaded taint of religion in the secular state.

In antiquity, the purpose of marriage was to facilitate the legal transmission of property and the family line through the begetting of children by a legally married man and woman in accordance with long-established religious and civil norms (which in antiquity were nearly always inseparable) in order to ensure the stability of the social structure at large in perpetuity. This was the case even in societies, like ancient Greece, where bisexuality was openly and widely practiced. Under such circumstances, romantic love was rarely the major consideration in matters of marriage. Only the suitability of the spouse with regard to matters of transmission of property and the family name counted: the citizenship of the spouse, the spouse's wealth, the position of the spouse's family, the character of the spouse and potential for begetting and raising children, the wife's dowry, etc. Most marriages in antiquity seem to have been arranged marriages (at least as indicated by the surviving literature) and, as far as can be told, were no less successful than marriages based only upon affection.

The conception of marriage of the ancients is quite different from the modern notion of marriage based upon romantic love, whereby marriage is conceived of as a union of two people based upon mutual attraction stemming from emotional or physical needs. The unfortunate corollary of the modern view is that the conception of marriage may then be cast solely in terms of personal needs or gratification -- which inadvertently can open the door to all kinds of mischief, a mischief that is markedly compounded when a society also chooses to remove religion from the equation. I mention this point not in order to make the claim that the ancients were right and that we moderns are wrong, or vice versa, but only to indicate that many considerations contribute to the conception of what marriage is or should be, all of which ought to be understood fully when contemplating the role of marriage in a society.

The contrast between the characteristically ancient organic preoccupation with social obligations and responsibilities and the characteristically modern mechanical preoccupation with individual rights and self-expression is clearly reflected in the contrasting views concerning marriage mentioned above. But even in the context of a more individualistic view of marriage, modern man never wholly abandoned the conception of a nuclear and self-sufficient family as the fundamental stabilizing unit of society -- until now, when we are told by cutting-edge leaders and intellectuals that the essential purpose of marriage is not to stabilize society but to serve as a form of legal recognition of union set up for the mutual benefit and gratification of individuals. The social and in particular familial chaos that has resulted from this extremely individualistic, even anarchic, view conveniently plays right into the hands of the statists of the social welfare state who are more than happy to babysit, care for, educate, feed, and indoctrinate your child while you pursue your own personal desires and goals.

Here then is the crux of the matter: while the left is busy pushing gay marriage, it is simultaneously doing everything to undermine heterosexual marriage, because the family arising from heterosexual marriage represents an alternate source of authority to the state, which the statists will not tolerate. This weakening of the integrity of the traditional family, along with the removal of all religious sensibility from society, is the real reason why the progressives so strongly support gay marriage. Gay marriage supports and strengthens the statists' assault on the institution of traditional marriage. Based upon the present illegitimacy rate of forty percent in America and an even greater rate of divorce, it is clear that the statists are having a great deal of success in assaulting and undermining traditional marriage.

Paradoxically the push for gay marriage undermines the gay agenda because, if the gay lifestyle has its own intrinsic validity, as we are constantly being told, then why do homosexuals feel that they must define the way they conduct their lives by heterosexual standards and mores, such as marriage and child rearing? Does not this insistence by gay people to be entitled to conduct themselves in accord with heterosexual parameters confound all their talk about the unique or special qualities of the gay existence? Shouldn't gays be looking for solutions more in accord with their own lifestyle, rather than that of heterosexuals?

The amount of confusion that results from poorly understood or defined terms, purposes and goals is always considerable. To make sense of things clear thinking is required, terms must be precisely defined and the implications of decisions must be thoroughly understood. Should traditional marriage have a place in the civil society? What does the civil society wish to foster or gain by sanctioning the institution of marriage? What should the essential attributes of marriage be? Such matters must be discussed and settled before laws are written.

However, it is unlikely that such a discussion will ever be held, because a society that is poor in spirit will never be able to conceive of anything beyond its own immediate gratification.

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