Much has been said about marriage of late, the right to marry whom we choose regardless of gender, the right to live as man and wife outside of marriage, the right to dissolve a marriage for any reason.
As my husband and I celebrate our thirty-first anniversary, it is difficult not to hear these wailings all around us. But these “rights” dilute my idea of marriage, encourage me to see myself as an isolated individual with no effect upon society.
This is a fallacy, the “isolated individual with no effect on society.” My story, my life, affects those around me; every person’s life has such an effect. Indeed, as John Donne said, “No man is an island.” We are responsible to and for one another in many, many ways. But probably the most powerful way is how we value marriage.
I have come to see through the years that marriage is both a religious rite and a social rite. The role of Church and Temple have clearly defined marriage before God as a joining of two persons in one flesh, a joining that creates a third person, to form family; marriage is and has been so ordained since Eden and reaffirmed by Christ. Unions outside of marriage are considered outside God’s law, against God’s created order and thus a direct hindrance to happiness.
Let me first admit (full disclosure) that my present marriage is a second one, and that I have not always acted in accordance with God’s law, I have sinned and will sin again, no doubt. We fall, others fall around us, and our world is riddled with the pain and suffering of Adam and Eve. As a Christian, however, I confess and am redeemed; God picks me up and I try once again to live and love as he would have me live and love.
Marriage is, as God knows in his infinite wisdom, a proper concern of government. Marriage is a public matter, one that determines the future of the nation. Children thrive in traditional families, raised by a father and a mother in a committed relationship, publicly declared in the marriage ceremony. The State has an interest in the next generation – their health, their knowledge of right and wrong, their courage to fight for the State against foreign powers, their ability to teach these national needs to their children, the next generation. The State expresses this self-interest in its definition of marriage. It says, we will support and encourage this relationship through tax codes, through various benefits. We will support this definition of family because it will mean less crime on our streets, less welfare, less dependency on our national health systems.
Since the birth control pill became available marriage has been under attack. One could say it has always been under attack, which is true, since marriage requires sacrifice and selflessness, not mankind’s strong suits. But this little pill, produced for us in the ‘sixties, defined recreation, not procreation, as the primary goal of sexual union. If it feels good, do it, a slogan soon repeated in many areas of our culture, like a spreading cancer. Take what you want when you want it. At first the ramifications of the pill weren’t obvious to many of us, for didn’t we now have control over our bodies? Wasn’t it a good thing that we could plan our families (and careers)? But the slide soon began, the slippery slope of sexual freedom.
Soon followed no-fault divorce, something I will admit I found useful at the time, but something that weakened marriage further. Now the State stated that marriage was a flimsy thing and not so important after all – if a couple disagrees, they should split. Adultery was understandable, for the demands of “being in love” triumphed over the sacrifice of committed love.
After several generations of children raised with one parent, we find crime increased, school scores historically low, obesity raging and leading to other epidemics that will drown our health care system.
So marriage was in bad shape long before it was challenged by questions of gender. Even so, the government’s redefinition of marriage, passed in numerous states, may be the death blow to a future peaceful society. The question is not, why not two men or two women, but rather, why not three and one, or four and three, or sisters and brothers, or fathers and daughters. Why not, as one of our Hollywood greats said a while back, he and his dog? (He answered his question by saying the only reason why not was the difficulty of determining consent with regards to the dog.)
Thirty-one years ago at St. Peter‘s Anglican Church in Oakland, California, I stepped up the red-carpeted aisle to marry the man I wanted to commit to for the rest of my life. I was thirty-four, a divorced single parent with a nine-year-old son, and I was going to try marriage again. So, before God and country, and before friends and family lining the eighty oak pews, I pledged my troth.
The State had an interest in my marriage. I don’t think I fully understood, in February of 1982, why later I paused in the narthex to sign papers to be filed with the State of California. I knew that my son needed a father and that I loved this man by my side, to whom I had pledged my troth through sickness and health. So I signed my name on the marriage documents that would be filed in Sacramento. But today I understand why those documents were important, why Sacramento was interested.
Thirty-one years later, my husband and I, now both gray and worn, stood in our oak pew in the same parish church and stepped out to the red-carpeted aisle. We walked toward the altar, meeting the priest at the chancel steps, under the flaming sanctus lamp. There, before our parish family, our new rector, representing the Church, blessed us, praying words of unifying strength, a re-affirmation of the importance of our marriage, ’til death do us part.
When I gather with my extended family at Christmas and Easter, I see a mini society. Our children are adults with children of their own, and some of those grandchildren now adults as well. I have come to appreciate what God’s law means to our world. For state-sanctioned traditional marriage ensures that we teach his law to future generations, that we ensure our children’s children’s children will know peace in their country, peace coming from the stability of the union of a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony.