The Real Defence of Marriage

One of the more interesting outcomes of the 2006 election was the approval in all states but one of amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It was interesting because it ostensibly bucked the leftward lurch of the rest of the election. (It also didn’t do much to prevent that either!) Those who propose such amendments define them as the “defence of marriage.” An act of that name was passed by Congress (now more than ever the opposite of progress) and signed into law by none other than President Bill Clinton in 1996. But courts in such places as Massachusetts and New Jersey have made electoral exercises such as these a necessity. The judiciary is the elites’ supermajority these days, and the loss of influence via judicial appointments at the Federal level is the greatest tragedy of this election. But, to be truthful, marriage has been under attack for a long time. Gay marriage is just one more step in a long term campaign to weaken civil marriage. Up until now we have the following attacks:

  • Allowing conjugal relations outside of marriage. According to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, conjugal relations are one reason for marrying. By allowing these relations outside of marriage, two things are accomplished. The first is that it enables people to skip marriage if they want to have sex. The second is that we have to backtrack and define some sexual relations as unlawful and some as not, which is why we have the mess with relations between young people and adults that we do. Once you breach the boundary of marriage, any boundary you set–and that includes sodomy–is strictly artificial and a function of the taste of the moment. We discussed this earlier in the context of the Mark Foley fiasco.
  • “No-fault” divorce. This was hailed as a great legal step forward when it was legalised, but easy exit marriage debased the institution in an enormous way. It was supposed to be liberating for everyone, but women have taken the hardest blow from it; it’s just too easy for a guy to skip out on his obligations. At this point the only meaningful impediments to divorce are the financial obligations imposed at dissolution such as alimony (which doesn’t exist everywhere,) child custody/support and the division of property.
  • Requiring equal status for illegitimate children. This is one of those things that looks great on paper but has some unintended consequences. It may not be fair to those who came into this world under a cloud not of their own making, but doing this simply opens the door for people to have children without a spouse (and more often than not without the means to raise them properly.) We have added injury to insult in this matter by wasting precious courtroom time on parental rights for those who didn’t bother to get married but suddenly want all of the rights of fatherhood or motherhood of a child they had little interest in before.

All of these things have weakened civil marriage as an institution. Today marriage is perceived as a burden by many, which is one reason why we see so much shacking up these days. Take the issue of children. It’s almost easier under our topsy-turvy legal system for a guy to have a child out of wedlock and then to assert parental rights than to marry someone only to lose them in a divorce. Anyone who gives some thought to an attempt to undo the weakening changes above will realise that such an effort is probably beaten from the start. Even most Christians would probably balk at such a campaign. That being the case, the current “defence of marriage” effort isn’t so much an effort to preserve marriage as a “last stand” effort to keep it from being wiped out.

So what is to be done? There are two things that Christian churches can do to address this situation. The first is to require Christian married couples to take a serious look at what they are doing when they get married. Pre-marital counselling is common in evangelical churches but its application is uneven. Christian churches also need to think seriously about what they tell couples after they are married. One thing that would help is for “marriage experts” to stop panderning to modernist self-actualisation expectations and to encourage couples to adopt realistic expectations of life in general and marriage in particular.

The second is to start making a distinction between Christian marriage and marriage in general. This exposes a key weakness in evangelical churches: they are too dependent upon the state to define what constitutes marriage. This is one reason why they are forced to fight the battles they do. For example, Christians may not be doing themselves a favour by opposing civil unions (in general.) If the state simply went to civil unions entirely, the churches could concentrate on building up relationships that really reflected the relationship between Christ and his church rather than had proper legal status, because the two would have a clear distinction.

Christians have forgotten that, when God himself married the first couple in the garden, he did not need to good offices of the state to formalise the relationship. The family predates the state, and Christian churches’ unthinking assent to civil marriage as the definition of this central divine institution is an abrogation of the purpose the church was put here to accomplish in the first place. Although Christians have been remarkably successful in “defending marriage,” the unacceptable divorce rate for Christians and the possibility that left-wing elitists will use their disproportionate influence in society to advance their idea should be a continuing warning that simply defending things the way they are may not insure their perpetuation in the future.