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March 15, 2004

Marriage Is Not What You Think

Marriage is not what you think it is, marriage is what you get when you raise children. Donald Sensing gives us something to think about. I'll begin with this insight:

Elements of marriage such as property rights and the like do not centrally define what marriage is. Indeed, the historical and present record shows that such matters have varied widely across human cultures and experience. The wife as an equal partner is a modern development, but its lack in other times and places does not obviate the essential character of marriage, the procreation of the next generation. The various legal and social rights and recognitions that pertain to married couples are the result, not the cause, of marriage, intended to buttress its central purpose. Therefore, they are added or discarded inasmuch as they do so, though not without other influences as well. Thus, the legal rights and social claims of married partners are incidental, not essential, to defining what marriage is.

Sensings conclusions only seem reactionary when taken out of the context of his thinking, which I find not only logical but compelling. Someone somewhere said I sounded like this guy, but I had not much read his blog. I'm finding quite a bit to like, especially this about Jesus.

Back to Marriage. I had started somewhere down the road about Marriage gaining its specialness inherent in the notion of the committment required of couples in full anticipation of rearing children, but stopped short of prohibitions against same sex couple raising kids. (emphasis added)

The central proposition to the institution of marriage which makes it more than just a relationship is its aspect of permanent commitment the basis of which is central to family. This is the essence of what is sacred and critical of Marriage, without which it is nothing more than a formal acknowledge of a relationship between people. So it is not religion that makes marriage sacred though we refer to it as Holy Matrimony, rather it is the transcendent aspect of love embodied in the ideals of Marriage that gives religion appropriates as a sacrament. That is why Marriage is universal and religious rites center on its transcendant aspects the most important of which are permanence and fidelity.

When I say 'central to family' I mean it in the context of the understanding that the Wedding Vow althought it denotes the love between two, connotes the role of parents. DINKs are Marriage Lite. Voluntarily sterile DINKs are life partners for sure, but that's not what we mean by marriage. If it were nothing more than a blessing on a 'significant relationship' then we'd respect the host of the Dating Game (or any of its variants) as much as ministers who marry.

Sensing, dispatches with love rather quickly, and I think he does so to his credit. When reviewing my writing, I see that I'm trying to accomodate the loving aspect of both Matrimony and Civil Unions, and that is what puts them on a more or less equivalent basis. But I know that it's true that it is the commitment to raising children that makes Marriage special even though it's not explicitly emphasized in the Rite of Holy Matrimony.

I've also accomodated the need for the state to have an interest in social stability, but does that really matter when it comes to domestic partnerships that don't involve children? Not much relatively speaking.

So on the whole, in light of Sensing's clarity, I think I've put a bit too much emphasis on the romantic aspects of Marriage, which I think makes me rather typical. I stand corrected.

Posted by mbowen at March 15, 2004 11:05 AM

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Maybe it's not what YOU mean by marriage, but don't throw me ito your category. I think that raising kids is just as noble a goal as deciding to just live your life without kids and be happy. Upset people, whether or not they are above age 18, add to the general quality of life in a neighborhood. I am amazed that you are professing belief in this silliness. What are we, some ancient African tribe? Marriage has traditionally been not a way to raise children, but a way for men to get regular sex, and for women to not be forced to raise children on their own. Kids happen. But people marry because they want to have sex without destroying their lives. Are they part of the equation now? Yeah. But how many guys would rather not have it that way? Quite a few. And the further back in history you go, the clearer it is. Except in the south, where men could get their rocks off by fucking the slaves. Marriage is an economic agreement. Or it has been, historically. All this love and marriage and the sanctity of children stuff is something that we read in a fairytale or saw in some hollywood somethign or other and confused with the way things are.

Posted by: TLL at March 16, 2004 06:25 AM

No, buggery has been a traditional way for men to get regular sex and not be bothered with women or children. That's one of the main attractions.

In either case, the question is what is more important between raising children and having sex. Simple.

The question of whether or not one decides to have children 'to be happy' is irrelevant to what is most important about marriage. As anyone who is married with children will tell you, the most important thing is raising the children. That is not to say that people who get married in order to declare themselves exlusively and publicly dedicated to each other doesn't have value, but that not the same level of commitment.

Take a perfect second marriage, for example. Joe got married when he was 23, had 5 kids and divorced after 23 years of marriage. He moved out of the home and 10 years later at the age of 56 married another woman. She too had finished raising her kids. Is this the same kind of marriage as the first? No. That doesn't make it any less important to them, but it's not the same kind of marriage and it is not nearly as important as their first marriages.

The way to think about this is to ask which is more difficult for all concerned, the getting and giving of sex without marriage or the raising of children without marriage.

Posted by: Cobb at March 16, 2004 09:03 AM

Yes, but buggery still leads to mixups with women and children unless one is on the Down Low. See: Dangerous Liaisons and Moll Flanders.

Your example would be a sound one if it weren't for the fact that second marriage are FUNDAMENTALLY different from second marriages. I've had quite a few bosses in my time, and they have all said this. Second marriages have separate retirement accounts, for example, separate almost everything. They just aren't as dedicated. Of course, what I say must be taken with a pile of salt, since I'm not married and have no children.

I don't think the question of "happiness" is irrelevant to the discussion of what is most important about marriage. It seems to me that when folks talk about the importance of children to marriage, they are talking really about a host of other things, like the addition to society of new, healthy members. In other words, adding to the common good. I am broady defining "adding to the common good" as "happiness." Because the same people who are unhappy, and insist on damaging themselves and the people around them, are doing some form of damage to the children around them, whether or not they are from that child's home.

Is raising children without marriage more difficult than having sex without marriage? I don't see why that's a relevant question. Buying a house is less difficult when you are married, too, but that doesn't mean that the point of marriage is to buy a house.

by the by -- I'm from a single-parent home, and I am doing better financially, emotionally, physically, and socially than a lot of my two-parent-home friends. So another big pile of salt to consider there. I simply do not buy what you are saying.

Posted by: TLL at March 17, 2004 08:02 AM

Oh yeah -- and what about gay parents who adopt?

Posted by: TLL at March 17, 2004 12:20 PM

I'm very much pro-gay marriage, and find the clinging to a specific definition of "what marriage is about" to be futile and foolish. What appeals to me about Donald Sensing's larger argument is that he says, "Look, conservatives-- we already lost this fight long ago. Once people gained the ability to divorce sex from its consequences through birth control, etc., any necessary connection between marriage, sex, love, children, etc. was broken."

Where I disagree with Sensing is on whether this is a good or bad thing. To me, it's perfectly fine. Sensing's a conservative Christian, so naturally, this isn't fine-- it's "against the will of God."

But Sensing's approach gets my respect because it's empirical. He's looking at the situation as it is, not wasting his time pining for how it should be, or making useless declarations about what marriage is or isn't.

My own point of view is very Buddhist on this: marriage is a term describing a reality in flux. You cannot reduce marriage to a so-called set of "essentials." To declare, as Keith Burgess-Jackson does on his philosophy blog, that marriage is "essentially" about children, may reflect past history but says nothing about whether marriage will continue to be this way. Sensing steps in and makes an empirical observation: "Folks, the reality underlying the term 'marriage' HAS MOVED. Deal with that."

I've seen, on your blog, the notion that marriage is "ordained of God." I think that's fine as a religious belief and I wouldn't want to take that from you, even though I disagree because I'm a nontheist. I think what Sensing offers to conservatives is a proper way of viewing the situation: beginning with the empirical and proceeding pragmatically from there, instead of beginning with an indefensible "ought"-stance that has little chance of convincing anyone.

Insistence on what marriage is and isn't is what Buddhists would call "attachment to name and form"-- a classic type of attachment, and debilitating. The best cure is true, direct seeing. I don't think Rev. Sensing is a Zennist in any formal sense (despite his blog's name), but he at least sees this situation directly and truly.


Posted by: Kevin Kim at March 17, 2004 12:20 PM

You cannot be a Buddhist without understanding and conforming to the Buddhist way of seeing things. I've read Karen Armstrong's book on Buddha, does that make me a Buddhist? I see things in a Buddhist way when that way explains things best, but does that make me a Buddhist? No.

When I say 'ordained of God' I mean that in the context of Holy Matrimony, not marriage in the commonly understood way. As well I believe that religions appropriate the value of marriage for their own purposes. I say marriage is ordained of God, just as one could say Relativity is Einstein's idea. It is not really, Einstein merely correctly and properly understood what is right and true of nature. He articulated it in an unambiguous way through the discipline of scientific language and it resulted in the exalted Theory. I am saying this of Holy Matrimony. It is something right and true of nature that various religions have independently verified and they have exalted it through the discipline of theological thought.

What activists for the gay cause are trying to do is overload and/or water down what is meant by marriage, codified in Holy Matrimony, for their own special purposes. I say that it belongs under a separate theory because what is implicit in Marriage is the special responsibilty accorded to the raising of children.

Sensing cops out in an American way I think (if he is copping out at all instead of snidely protesting - certainly he wouldn't disavow his own marriage because of the existence of contraception) because he assumes that the technology changes the value. He accepts the inevitability of contraception in decisions to marry, whereas the Roman Catholic Church does not. This is like bringing a submachine gun to all fights and saying that the value of martial arts and hand to hand combat is meaningless and so are the codes of honor attached to them. What Sensing concedes for conservatives allows hypocrisy. I suggest that the way of the warrior, and similarly the way of traditional Marriage is not dead and remains instructive. I think the burden is on certain feminists in their reconciliation with motherhood to prove how liberating the 'sexual liberation' afforded by the advancing technology of contraception actually is.

Where are the eunuchs in all this?

As for gay couples who adopt children? They fall under the category of foster parents. So what?

Posted by: cobb at March 17, 2004 03:38 PM