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Reflections on Ethics 21
Myths About Marriage

by PsiCop

A discussion on this Reflection has been opened in Debate and Discourse. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts for publication via the contact page.

The current furor in the US over “gay marriage” has brought to light a number of assumptions, or axioms, about marriage. People simply accept them as true, even though they are not, or are not demonstrable. Sadly, they use these as the foundation of their beliefs about marriage; they proceed to demand that public policy reflect those beliefs, even if those beliefs are built on fallacious thinking.

Assumption #1: Marriage, as an institution, is solely for the raising of families.

While marriage does aid in the raising of children, that is not, and never has been, its sole purpose. While humans have been mating since prehistoric times, in at least some cases for life, and have raised children as couples, marriage has actually served many different purposes through history. For instance, in ancient Rome, most marriages were arranged so as to create inter-family alliances. Among the aristocracy, this was often done for political advantage; among the lower classes, it was done so as to share resources. This social-utilitarian use of marriage, in fact, is found in many cultures, through history; in the US, when immigrants were streaming into the country, and ethnic groups settled in their own neighborhoods, much the same was done, in order to foster a stronger bond among that group.

Next, this view implies that it’s the duty of all married couples to have children; to be married, and not have children, flies directly in the face of marriages supposed “purpose.” Childless married couples, by this logic, are “mocking” marriage! No one seriously proposes that such a mandate be enacted; hence, the axiom that marriage is solely for the raising of families, falls apart on this point, alone.

Axiom #2: Marriage is a sacred institution.

This has been true, sporadically. Prior to Christianity, in some places, marriage had religious overtones. In ancient Egypt, for instance, the Pharaoh and his primary wife were seen as reflections of the goddess Isis and god Osiris. In ancient Sumer, the new-year was ushered in by a “sacred marriage” ritual, apparently involving the priest-king of a city, and a high priestess; they were associated with the goddess Inanna and her paramour Dumuzi. It would be quite a stretch, however, to seen that all marriages, or marriage in general, was seen as being divine in nature.

In the western world, marriage wasn’t accepted as truly “sacred” until the Council of Trent (1545-63) formally declared it a Church sacrament. Prior to that, it did have some religious overtones: Jesus addresses it in the gospels, and Paul explains that the relationship of a husband to a wife is similar to that between Christ and the church). Despite this, it was not truly the purview of the Church, and was seen as primarily secular in nature. (Martin Luther, for instance, referred to marriage as “a worldly thing,” comparing it to food, clothing, etc. For him, it was simply an ordinary, everyday thing.)

As a matter of fact, Paul also upheld celibacy — not marriage! — as a spiritual ideal; and the hermetic, monastic, and mendicant movements all held celibacy as superior to the married life. The First and Second Lateran Councils (1123, 1139) forced all priests to be celibate. The Council of Trent explicitly stated that celibacy was spiritually superior to being married.

Prior to Trent, marriage was primarily a legal, not religious, distinction, a type of contract between two parties. Following Trent, this remained the case. Various parties, such as judges, mayors, justices of the peace, etc. have been permitted to marry people, in addition to clergy.

Given all of this, there’s no logical way one can conclude that marriage is “sacred.” Certainly, it hasn’t always seen this way; in fact, historically speaking, this is the “minority view.”

Axiom #3: Marriage can be “damaged,” and therefore must be “defended.”

I admit to not understanding this one, at all. If one means that it can be mocked, that is definitely the case. As noted above, depending on how one looks at it, each childless marriage is a mockery. So, too, is every divorce that ever happened; in fact, the greatest mockery of marriage that I can think of, lies in the incredibly-high divorce rate. Britney Spears’s recent publicity-stunt wedding is also a mockery of marriage.

Other than this, I don’t know how marriage could possibly be “harmed” — and I equally fail to see any way that such mockery can ever be prevented, at least reasonably. Do we outlaw divorce? Do we mandate that all married couples have children? If we aren’t prepared to do either of these things, then any other means of “defending” marriage seem downright paltry, or simply useless!

Axiom #4: No one can make me accept “gay marriage”!

This one is easy. Yes, it’s very true. No one can “make” anyone accept a marriage that they’re opposed to. This is nothing new. How many families have ever objected to their children’s choices of mates? How many families have been torn apart by members marrying outside their ethnic group, faith, etc.? This happens all the time. It also causes untold misery … for everyone involved. Do you really want to be the author of conflict and acrimony, over something which isn’t yours to control?

Axiom #5: “Gay marriage” is just the latest attempt by secularists to banish religion in America.

Sigh. If you wish to be paranoid, there’s not much I can say, which will help you. This axiom, which has no real evidence to uphold it — it’s simply an interpretation of what’s going on and not factual in nature — basically ends all discussion of the topic. Those who hold to it, are mandated, by it, never to consider anything which runs counter to it … as this would necessitate giving in to those “evil secularists.”

In other words, it’s the mental equivalent of a vault door being shut and locked, keeping one’s mind closed, forever.

The Bottom Line

Marriage is a social convention. As such, it exists to serve the needs of society. Society does not exist to serve it. Presuming that marriage is some sort of metaphysical entity, somewhere “out there,” which imposes itself upon us, is simply ludicrous. As society’s needs change, its concept of marriage must change with it. This is only natural. It’s happened many times in history, and it will continue to happen, in the future. Attempting to stand in the way of societal dynamics, is foolish, as in the end, it cannot work.