March 26, 2013

Love and Marriage

After listening to a Catholic priest -- mind you, this is a man dedicated to living a celibate life -- expound on the virtues of marriage and procreation, I thought, well, who could be more authoritative than that?  He argued that marriage is all about having children, which is why only a man and a woman can meet the basic qualifications. That got me to thinking about a piece I wrote in 1999, about love and marriage and what that means to different people in different places in their lives. I thought I would reprint part of the original essay and let you decide for yourself how you would answer the question I raise at the end.

Marriage is one those areas where there are both civil and religious laws at work. Each Church has its own ideas on what constitutes a valid marriage, but they generally recognize marriages performed by other religions, kind a reciprocity agreement. Churches also recognize that the State has a role to play. You must have a marriage license issued by the State, although many States recognize common law marriages, which are just two people living together. A judge may perform a wedding that is as legal as a church wedding.

When a relationship ends, the same intermingling of religious and civil laws prevails. The Catholic Church does not permit divorce. The State and most of the other religions do. The churches generally don't involve themselves with the property aspects of a separation and divorce. The State does. Issues involving child custody in the wake of a divorce are resolved in the Courts. (All this of course is written in a Western context. Some countries have adopted religious law as their civil law.)

So there are major differences in how civil and religious laws treat marriage and divorce. That brings us back to the topic of gay marriage. How wrong would it be if the State was to accept a variation on marriage that is not accepted by most religious groups? This kind of disparity already exists in other areas, so the principle is not at issue. What is at issue is the specific idea of gay marriages. And at the root of this is the very idea of marriage.

Marriage is more than just having kids and raising a family. This Darwinian view of marriage focuses on ensuring the success of the next generation. There is more to it than that. Many marriages are childless. Many marriages have kids but then the kids move out, leaving the parents as empty-nesters. A spouse may die, and the remaining spouse may remarry. Are those marriages somehow diminished because procreation is no longer in the picture?

Marriages move and grow through time, because each person in the marriage is undergoing changes and movement through time. The older one gets, the more one appreciates the strength that comes from having a companion to share the ups and downs of life with. Those kind of issues are completely different from those facing couples who are just starting out or who are in the middle of raising families, the issues that are behind most of the laws set forth in the religious and civil arenas.

At some point, though, the simple human need to have a companion, someone to share life's ups and downs, someone to grow old with, that need has its own validity. Does sexual proclivity seem all that important then? If two people want to celebrate that relationship through a civil marriage, is it so wrong for the State to do that? Is it right to insist that the State disenfranchise that group of people solely on the basis of a religious belief, especially when the State already contravenes other religious beliefs concerning marriage?

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