Joy and Hope
August 16, 2008
Keeping our eyes fixed on marriage
Some years ago, during a meeting with a now-deceased member of the state Democratic caucus regarding a then-proposed measure to change the definition of marriage, the legislator shot back at me: “Well, without procreation, what would be the difference?”
I concurred and said that is precisely the defining difference. He then proceeded to talk about heterosexual couples who married without any serious intention or commitment — purely for convenience — compared to a homosexual couple who were committed to each other. To which I responded that the comparison between a dysfunctional relationship and a gay couple is fair to neither side of the argument and in either case it is not for what marriage is intended.
The social presumption about marriage is a union between a man and a woman that is sexual in nature and as a natural consequence procreative. This presumption is what gives the state an interest in defining and protecting the marriage bond as such. This, of course, leads to the question about the heterosexual union that is not procreative, either by intention or inability. The presumption still stands.
The cultural and social norms will still refer to the “childless couple.” There will still be the natural question, “Do you have any children?” Even the many alternative arrangements within which children are raised will rely on the definition of “family” to describe themselves by pointing to some of the common traits or ideas normally associated with the union of a mother, father and children.
But then this was before we went through the looking glass and began to lose a sense of what was the real object of the word “marriage” and what is a reflection. Things are turned around and we believe now that the reflection should be real and we can determine how and what should be reflected.
Marriage as it is — the union of a woman and a man for the purpose of having children — will continue to exist but without a word. It won’t exist in language and it won’t exist in law. People will point to the reflection but not the actual fact of a family created by the sexual union of a woman and man.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that to insist on this is “anti-gay,” when it is only about whether the word “marriage” refers to the reality or what may only be “like” a marriage.
Using the issue to obtain rights or benefits in some measure points to the shortcomings of a society that cannot provide for its citizens — the inadequacies of health care, retirement, etc. At the same time, the issue already demonstrates the growing alienation of government from the family as the current debate moves marriage and the family to a private interest for which the state wishes to have little to do: the declining investment in education, the judicial fiat against the unwanted fetus, the declining esteem for the role of women as mothers.
Perhaps this is the game. Perhaps this is what courts meant. The family no longer exists in language. The consensual sexual union is only for itself, sex without consequences. Procreation is erased out of the picture as the aforementioned legislator had hoped it would.
There will no longer be a word for the beautiful human aspiration of a man and a woman to seek a faithful, lifelong relationship of love that creates and nurtures life. Like a hall of mirrors, we have lots of reflections without having to take responsibility for seeing and naming the real thing.
It is not a matter of what or who we are against. We are keeping our eyes fixed on marriage. It is a matter of seeing marriage for what it is, hoping that our courts and legislators will quit playing with mirrors.