The Abolition of Marriage

Donald DeMarco
Updated: Dec 3rd, 2006
© Copyright 1997-2006 Catholic Insight
Reproduced with Permission
Catholic Insight

What is marriage? During his talk with the Pharisees, who had asked Christ about the indissolubility of marriage, he referred twice to the beginning: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'" (Mt. 19:3; Mk. 10:2).

In referring to Genesis (1:27; 2:24), Christ was indicating that the Christian view of marriage is solidly rooted in Genesis, which, in turn, expresses God's Will. In this Judeo-Christian understanding of the meaning of marriage, three factors are essential:

1) gender difference (male and female); 2) monogamy (two-in-one-flesh); 3) permanence (indissolubility). This understanding of marriage is one of the greatest gifts that the Judeo-Christian tradition has given to mankind and to society.

It is to John Paul II's enduring credit that the first great project he initiated once he began his pontificate was to produce, from September 5, 1979, to April 2, 1980, 133 presentations on The Theology of Marriage (also known as The Theology of the Body, as well as The Theology of Masculinity and Femininity). In retrospect, his choice of subject could not have been more timely. Indeed, given the unraveling of marriage that has taken place over the past three decades, it seems nothing less than prophetic.

This same Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage is also confirmed on the non-theological grounds of science, psychology, and sociology. During sexual intercourse, the male semen provides a mild immunosuppressant that allows man and wife truly to be, from the standpoint of immunology, two-in-one flesh. Psychology has shown that marriage offers such emotional and personal benefits to spouses that it lengthens their life expectancy. Sociology demonstrates that marriage and the family form the indispensable foundation for the welfare of society. All attempts in the past to replace marriage have failed.

As faith in the proven wisdom of the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage continues to wane, we now make the fatal mistake of asking lawyers and politicians to define marriage for us. And they are most eager to redefine marriage even at the risk of abolishing it in the form that it is traditionally understood.

In 1997, the Canadian Parliament established the Law Commission of Canada to serve both Parliament and the Justice Ministry as an advisory board on legal reform. In December of 2001, the commission submitted a report to Parliament concerning marriage; this was entitled Beyond Conjugality.

The Report, which is not so much concerned with "marriage" as it is with what it calls "close adult relationships," makes three recommendations. The first directs judges to consider whether the individuals are "functionally interdependent," regardless of their marital status. Needless to say, this view, that excludes any gender requirement, would include a mother who is functionally interdependent with her son or daughter. The second recommendation, which excludes monogamy, directs individuals to register their personal relationships with the government. The authors of Beyond Conjugality indicate that they see no reason to limit registered partnerships to two people.

The final recommendation, which excludes permanence, is the legalization of same-sex marriage. This recommendation drew the most attention when it was released. Yet the extension of marriage to same-sex individuals is really aimed at abolishing marriage altogether. The authors note that they do not believe that the public is quite ready to accept such a step.

In contrast with the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage, which is highly specific and well defined, Beyond Conjugality suggests alliances that are so vague and amorphous that they virtually include any combination of "close," "supportive," and "functionally interdependent" people who can qualify to be "married" (or whatever the new term might be) in this novel and broad sense.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, president of the Law Commission of Canada, reminds us that "the diversity of relationships in Canadian society is a reality.. The Law Commission suggests that it is time to go beyond conjugality and to look at the reality of interdependencies that exist in other relationships as well." This new acceptance of "diversity" reduces the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage to a private option-that the government may or may not recognize-alongside of same-sex, sibling, roommate, lonely widow, and parent-child alliances.

One of the brains behind Beyond Conjugality is Harvard's Martha Minow ("Redefining Families: Who's In and Who's Out," Univ. of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 62, No.2, 1991). Minow also worked with her political allies, Al and Tipper Gore. The Gore book Joined At the Heart comes directly from Minow's work. Joined At the Heart, like the Canadian Law Commission's submission, has little regard for the biological foundation of marriage. Its authors prefer to locate the meaning of marriage in a nebulous dream world. While the expression "joined at the heart" may be a suitable phrase in a Hallmark greeting card, it lacks the solid ground and specificity that a good marriage requires. It is a case of replacing a reality with a metaphor. This is fine for poetry, perhaps, but not in defining a relationship that prepares spousal partners for the rigors of real life. A real heart pumps blood; a Hallmark heart is lifeless.

It is a small wonder, given these overbroad notions of marriage in which any number of any types can play, that many influential people-from radical reformist Martha Fineman (The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family, and Other Twentieth Century Tragedies) to mainstream journalist Michael Kinsley-are calling for the abolition of marriage as a legal category. The balloon expands until it bursts. Marriage without limit is marriage without meaning. Marriage for everyone is marriage for no one. The recent ultra-liberal attempts to extend marriage to virtually everyone who wants it (and in the manner they want it) logically leads to the end of marriage as a culturally recognized relationship. Stanley Kurtz makes the point in the Weekly Standard (Aug. 2003) that "Beyond Gay Marriage" are polygamy, "polyamory" groupings, and, finally, "no marriage at all." In the meantime, the lunatic attempts on the part of lawyers and politicians to redefine marriage at least make it clear what marriage is not. Marriage is not a menu for sexual lifestyles, a vehicle for the delivery of government benefits, a way of gaining self-esteem, a political advantage for oppressed special interest groups, an artifact of law, a sociological experiment, or a mechanism for securing social respectability.

Real marriage is and always will be a two-in-oneflesh union between a man and a woman who are committed to each other in love and for life, and who are open to the blessing of children whom they are prepared to love and educate to the best of their abilities. Least of all is marriage a self-absorbed lifestyle that neglects the needs of children.

If there has been a failure, it is that we have failed marriage and not that marriage has failed us. Thus, there is no compelling reason to redefine marriage or jettison it altogether in favor of hastily conceived experimental replacements. If reform is needed, it is not a reform in law, but a moral reform in the hearts and minds of people so that they are better prepared to execute the rights and responsibilities that married life entails. We need a "people reform" more than we need either a law or political reform of marriage.