The Culture Wars and Marriage

Marriage has long been held to be one of the foundational institutions of human society, both from a socio-economic and spiritual perspective. The reasons for this are clear. The continuity of monogomous marriage is clearly one of nature’s many ways of assuring that a vulnerable species provides a fighting chance for their offspring to grow to maturity in safety. The economic benefits of this are clear- and in today’s realities of the general need for dual income households, are perhaps clearer reminders than ever that single-parenting is an onerously difficult challenge (though certainly not a fundamental threat to a child’s well-being) and not the best way to preserve our species.

Dating back to Biblical times and the dawn of recorded history, it is clear that marriage has been a major vehicle to create not only bonds between two adults, but social, economic and political bonds between their respective families as well. From King David and King Solomon to Henry VIII to today, marriage is a social contract that preserves and increases not only the family lineage, but its property as well, and strengthens the society in which that couple lives.

From a biological viewpoint, it is unquestioned that children need the nurture of parents, and seem to thrive best when that nurture comes from more than one parent. Parents, both consciously and unconsciously, are inevitably role models of caring and teach us how to relate to one another. For good or ill, we do so with varying degrees of success, as our children are quick to point out to us all.

But most societies also recognize a spiritual importance in the institution of marriage, and a need to sanctify the bond between partners to assure their and their offspring’s well-being.  Some claim that institutional religion uses fear of ostracism and damnation as the goad to keep marriages together. Though there is no doubt that fear is a popular weapon in the hands of the religious as well as of the politicians, most people would find it cynical to attribute mere manipulation for institutional self-preservation as the primary force promoting marriage. More humanly, the fear, not of damnation, but of the hell of being alone and lonely, is a major incentive to marry for many, for not many of us are hermits by natural temperament. The opportunities for growth that are inherent to the institution of marriage are among the greatest life has to offer- even if that life is seldom lived out in the airbrushed fantasy of life-long romance. Love runs deeper than romance, and in some cases even replaces it.

Poets, artists, musicians and actors have extolled the boundlessness of love throughout human history. If love is, then, boundless, we must ask ourselves honestly whether or why there should be gender-specific bounds placed upon love. It seems counter-intuitive to proclaim that love sets us free, and simultaneously insist that it can only be permittted between members of the opposite sex. We know, in fact, that this is patently untrue- fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers, sisters, unquestionably love each other deeply without any social opprobrium. Why then this cultural fear of same sex love outside of the family unit as an unforgivable sin? It is not fear of love, perhaps, but rather, uneasiness about sexual activity itself that seems to fuel this argument. The two should not be equated or confused, whatever our personal comfort levels with the subject may be.

The anthropological factors promoting male-female marriage are historically easy enough to grasp. The Biblical prohibition of homosexuality, for example,  is understandable, in the historical context of the endangered Hebrew minority inhabiting real estate hotly contested and frequently desired by neighboring powers, and the Hebrews’ need to therefor maximize reproductive opportunities in order to survive. The religious, and most especially the Biblically literal, frequently read Biblical prohibitions outside of their historical context, however, and then attempt to impose them as absolutes, no matter how contextual realities may have changed and evolved over time. The devout Christian, Jew or Muslim, for example, romanticizing their love of scripture, may fail to recognize that scripture itself has changed and evolved over the centuries, rendering their literalist/absolutist interpretative tendencies contradictory to the real nature of the scriptures whose spirit they would uphold.

One of the only ontological definitions of God in the New Testament states that “God is love”. If that is true, and we are all basically hard-wired to experience and recognize love when we feel it, then presumably we should celebrate love and rejoice whenever we or others find it. The assumption that a homosexual person does not and cannot do so is not only bigoted, but simply irrational and blatantly untrue.

It is also Biblically unsupported. The Bible celebrates a special love between many Biblical male figures: David and Jonathan, Jesus and John to mention a few. Rather than labeling anyone “homosexual” as a permanent category (especially a negative one) perhaps  the Biblical authors recognized, as Alfred Kinsey did, that our sexuality is complex and variable to some degree, even if our general preference is not.

The point here is that if the definition of sin is that which takes us away from or alienates us from God, but God is love,then how can genuine feelings for love for another, no matter what their gender, not be an opportunity and expression of drawing closer to the divine? And if that love is felt between two people of the same gender, how does that not strengthen us just as much as when it is felt between members of the opposite sex?

It has often been observed that love is not rational. Neither is hate, but the poet says that “The heart has reasons that the head knows not of”. If more of us were comfortable accepting and embracing that reality, our cultures wars over marriage might well cease.