Saving Marriage

July 19, 2007

I just saw this article on Planet Out, entitled “Ads tap ‘financially blessed’ for California marriage ban.”

The summary is this:  An ex-assemblyman urges “financially blessed” Christians in 12 media markets to help fund a proposed state constitutional marriage ban.

Christians?  That’s about the least Christian thing to do if you ask me.  I hardly see how using the secular government to impose restrictions on those with whom you disagree is Christian.

And this is the quote that always gets me:  “You can leave the legacy of marriage to future generations.”

There is always some appeal like this in the right-winger gay-bashing against our right for rites.  Some vague, non-articulated fear that allowing us to marry somehow ends the institution.  Nonsense, of course, and study after study shows that fundamentalists cannot make sense of such emotional appeals to fear when asked to explain how allowing us to marry degrades marriage, or, as in this implication, ends it altogether for future generations.

I was at a local art museum today, and one of the exhibits was on the mytholoy and evolution of marriage as depicted in art through the last several hundred years.  Whether marriage was seen as a political alliance, a means to a dowry, an obstacle to be avoided at all cost, or more recently as something to be done for love, it has been many things through the ages.  It is interesting that the critics of GLBT marriage seem to find themselves the experts on marriage as defined by the Christian tradition– but seemingly have forgotten the very basis of that tradition and the very short-term nature of the way their institutional definition was formed.  It is hardly fair to say that inclusion of same-gender marriages will “destroy the legacy of marriage for future generations.”  And they call us drama queens?



8 Responses to “Saving Marriage”

  1. Susan Says:

    And for all those church history buffs out there here’s a question … when DID marriage become a sacrament of the church?

  2. FrMichael Says:

    Susan– Gospel of John, Chapter 2

    Catholics, at least, aren’t sectarians who retreat from society. If we see injustice, we are supposed to address it directly by personal efforts as well as being involved publicly to prevent its recurrence. Thus the large Catholic lobbies in state and federal capitals. It is very Christian, in our view, to defend traditional Christian morality.

  3. Jeff Says:

    I believe very much in using my Christianity to inform my views on issues facing the secular world. Otherwise the secular government would be allowed to keep moving forward on things like closing down borders for some (Mexican undocumented immigrants) but not for others (allowing those Asian workers where offshoring has become popular to move freely across borders). That’s not right (the borders should be open equally to both Asian and Mexican peoples), but there is no argument I can make other than falling back on the basic teachings of Jesus. That is not to say that in the public square I don’t need to appeal to arguments that are humanitarian in nature and refrain from imposing my Christian beliefs on others. This is not Christendom, and we do not have a Christian state.

    In any event, I challenge you to do the same exercise for marriage– fall back on the basic teachings of Jesus. They are about fairness, equality in relationship, and love. The argument you refer to is much closer to what Jesus preached against– “tradition of the elders” — than what Jesus preached for– love God and neighbor above all else.


  4. Jeff Says:

    Three more things:

    1) Marriage became officially a sacrament by most accounts at the Council of Trent in the mid-1500s- right about the time of Luther.

    2) John 2 says nothing of the nature of the marriage being performed. We do not know if the couple is marrying for love, or if the marriage was arranged, or if the man is marrying for a dowry, or for political/social reasons, or what. Whatever the case, the woman’s role was very different than that of a woman today– marriage has changed.

    3) The American Anthropological Association released this statement in 2004, which is helpful to me:

    The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.


  5. FrMichael Says:

    Jeff, the basic teaching of Jesus on marriage is that it is a no-divorce heterosexual relationship, building upon Genesis 2. That was contrary to the tradition of the (Jewish) elders of His time.

    Marriage was a clearly-defined sacrament long before Trent rolled around. The Tridentine dogmatic definition came about in reaction to the Reformation. But the seven sacraments were already referred to as such long before the 16th century. An easily-checked example is St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica of the 13th century.

    Don’t even begin to suggest that the Wedding at Cana was a same-sex affair.

    I read the association’s statement and then googled to see where it came from and what kind of evidence was offered for it. Nothing came up of the sort but a few sketchy columns citing miniscule groups of no import to Western civilization. So the statement appears to be more of a propaganda piece than an attempt to show that there has existed a great civilization based upon same-sex coupling.

  6. Jeff Says:

    Fr. Michael,

    You know that Jesus does not talk about same-gender relationships. You are putting a context on his teachings on divorce that are not there. (I will leave the divorce topic for another thread.)

    Its nice to see you have redefined your position from marriage being a sacrament based on John 2 to Aquinas in the 13th century. That 1200 years puts us a lot closer to agreement.

    I never suggested that the Cana wedding was a same-sex affair, only that there is no information provided as to the nature of the wedding party. The point of this post is that the nature of marriage has always been changing, and only recently (the last few hundred years) has marriage been defined the way detractors of same-sex marriage use it in propaganda when they say that same-sex marriage will “ruin” “traditional” marriage. Their version of “traditional” marriage is, in fact, not so traditional. For all we know the wedding at Cana was arranged, or was done in order to get a dowry, or for political gain, or whatever. But then I already said that, didn’t I?

    In the few minutes I took to look through the Anthropologist Association’s website, I found at least 7 references to technical articles which I assume are the basis for the statement. The summaries are here, here, and here. One specifically addresses the way the statement was produced here.


  7. FrMichael Says:


    I don’t claim the marriage as a Catholic sacrament began in the 1200s. I cited Thomas Aquinas as an easily-cited pre-Tridentine source.

    Whether the wedding at Cana was arranged, had a dowry, et al is irrelevant. That it was heterosexual and monogomous are the relevant qualities.

    I read through your links (some didn’t work), which are similar to what I read after my first search. In a back-handed manner, they demonstrate my point: these alternative “marriage” permutations are foreign to Western civilization, and indeed, to any successful contemporary civilization.

  8. Jeff Says:

    You crack me up.

    Marriage- something completely different than it is today- being defined as something you do for money rather than for love- and documented as something completely different by anthropologists- is not defined as a man and a woman marrying for love to raise a family.

    Since you need it to be spelled out for you…

    The point is not whether marriage has existed in the past in a viable civilization between same-sex couples. That is completely irrelevant, as you say. The point is that the institution, like ALL institutions, has perpetually changed and has little to no cultural normative significance. So to say that “traditional marriage is being eroded” — just like “they” said with inter-racial marriage– is a false claim.


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