What Marriage Are We Defending?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and admonished the husbands to love their wives the way that Christ loved the church – by sacrificing his life for it (Eph 5:25).

The Supreme Court has heard cases regarding same-sex marriage and made a significant ruling last year.  All of the talking heads on television are all over it. Opinions are running riot through the air waves. The American public seems to have dramatically shifted in it’s opinion on the matter.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that defines marriage and limits it to a legal union between one male and one female. It was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It has now been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (5-4).

Former Secretary of State and Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton has decided that she might want to run for president again. She’s come out and changed her position on same-sex marriage.  Of course, now that she’s going to run and the political winds have changed, former President Bill Clinton changed his mind too. That’s sort of what he’s famous for – jumping on whatever’s popular at the time. He’s a very successful Southern politician.

But what if all of this isn’t really about same-sex marriage?  What if our cultural anomie about marriage is an effect of something deeper – at the very heart of our civilization? What if we have slowly yet deliberately changed the very meaning of marriage?

What if marriage in our society has evolved from a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of…

  1. expressing intimacy and sacrifice,
  2. producing and raising children, and
  3. making a living together

,,,to something more immediate?

What if the real reason we get married today is because we are seeking emotional happiness and personal satisfaction with our own life?

Is it possible that the most important reason that I would get married today is because I am seeking fulfillment for emotional needs in my life (at least those that I am aware of right now)?

“I want to get married because of what it can give to me.”

I wonder if marriage is no longer mainly a domain of sacrifice and commitment but instead has been transformed to one of personal need fulfillment and a “happiness retreat” from the impersonal world of work.

Our culture has become so successful that we really don’t need other people for personal interaction. We just need people to show up and do their jobs. (Or so we think). What we can’t get from the drive-thru or the computer screen is love and happiness. As humans we need this, so we seek it in cohabitation and marriage. When happiness fades, we move on.

I think we’ve changed the purpose of marriage without even realizing it. So now, it makes perfect sense to base marriage, partner selection and even having children on individual wish fulfillment criteria.

“This makes me happy right now, so it must be the right thing to do.”

America is one of the few societies in the history of the world to base marriage almost solely on romantic love.

Members of a society who think and act like this are not at all concerned with the social repercussions of their behavior. Year after year I have shown classrooms of students research findings on the devastating effects of divorce on children. But over and over again these same students overwhelmingly answer “YES” to the statement “if two people are not happy together, even if they have children, they should get divorced.”

(Many of these ideas are from the late Judith Wallerstein)

I think we have to figure out what marriage means before we can even begin to debate who can be married.

[Did you know that over 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock?]

The world we live in has changed (it always does), our social institutions have changed. I’m not certain our values have kept up. Marriage and family isn’t a political platform plank. It more resembles the mortar and brick with which our civilization is built. As you look up and down your street, listen to the news, watch the elections, read the magazines, what is OUR civilization being transformed into for the next generation?

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”  Pope John Paul II (1986)

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

One thought on “What Marriage Are We Defending?

  1. Brilliant….you have made the dimming and tasteless to become ‘salt and light’…what seems to be becoming so complicated…so full of truth…and we all know it…and only Truth will set us free!  Thank you. GLO 

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