Why “Anything you want it to be for” is not a good answer to the question “What is marriage for”

Following up my my previous blog post on marriage and on Facebook conversations about the question.

You said “you cannot define what a marriage is for for everyone” but that is in fact the purpose of US law.

You don’t even believe that answer yourself, probably

It sounds nice and generous to say that everyone should be able to define marriage for themselves, but the US government disagrees, and I suspect you agree with the fact that we want a public definition of marriage that we all work from.

A woman who defines marriage as an income generation project by taking money from wealthy immigrants seeking US citizenship is defining marriage in her own way. The US government says “no you can’t do that” and you probably agree that this is an abuse of the institution according to the implicit definition you have but are struggling to define.

A man who has a wife and children in the Dominican Republic and a wife and children in Haiti says “marriage is an institution by which I increase my wealth and influence and develop a large and thriving group of families.” Many people today in the US would say “this is an abuse of the institution”. If this man decides he would like to also start a family in the US under the same terms the US government would say “this is not what marriage is for” and you and many others would agree with the US government. You would probably assert that this is an abuse of the institution.

I think you would agree with me that we need a better answer to the question “what is marriage for” than “whatever anyone wants it to be for.” We of course can’t stop people from answering the question in their own way but human civilization is premised upon public definitions that define and control public institutions.

What the project is

There are lots of private marriages and many of us know that these private marriages have commitment, intimacy, sharing of property, children, etc. but we believe that there is something important about a public institution and that we as a civilization have a shared understanding of that institution, however vague and in process that understanding may be. This is why we talk, fight, debate, vote, discuss, etc.

I would assert that today in the US the dominant, common, cultural answer to the question “what is marriage for?” is happiness, I would also assert that this is an insufficient answer.

It may make the woman marrying wealthy immigrants happy to get the money, but we still say this is an abuse of the institution.

It may make the man and even possibly his many wives in different countries happy to pursue economic and biological multiplication in this way, but many of us would say “this is an abuse of the institution”.

Two sisters in the UK  wished to marry so that they could have the tax and legal benefits of the home that they shared. This was clearly for their well being and didn’t seem to harm the community at all but a judge disallowed their marriage on the grounds that they are sisters. (See the list of who you can’t and can marry in the UK.)

What we see is that in fact we have are working on a vague, implicit, communal answer to the question “what is marriage for”. Working on more on that question would probably be a good thing and it might help if we work on it directly to the degree that we are able.

About Paul VanderKlay

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Culture commentary, Saved Blog Comments. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why “Anything you want it to be for” is not a good answer to the question “What is marriage for”

  1. Pingback: The Obvious and More Important Question Not Asked in the Same Sex Marriage Debate | Leadingchurch.com

  2. Pingback: Links from May 2012 on the Same Sex Marriage Debate | Leadingchurch.com

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