Why Marriage Matters

Unlike most of my posts lately, this one wasn’t prepared in advance. I felt kinda bad about that, but now I think it was Hashem’s timing, since it gave time for a couple of things to show up in my inboxes.

A few days ago, an old friend from high school posted this happy little sentiment on her wall. It’s a pretty common slogan among those pushing to redefine the institution of marriage to include homosexual unions. I wanted to answer it, but couldn’t think of anything pithy enough for Facebook–nor did I want my first message to her in months to be confrontational.

Today, one of my favorite political commentators, James Taranto, answered it for me, at least in part:

Man is a social animal, and each individual is part of many systems that are greater than himself. Such systems cannot exist without individual members, but they need not depend on particular individuals. The system we call the United States of America has existed continuously since 1776, long before any citizen alive today was born. It is not inaccurate to say that at any given moment in its history, America consists of all its current citizens. But it is incomplete. America also has an existence independent of any of us.

[A. Barton] Hinkle’s cognitive error [in his response to Taranto’s earlier column]–an inordinate focus on the individual and refusal to consider systemic effects–is quite common on the left and the libertarian right. Leftists, for example, spent decades defending Aid to Families With Dependent Children on the ground that it would be heartless to deny help to poor children. They refused to comprehend the systemic effect of AFDC, which was to create incentives for poor women to bear children out of wedlock.

Similarly, leftists, libertarians and even some conservatives argue that problem can be solved by birth control. For any individual woman, of course, it could be. But as we’ve written before, the introduction of the pill had systemic effects that, along with other factors, exacerbated the illegitimacy problem.

In the column of ours that Hinkle rebutted, we did not express an opinion on the question of whether same-sex marriage will damage the institution of marriage. We merely faulted the Washington Post writer (actually then-ombudsman Patrick Pexton) for his Hinklelike misapprehension of the opponents’ claims.

Our own view is that the opponents’ arguments on this score are not overwhelmingly persuasive. It’s not that we’re sanguine about same-sex marriage, but that we’re pessimistic about the ordinary kind. It’s hard to see how permitting gay couples to marry could do anywhere near as much damage as has already been done by the combined systemic effects of such developments as feminism, sexual liberationism, modern birth control and no-fault divorce, all of which were advanced–quite compellingly, it is crucial to acknowledge–as great windfalls for individual freedom and happiness. (from his daily column for the Washington Post)

Taranto, it should be noted, is an atheist, and doesn’t have a religious dog in this fight. His concern is solely for the untested and therefore unpredictable results such a radical change to such a basic and universal human institution will have.

I of course do. I believe that marriage is the most primordial of institutions, one that didn’t come about by simple happenstance or convenience, but from the hand of the Holy One himself. There is a reason that it is a universal constant of humankind regardless of culture. Marriage takes an act of raw animal passion and elevates it to the level of a holy rite. It takes two individual human beings and makes them into a singular unit–a unit that, if so blessed, has always been expected to raise children to perpetuate not just their genetics, but their culture, beliefs, and ethics. Marriage, particularly in a Biblical context, provides protection and security for women and children, both of which are the first to be victimized when society falls apart due to war, crime, economic collapse, and famine.

The West has lived in relative peace and prosperity, without the fear of such collapse, since the end of World War II–and the United States far longer than that. And where lesser collapses have taken place in our economy and social structures, our governments–fat from the taxes of hard-working families and entrepreneurs–have been more than happy to step in to replace the fathers’ proper role as bread-winners. The idea that women and children need husbands and fathers is called sexist–even if you also point out the converse, that men need good wives and children to be complete as well!

But what happens when the Western world really starts to fall apart? We’re already seeing some cracks in the dam:

So what the heck does this have to do with homosexual marriage? Just this: Marriage is not about having the perfect ceremony, or having friends throw flower petals, or wearing rings, or getting to call your partner, “my wife,” or “my husband.” It’s not about legitimizing your sex life in the eyes of others. It’s not about romantic love. All of those things are involved in a marriage, but they are not what it’s really about.

When Yeshua was asked about marriage and divorce, he didn’t go into the legal precedents of the day or even the passage of the Torah that the disciples of Hillel and Shammai were debating at the time. He went right back to the beginning: He answered,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Mat. 19:4-9)

Men need women. We need their greater emotional depth, their tenderness, their greater capacity for relational bonds, their ability to multitask . . . and to be frank guys, we need a good woman’s ability to cut through our testosterone-laced ego trips and kick us in the butts sometimes. We also need–not want, need–their respect and appreciation.

Women need men. Even in a modern society with so many physical equalizers (including firearms), neither my wife nor the women at my workplace hesitate to call on me to do the heavy lifting or kill a spider. And if things go horribly, horribly wrong, women need that added physical strength and yes, our capacity for sudden, ruthless action for their protection. Why do you think that young, inexperienced women are instinctively attracted to “bad boys,” while more experienced women are attracted to men with the confidence and ability to win financial security? As one young female friend once put it, “I want to know that if it comes down to it, my guy will take a baseball bat to someone for me.”

But despite the lies of American society that husbands are morons, women also need us for our less physical traits. The same aggressiveness that brought home food from the hunt was also used to build pyramids. The same ruthless logic used to win wars also developed the scientific method. The same stubbornness that you ladies so rue in us has also held the line against tyrants when the smart thing to do would be to fold, has kept traditions when the easy thing to do would be to compromise them.

Of course, all of the above is speaking in broad trends. There are ruthless, coldly logical women who know how to use a sword (I’m thinking of one friend in particular) and gentle men with an incredible capacity for empathy and skill in negotiation. But the exceptions do not disprove the rule.

Marriage is, in the end, about a man and a woman forging an unbreakable bond, of growing so close together that the masculine and feminine become unified to the betterment of both.

Two men–no matter how emotional or effeminate they may be by certain societal standards–can never compliment each other the way a man and a woman can. Neither can two women. That’s not to say that their relationship can’t work out on an individual level (though I’ve been told by gay men that there’s no such thing as a truly monogamous homosexual relationship). But in terms of providing the right balance needed for healthy families and the ultimate health of society? No.

Homosexual marriage, like no-fault divorce and welfare, isn’t likely to cause my own marriage to crumble. You’ve got me there. But it will inevitably shape the society that my children will grow up in. I cannot pretend to predict exactly how it will affect the social world that we all live in, because I don’t see any historical precedents to extrapolate from. Given that, why should we jump off the cliff of carelessly redefining a primordial human institution for the sake of putting a fig leaf of legitimacy on someone’s sex life?

To Edith Windsor and those in similar circumstances: I’m very sorry for the loss of your loved one, and I mean that sincerely. I agree that the inheritance tax you were assessed was absurd. But let’s rewrite an abhorrently overbearing tax code, not the underpinnings of society itself.



2 Replies to “Why Marriage Matters”

  1. “But let’s rewrite an abhorrently overbearing tax code, not the underpinnings of society itself.”

    If allowing gay marriage somehow prevented straight marriage, your arguments might be valid.

    As it doesn’t, your arguments are not at all valid.


    1. You know, if you want to make a statement that proves that you were either too lazy to actually read the post or lack the cognitive skills to actually understand it before blurting the very thing that I’ve already refuted, go for it. It only makes you look really foolish.



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