Recently Bill L. has asked me to explain how my position on same-sex “marriage” squares with certain sociological facts about divorce. It seems he was thinking divorce was my major concern, whereas the fact is, divorce is only symptomatic of what I’m concerned about.
At any rate, he asked me whether my position implied that certain groups who have higher divorce rates should be denied the right to marry. It’s a strange question, to say the least—especially since his data actually supports my real position (which is not to deny marriage to certain ethnic groups!). I’ll accept his question anyway, though, as an opportunity to clarify what I’ve been trying to say.
Structural differences in relationship types
Here’s my main point, in short. Genuine marital love is both inward- and outward-focused. That’s inherent in the structure of marriage. It’s a design feature of man-woman marriage, and for most of history it’s been unavoidably so. (There are marriages where the spouses lack love, but I’m talking here about the structure of the relationship, not the love that its participants may or not experience based on their own relational/emotional health.)
Some straight marriages today, however, and all gay marriages, lack the structural component of being outward-focused. This means that their form of marital love is inherently oriented in a different direction than the form of marital love experienced originally in man-woman marriages. It matters, as we’ll see.
That’s a preview of where I’m heading with this. It’s an aspect of the marriage debate that has been given too little attention.
Now, back to Bill’s question, and the implications of both culture and structure on marital relationships.
How Bill L.’s data actually supports my point
Do Blacks have a higher divorce rate because of their skin color? I hope no one thinks so! That’s not just offensive, it’s absurd! And by the way, the same data indicates that Whites divorce more often than people of Asian ethnicity. Is that a matter of skin color? Obviously not.
But the graph Bill L. linked to actually helps me make my point. I’ve been trying to help him and others see that there are systemic issues involved here. It’s not just about “this marriage and that marriage.” Marriage is an institution within a culture. Different ethnicities have different subcultures within broader culture. Some of them are obviously more conducive to stronger families. You can see it laid out for you on that graph.
Generally speaking, if a man and a woman are committed to one another and their children in an environment that discourages separation and teaches the importance of staying together while raising a family for the sake of the children and the community, where adultery is actively discouraged; and where the members of the couple are reasonably emotionally healthy, and where extraneous stresses are at a minimum, the couple’s chances of thriving together are very high.
Continuing on that theme, marriages do best where the cultural message supports them, where there are significant numbers of good marriages being modeled, where people say to each other, “Hang in there, you’ll make it!” and help others understand how to sustain a marriage through the hard times.
This is a multigenerational matter, and for that reason, too, it’s a systemic/cultural matter. Emotional health is associated with parent-child relational health. Lousy marriages tend to reproduce themselves generation after generation, and strong marriages tend to reproduce themselves, too. These are general tendencies with exceptions, of course.
So the health of marriages, in general, heavily influenced by long-term, culturally situated influences and effects.
Counterfeit marital love (straight and gay)
SSM undermines all this by approving, endorsing, and celebrating the inward-focused, “you and me, babe” attitude toward marriage. Note that this is just a shade off of the self-focused,”you make me feel good, babe,” which is a variant of the blatantly selfish, “I’m in this for me.”
This is not just theory; it’s supported by the relational facts of gay coupling. While again there are exceptions, relational infidelity among gay male couples is so frequent as to be considered virtually normal. The word among gay men is that “committed monogamy” allows for occasional sex with others. (I’ll get you more data on that later today.) This is not the picture of marriage that we want to celebrate! But it’s a product of (among other things) relationships that are inward-focused and/or self-focused.
But it’s not just about same-sex marriage. Man-woman marriage has suffered many of the same errors and mistakes over the last fifty years. It was about fifty years ago that it was first possible for a man and woman to think of sex (married or unmarried) and marriage as “you and me, babe.” The reason of course is contraception.
Sex with no possibility of children means the possibility of sex for one’s own pleasure and nothing but that. As a corollary, it means the possibility of romantic coupling for the couple’s own pleasure and nothing but that.
Original marital love
There was a time when marriage was always a matter of “you and me and the family.” It was systemically other-oriented. for there is nothing that requires more selfless sacrifice than raising a child. It was systemically outward-oriented in another sense as well. Couples knew they were raising children in a community, so their very inward-oriented relationship was by its nature turned out toward the larger community environment.
The sex act between a man and a woman was always “for us and for our love,” but “with a view to the possibility of even more people–little ones!–to love.” It was never just inward-focused. Real marital love is unconfined, uncontained, overflowing love.
(Yes, there have always been distortions, failures, mistakes, and sin. I am not speaking of the individuals here but of the way marriage is and has been structured—and how best to support it at its best.)
This is what marital love originally was, and it’s what defines uniquely defines marriage. The proof of it is in the state’s recognition of marriage as a unique institution. The state does not recognize any strong, committed friendships, except for marriage. What is the state’s interest in marriage? It’s not the friendship. It’s not the sex. (Why would the state have to license sexual activity?!) The state cares about marriage because it is the core institution that supports the growth, thriving, and long-term viability of society.
Why would the state want to license sex?
Gay “marriage” is, at its best, strong friendship plus sex. (The number of gays and lesbians who marry in order to have children is small, and there is nothing in their mutual sexual act in any case that carries the implication that “this is for us, but not just for us.”)
I don’t know why the state would recognize strong friendship on its own. So what the state must be recognizing when it approves of gay marriage is the sex part. Why should the state recognize that? I don’t know why gays aren’t yelling, “get the state out of my bedroom!”
So now I go back to the differential divorce rates among various ethnic groups. Bill L’s intentionally shocking question was, should we disallow Blacks from marrying because of their higher divorce rates? It was shocking in more ways than one: it shocked me to see how poorly I’ve communicated, or how little he had gotten it!
The difference between married persons (of whatever ethnicity) and gay couples is that married people can at least possibly have a “you and me and the rest of the family” kind of relationship, even at the moment of their sexual enjoyment. This is never what gay sex is about. It’s never what homoerotic behavior is intrinsically for.
Man-woman marriage is no longer in every case what it used to be in every case, and some male-female relationships are of the “just you and me, babe” variety. Society’s next generation, however, will be built by children of families that are looking beyond themselves—or so we hope.
How not to support the real thing
Genuine marital love—the outward-looking, self-forgetful, giving and overflowing kind—is a very high calling. It is very good, and it’s also very challenging at times. It needs support.
And to support that kind of love in marriage relationships—where even the most intimate moments carry the possibility of overflowing into new life and other person to love—the worst thing we could do is to endorse as “marriage” a completely different kind of relationship, one whose structure is entirely inward looking. The effect of that would be to give state licensure to a relationship that the state has no interest in. It would be granting public support and approval to inward-focused marriage. It would seriously undermine society’s already weakened support for long-lasting, outward-oriented marriages. Those marriages have lost a lot of social support already, but this would be celebrating the death of that support.
That’s one aspect of the harm SSM can and will do. There are others.
And yes, the real thing really matters
A final word before I go. I am quite sure some people reading this will yawn and say, “So what? What’s so bad about ‘you and me, babe’ relationships? It’s still love.” I have one final point to add about that kind of love. I agree that it’s love, but it’s stunted love, inward-looking love, love kept confined, love cut short at its inception. It’s a weak, counterfeit model of marital love. It’s not the kind of love that builds strong societies. And it’s not the unconditional, other-oriented, outward-looking kind of love that is God’s kind of love.