February 5, 2013

What for?

As England’s Parliament debates same-sex marriage, one issue often raised is the notion that marriage has a purpose; that being, it is claimed, to provide for inheritance and progeny. But as is surely obvious, heritability and offspring are not of the esse of marriage, but of the bene esse. They represent possibilities which, even if not realized, do not in any way lessen the reality of the marriage itself.

The “reason” given for marriage in Genesis 2 is not procreation, but loneliness. The “reason” for marriage given in 1 Corinthians is not children, but as a remedy for fornication. And clearly these two things — companionship and conjunction — are matters for the couple, and between them; that is, they subsist in the marriage itself. Marriage is a phenomenon that finds its essential reality in the relationship of the couple, not in any epiphenomena or results that spring from that relationship. Marriage is not a means to some extrinsic end, but a thing of value in and of itself.

This is a philosophical issue, as well as a legal one and religious one. And if someone were to point me to Genesis 1 to claim that it shows that marriage is about procreation, given the command to be fruitful and multiply, I would have to ask why birds and fish do not “marry” — given that they receive an identical command.

No, marriage is about the couple and their bond and covenant. It is not a bond and covenant — or contract — to produce children, since that might well not happen, and the marriage is not void if no children are produced. It is a bond and covenant to remain faithful to the spouse, just as the marriage vows spell out in detail, with no reference to offspring: loving and cherishing, having and holding, honoring and comforting, and above all, forsaking all others in an exclusive life-long relationship. This is why adultery is a threat to marital union even if no offspring is produced — the fault of adultery, like the good of marriage, does not lie in the results, but in the acts themselves.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

I wish I'd seen it earlier, but two English thinkers have published a report that well summarizes the position I am addressing here. The fact that they see marriage in teleological terms is precisely the problem. The notion that "conjugal marriage connects the bond between men and women to a future beyond themselves, both in respect of children and the needs of wider society" obviously was not true of the primal marriage described in Genesis 2 -- as there was no "wider society." In addition, of course, the authors are hard pressed to give a novel definition even to the word conjugal — which refers solely to the couple and their relationship!

TSH

5 comments:

bls said...

It is not a bond and covenant — or contract — to produce children, since that might well not happen, and the marriage is not void if no children are produced.

Not only that! The example of the Catholic Church is clear evidence that marriage is higher on the scale of importance than reproduction, since divorce is (allegedly, anyway!) not permitted under any circumstances.

So, not only is a childless marriage "not void"; marriage itself clearly trumps reproduction.

Tobias Haller said...

Exactly so.

Brother David said...

Some of your best exposition!

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you Bro. D. Perhaps I find the news bracing! Now the Commons Committee gets to work, then a final vote... then the Lords.... Here's to England's increasing sanity!

JCF said...

"clearly these two things — companionship and conjunction — are matters for the couple, and between them; that is, they subsist in the marriage itself."

Abso-freaking-lutely!