To some social revolutionaries of our day marriage is like play dough. It can be shaped according to whim. A marriage, they agree, may be the covenanted union of a man and woman, but they claim there should be other options, like unions of two males or two females. These too should be labeled marriage.
Consider certain realities that stand against that claim.
Ryan T Anderson Ph.D. of the Heritage Foundation writes, “[Marriage] is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are different and complementary.” Male and female bodies match in ways that same-sex bodies never can. The difference is anatomical.
And only because of this physical complementarity can a male and female together potentially conceive and bear children, giving the children the dual benefits of a mother and father, thus fulfilling a fundamental purpose of marriage.
This difference is not only anatomical, however; it is also neurological. Brain studies show that exceptions aside, in aggregate the male and female brains process the issues of life differently. In reality, this too contributes to their complementarity as husband and wife.
Beyond these anatomical and psycho-neurological differences the definition of marriage as, “one man and one woman for life” is etched into the history of language itself.
Consider the collection of words that gather around this definition and in doing so distinguish it. For examples, because the marriage of one man and one woman is distinctive, if a man has two wives he’s a bigamist, and if many wives he’s a polygamist. A woman with more than one husband is a polyandrist. In each case, the variance requires a name to distinguish it from traditional marriage.
The terms continue to gather. A bachelor is a man who is past the usual age for marrying and has never married. A widow is a woman whose marriage has been terminated by the death of her spouse. An engaged person is someone who is pledged formally to marry. A divorced person is someone, whether male or female, who was the partner of a marriage now dissolved. These words all assume derivation from or relationship to a one man, one woman covenanted relationship.
And to further support the legitimacy of traditional marriage certain words have been lodged deeply in the language through myriads of generations. Some such words exist to describe the violation of the covenanted relationship of marriage and in doing so to protect its integrity and legitimacy. Such words as adultery, fornication, common-law, annulment, etc. come to mind.
Yet even this proliferation of words does not exist to curb the liberty of anyone. In a free country unions can be formed in other ways too — as a legal contract, a business partnership, a shared apartment for economic reasons, etc. These are social partnerships but not marriage. The proliferation exists only to defend the historic nature of marriage as one man and one woman for life.
The reason for protecting marriage from more flexible notions is to follow the practices of centuries in recognizing that both the word and the relationship called “marriage” means a union between one man and one woman.
Some who do not think words should be taken so seriously will disagree; words, they say, can mean whatever we want them to mean, so why not stretch the meaning of the word, marriage to include same-sex unions and later even threesomes, and on and on? To act out that opinion broadly would make communication about domestic matters vague and confusing.
So those who believe words are the carefully planted and broadly accepted units enabling us to think, differentiate, nuance, and communicate, see the danger signs of innovation clearly.
Gather together these many words that assume marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman; add the wide-ranging traditions that cross many religions past and present; include the above anatomical realities known to the modern mind, and what do we have?
We have a strong barrier that would require centuries to breach even for those disinterested in religious belief. We have very high walls indeed against tampering with the boundaries of society’s basic institution — an institution that grounds human life in families established by a union of husband and wife.
(More next week)