30 January 2014

Love, Sex and Marriage: Revisiting the amendment to the Marriage Act

Sex is at the heart of marriage.  If a marriage is not consummated - that is, if there is no sexual intercourse between husband and wife - the marriage may be annulled, which is to say that it is deemed to have never been a proper marriage.  The implication is that when the church says that marriage is "ordained by God" it is saying that sexual intercourse between husband and wife is also "ordained by God".  Therefore sexual intercourse is sanctified in marriage.

Sexual acts are also at the heart of of "marriage equality" , "gay marriage", "same sex marriage" or "homosexual marriage" - call it what you will.  The real effect, if not the actual intent of all its supporters, is to sanctify the homosexual acts.  One Christian promoter of "gay marriage" has claimed in a post to this website that sodomy is in fact ordained by God.

I can accept that homosexual acts are a fact of life, but I question whether the state is qualified to sanctify such acts, and I suggest that in doing so the state has not given proper consideration to the social repercussions.

The distinction between tolerance and sanctification is important.   The state tolerates many behaviours which theologians or medical practitioners consider to be ill-advised, examples being the consumption of alcohol, cigarette smoking and so on but stops short of giving its official blessing to such behaviours.  Instead it  chooses to allow an on-going and multi-faceted debate on the social ramifications of such legal activities as smoking or drinking, without undue regard to the power and influence of the various lobby groups.   However, the state has given its blessing to homosexual acts and it has done so without the matter at issue being directly addressed, let alone rigorously debated.

State sanctification and sponsorship of homosexuality has been brought in by political subterfuge.  It is an unfortunate innovation, because once the legislature starts to decide what kinds of behaviours it should bless - as distinct from either compel or prohibit - the legislative act is seen as a way of gratuitously imposing a particular world-view on society at large, rather than a necessary means of providing for social order and stability.  The purpose of the marriage law in its original form was to protect the society from from destabilizing effects of unrestrained sexual competition between men, and to provide a framework for the protection and support of children.   The recent amendment  serves no such purpose.  As a result of law changes over the past forty years there are now few obligations or prohibitions attached to the married status and none at all in the case of same-sex married couples.  The amended Marriage Act is simply a way of saying that the state, and by implication the public, approves of homosexual relationships.  Thus the fundamental purpose of and justification for civil law has been disregarded, and the sanctity of the law itself has been debased.   Once the law is seen as a means to be used by particular interest groups to provide official endorsement of their practices and beliefs, all to no practical effect, it will suffer lose standing with the population at large..

The social consequences of the amendment to the Marriage Act will be even more damaging than its consequences in law.   The debate, such as it was, around the amendment clearly revealed that western society, and New Zealand society in particular, implicitly equates sex and love.   Marriage is concerned with sex.   Those who marry, whether same sex or opposite sex couples, intend to have sexual relations.  The very few people who marry without such an intention may have worthy motives, they may have a truly loving and happy relationship, but theirs is not a marriage in the normal sense.

Marriage, whether of the traditional or modern form, is concerned with sex, and the "marriage license" was in actuality a license to engage in sexual intercourse.  There the similarities end.  Modern marriage is in accord with the guiding principle of bourgeois society as enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence from Britain: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".and is most clearly distinguished from traditional marriage through the introduction of "no-fault" or "on demand" divorce.   Traditional marriage was an irrevocable contract premised on the notion that the pursuit of Godliness takes precedence, and that ultimately the pursuit of Godliness leads to happiness either in this world or the next.

Unlike modern marriage, traditional marriage did not allow a couple to divorce on the grounds that one or both spouses had become unhappy in the marriage relationship.  "Committed" was not just a synonym for "loving", "affectionate" or "happy".  Commitment implied that the marriage relationship would continue "in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer" and even when the marriage partners had become desperately unhappy with each other.   It was assumed, and taken as a given, that any difficulties, however great, should be resolved by means which kept the marriage intact, and that divorce was not to be accepted as the price of happiness.   Any unhappiness  in the relationship could be overcome through  forbearing and forgiving,  on the part of the husband or wife alone if there was no other way.  In the last resort, separate beds, separate rooms, or even separate dwellings were seen as ways in which a marriage could be maintained and continued rather than sufficient grounds for divorce.   Three years of cohabitation was not deemed to constitute a relationship equivalent to marriage, and three years of separation was not deemed to be sufficient grounds for divorce as is the case in modern family law.  Marriage was to endure literally "till death do us part" .

Traditional marriage is therefore  transcendant and metaphysical.   Even while the marriage partners change, the marriage does not.  It remains the same today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.  As the partners grow old, lose their wealth, their strength, their wits or their ideals, their marriage remains absolute, immutable and eternal.  It has no ending in this world or the next.

On the other hand the "commitment" expressed in modern marriage is a commitment to maintain the relationship so long as makes both parties happy, and therefore involves no real commitment at all.   The pursuit of the good, which is the principle of traditional marriage, and the pursuit of happiness, which is the principle of modern marriage, are two quite distinct and generally opposed principles.  In modern marriage there is no thought of eternity, and no place for sacrifice. Thus even while modern marriage continues to use the much of the language and many of the ritual forms of traditional marriage, to the modern mind the traditional metaphysical marriage model appears as a bizarre and oppressive institution, inimical to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".    The reality is not that simple.   Traditional marriage answered to the human being's deep yearning for relationships which endure while we change.    Philosophically we may accept that "no one enters the same river twice" - meaning that nothing remains the same for more than an instant of time - but at the core of our beings  we believe in the immutability of the self.   The self that loved and was loved in the days, months and years past is the same self today as it was then.   We cannot separate from it.   We cannot divorce it.   No more can we separate or divorce from the one who, for better or for worse, we made one with our own self in the act of marriage.

If marriage had retained its traditional form it is most unlikely that there would have been any demand for same-sex marriage, let alone a social consensus in favour.  "Same-sex marriage" may have changed the nature of marriage, but it is equally true that we would never have had same-sex marriage if the character of marriage had not fundamentally changed over the previous four or five decades.  Same-sex marriage has reinforced and sealed the transition from traditional marriage, with its true commitment and obligations, to a relationship which is based on nothing more than the pursuit of happiness.  That change will eventually be destructive of both the social good and individual happiness.

The argument for marriage equality was based on the false premise that "If two people love each other they should be allowed to marry".  A more honest way to put that argument would have been "If two people want to have sex together then they should be allowed to marry".   If we are to be honest, we will admit that "love" meant "sex" in this context.

Yet the truth is that love is much bigger than either sex or marriage.  Even though the lyrics of a popular song go "Love and marriage .. go together like a horse and carriage .. you can't have one without the other", love is distinctly separable from either sex or marriage.  When love can no longer be abstracted from its sexual expression and can only be expressed through sex and marriage, then it has effectively ceased to exist.    As a society we have not quite reached that point yet, but we are well on the way.