Making the Case for Marriage

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

His ideas on the matter have been, as he put it, “evolving.” While stumping around the country, candidate Obama said that although he approved of civil unions for gays, he believed that marriage was reserved for heterosexuals.

Scarcely more than two years later, President Obama announced that his administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).* In a statement released to the press, the attorney general made the point that the President’s decision came after “careful consideration” of the law’s constitutionality. Given the timeframe for his turnabout, it would appear that Obama’s ideas on the matter have undergone a revolutionary change, rather than an evolutionary one.

The president’s foray into the affairs of the judicial branch included deciding that laws involving sexual orientation should be subject to “heightened scrutiny” -- the level of judicial review applied to legislation affecting ethnic and racial minorities. In Obama’s “evolved” understanding, DOMA not only fails that standard, but also reflects animus toward gays and lesbians.

The validity of the President’s judgment hinges on what marriage is and what purpose it serves. Is marriage a fluid convention socially constructed to satisfy a culture’s felt needs and desires? Is it a religious institution foisted on civilization to promote sectarian values? Or is it something intrinsic to our human design, something that fulfills, in a way that nothing else can, a universal human longing and essential social function?

Christian teaching aside, some valuable insights come from the ancient Greeks. They were folks who understood a thing or two about sexuality, things that many moderns have overlooked or ignored.

Lessons from antiquity

According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were a warrior class of women that lived in a unisex civilization. To sustain their all-female culture, the warrior-femmes descended upon neighboring tribes once a year for sexual relations with men. Nine months later, the Amazons kept the female babies and discarded the male ones. Aegean mythmakers knew that for their story to remain credible, their fantastical race needed the opposite sex.

The people of yore recognized that heterosexuality is as fundamental to civilization as gravity is to the universe. Without gravity, the stars would vaporize into the cosmic expanse; without heterosexuality, the human race would go extinct after one generation. Thus, while their musty stories bespoke of cultures in which homosexuality was socially accepted and prevalent, the ancients never suggested that marriage was anything but a heterosexual institution.

In a mystical and real way, when a man and woman join sexually, they become “one” physically, biologically, and genetically. No other union can unite two people so completely and complementarily. What’s more, researchers have recently found that during sex a “bonding hormone” is released that induces the man and the woman (to a greater degree) to attach to each other emotionally. Their holistic connection is shared by the offspring it produces.

Every child has a biological mother and father. Because of that intimate, organic bond, children deserve a stable, nurturing relationship with their biological parents – a relationship that is best served in marriage. For that reason, the solution to dysfunctional marriages and failed marriages is not redefinition and novel family structures, but strengthening the institution against corrupting influences.

An oxymoron

Throughout history, various societies have allowed the marriage of multiple partners (polygamy), close kin, or children. But without exception, all have upheld marriage exclusively as heterosexual, and not out of animus toward gays. Many past cultures had no moral proscriptions against homosexuality and some, like ancient Greece, even considered pederasty (man-boy love) a social good or, at least, a moral “no-never-mind.”

No, the ancients understood that the social capital of civilization depends on the family -- the basic unit of society that begins when a man and woman become “one” and stay one through the bonds of matrimony.   

Because of the social purpose that marriage uniquely serves, the ancients, while extolling the exploits of homosexual cultures -- the Boeotians, Spartans, and Cretans -- would have considered gay “marriage” something of an oxymoron, which is precisely what it is. To understand why, consider the chemical compound Salt.  Continue reading here. Continue reading here.   C        

Originally published March 25, 2011.

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