Before we try to redefine marriage, we must remind ourselves of what marriage really is. A rose is a rose by any other name, and calling a cabbage a rose does not make it a rose. Then we must consider why there is such an institution, whether it is beneficial and whether it would be beneficial to change it.
Marriage is a vow of lifelong commitment made by two people to each other ‘forsaking all others’. Although many do not keep that commitment, that does not change the requirement for the commitment, it simply means that they have broken their vow. However, marriage is about more than a lifelong commitment to another person. It is a union between two people who also commit to the joint care of their offspring. It is a commitment to only produce offspring with that one other person.
“marriage brings husband and wife together in the delight and tenderness of sexual union and joyful commitment to the end of their lives. It is given as the foundation of family life in which children are born and nurtured and in which each member of the family, in good times and in bad, may find strength, companionship and comfort, and grow to maturity in love.”
For those who do not believe in spiritual issues, the behaviour committed to in the marriage vow is a highly successful behavioural pattern that the biological process of evolution through natural selection has produced. Indeed, scientific research demonstrates that children raised in the traditional family environment are more successful than those who do not have that advantage. Marriage as presently defined is a more successful and beneficial way of life for both the individuals and for society as a whole.
Heterosexuality is the only successful biological behaviour – homosexual couples cannot produce offspring – so the most beneficial arrangement for continuation of our species is the heterosexual relationship within the environment of marriage.
For those who do believe in spiritual issues, marriage is also the union of two spiritual beings who have different and complementary roles in the production of new spiritual beings.
So it is unquestionable that the ideal situation for children is to be brought up by a couple who have committed to each other and to the children. The ideal cannot always be achieved, but it remains the ideal. Marriage is recognition of a couple’s determination to strive to achieve that ideal, the couple chooses to accept the responsibility in front of their friends. The friends recognise the commitment, and are able to support the couple in their commitment. Those who know a couple are married should not try to destroy the marriage; it can be hard enough for two people to keep their commitment without others undermining it. Although many marriages do not succeed, that is no reason to destroy the basis for marriage; it is a reason to help those who want to make it a success achieve their ambition. We should not be lowering the standards and expectation of marriage, we should be helping couples to achieve them
Changing the definition of marriage to allow homosexual couples to be declared ‘married’ is not just a consideration of being kind and sympathetic to them, is would simply destroy marriage. Marriage would no longer be the specific recognition of the role and responsibilities of parenthood. It would no longer be an institution to support those who want to commit to the special relationship that is best for bringing up our children. It would simply become a ‘badge’ on a relationship. If the homosexual ‘marriage’ breaks down, the consequences are confined to the couple, if a true marriage breaks down the consequences are on the children and on society. Society respects things that are important and tries to preserve them. If things are less important, then it does not matter if they are not preserved. Changing the definition of marriage would make it less important, and less likely to be preserved.
It is argued that it is not fair to limit marriage to a man and woman; perhaps it isn’t fair – but the world is not fair. There are far more issues where lack of fairness really matters; the great divide between rich and poor nations for example. Sometimes it is best simply to accept this; if we let envy or bitterness take over then it will destroy us and our actions are likely to cause distress and damage to many others. That is the position with the marriage question.
Rather than redefining marriage, we should be reminding ourselves of how important it is. We should be doing all that we can to help those who are married to keep their commitment and make their marriage successful.