|Although much of the discussion about same-sex marriage has been negative, it is good to remember what we are lifting up. What does “traditional marriage” mean and what is behind the privileged status it enjoys in our culture? Some polls indicate that Americans have made up their minds about the appropriateness of same-sex marriage. However, our understanding of the model we favor is less clear, if we can infer understanding from behavior.Most broadly, marriage is a social institution. Our society depends on conditions and work best done by a married man and woman.
Public morality is a social benefit of traditional marriage. There is true power in human relationships. If those relationships are in the bounds of biblical morality, that power is productive. Outside those bounds, it is destructive. More complex collections of boyfriends and exes and live-ins are volatile because they misuse the real power of marriage. Ask a policeman what is worse than a domestic disturbance and he’ll have to resort to huge natural disasters for a comparison.
Paul commends marriage as an antidote to lust and immorality in 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9. Our own experience also tells us that concern for sexual purity is more than prudishness. Those who ridicule traditional morality often live in emotional squalor and social wreckage. It is a condition with victims. When marriage is undervalued, ignored, or misused, it is to the detriment of public order.
Of course the most obvious social benefit to marriage has to do with the producing, rearing, and socialization of children. We are not the first society to experiment with different ways of training our children. If we find that current innovative models work, we’ll be the first to succeed, though. I’m not holding my breath. Whole bureaucracies have grown up around needs where families have become less effective. These programs are only first aid. Nobody does it better than Mom and Dad can. They never will.
Marriage is also a community commitment. Whatever your community, you make your vows before witnesses, lots of witnesses usually. In doing so, you are making a claim of maturity. Your family, church, or community will treat you as if you are able to handle adult responsibilities after you marry. I’ve been in churches that would ordain a married 20-year-old as a deacon before a 30-ish single man. Right or wrong, you have a different place in the community because of your commitment to the stability and responsibility of a lifelong marriage.
Marriage is a significant spiritual covenant. God commends marriage (Proverbs 18:22) and makes demands on us based on our commitment to him in marrying. The spiritual covenant is no less real for those who do only a civil ceremony or even common-law marriage. Marriage is a legal status with far more significant spiritual meaning. We cannot escape the spiritual aspect because we are spiritual beings. Our actions will enter us into a spiritual covenant even when our words don’t.
Paul’s call for moral purity in 1 Corinthians 6 applies God’s description of the first marriage (“one flesh”) to even unmarried sexual relations. God’s word here tells us that a man and woman become one flesh in sexual relations, regardless of intent. Instinctively, maybe subconsciously, we know this. This is one reason that sexually-active relationships are so bitter when they end. This is one reason that husbands and wives never quite get over one another even after the end of their legal relationship. This is also why adultery is so deadly to even a marriage that has endless advantages over a fling.
The spiritual covenant we make in marriage is also a reason God hates divorce. It is breaking a promise we made to our Creator. Those who bridle at these words may tell heartrending stories of abuse, betrayal, and abandonment. This underscores my point. Divorce may be better than abuse or betrayal but it is not better than marriage. Not all who divorce take their responsibility to God lightly. The fact is, however, in our nation and in our time many do just that.
Additionally, marriage is a relationship. The first statement regarding marriage is from God (Genesis 2:18) when he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Man and woman comfort one another and complement one another in essential ways. We are made for each other temperamentally, emotionally, and physically. Our parenting and problem-solving strengths complete one another. Sociological studies show that married men live longer than single men. Married men who kiss their wives each day live longer than those who don’t. We were made for a relationship with the one God prepared for us.
Negatively, we see the damage done by desperate, lonely, rejected lovers. A recent Dallas tragedy resulted in the deaths of three people and the wounding of several policemen. A woman’s ex-husband, out on bail and headed to jail for threatening to kill her current boyfriend, broke into her apartment, killed the boyfriend and a bystander and then was killed in a shootout with police. The need for a relationship is at least as powerful a motivator as the love of money.