The Purpose of Marriage and the Confusion of Modern Americans
By Zachary D. Rogers
Modern Americans are deeply confused about the purpose of marriage and its benefits to them and to society. Marriage has been reduced to the union of two individuals who have intense emotions towards one another. In a recent article at The Atlantic titled “What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse: what if marriage is not the social good that so many believe and want it to be,” the author, Miss Catron, is not married but rather cohabiting with her boyfriend. She has not gotten married — not because she questions the seriousness of her own relationship but because of “doubting the institution itself.” She attempts to lay out the case that making marriage the central relationship in our culture harms the individual and society. In doing so, she displays her misunderstanding of the purpose of marriage, even going so far as to quote Justice Anthony Kennedy’s infamous statement in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The structure of Catron’s essay is easily laid out. First, she questions what the cost is to making marriage the central relationship in our culture. The high prestige of marriage as an institution prevents questions about it. Second, marriage weakens other social ties. Married couples are contrasted with singles who are more connected. Third, marriage confirms prestige at the same time it prescribes norms, the result of which is social isolation. Fourth, the expectations for marriage have risen, and with it the decline of the role of the community in an individual’s life to meet certain needs. Fifth, the goal for children should be stability, in which case whether or not a couple is married to each other matters less than their ability to stick it out. Sixth, the committed and stable marriage is not the reality experienced by most Americans. Finally, she closes on the note, “Energy spent striving to prop up the insular institution of marriage could instead be spent working to support family stability in whatever form it takes.”
There are several facets to understanding traditional marriage and the natural family. First, marriage was divinely instituted by God in the creation of Eve. Second, marriage is an earthly symbol of the love Christ has for the church. Third, procreation is designed to occur within marriage. Fourth, marriage provides a mutual support system emotionally, physically, verbally, financially, and materially. Fifth, marriage is the best, most reliable, and efficient means of caring for the children that result from the sexual union of a marriage. It therefore fulfills a vital role that government cannot. Finally, the marriage covenant provides physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy that should be displayed outwardly in actions. In a word, love.
Marriage Was Divinely Instituted
Americans fail to understand the transcendent order of the universe. This can be seen in the fact Catron did not even address the historically held view that marriage was instituted by God, Creator of the Universe in general and man in particular. In the garden, Adam required a companion, and God provided him one. It is remarkable that while God had called all of his creation good, it was not good for Adam to be alone. Genesis 2:18, 21-24 states: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Verse 24 reads, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” God created Eve in order to meet spiritual, physical, and emotional needs nothing else in creation could. This standard and example starts at the very beginning of Creation.
Marriage as a Symbol
The love between a man and a woman in holy matrimony is a copy of the union of Christ and the church. When men and women stand before God, his minister, and their friends, they are covenanting together. A covenant is defined according to BibleGateway as “a contract or agreement between two parties.” The covenant between spouses is a symbol of the covenant between God and His church. This can be seen in Ephesians 5:22,23,25,32: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. … Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. … This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Marriage and Procreation
Marriage is by nature oriented towards procreation. It is an institution that helps man fulfill the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply, as well as a recognition of reality. Biologically, the sexual complementarity of men and women cannot be denied. As Maggie Gallagher wrote, “Sex makes babies, society needs babies, and children need mothers and fathers.”
Marriage and Support
Marriage provides a mutual support system for both men and women. They are able to care for each other in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth. When one is sick, the other is there to cook, clean, and take care of the chores of life that never end, regardless of health. In sum, the union of a man and woman in marriage provides a support system for the vicissitudes of life.
Marriage and Social Good
Marriage provides a social good to children and society. It is the only institution that can responsibly and effectively care for the children that are the result of the procreative act.
There are multiple studies that show children are reared best in stable homes with a man and woman acting as father and mother. Marriage helps to ensure that both spouses, not just mothers, are involved in a child’s upbringing. Fathers play an important role in demonstrating proper conduct for growing boys and in protecting young ladies.
Marriage provides a social good as well. When families break apart, the state, local community, and family members are forced to step in. The simple reality is that children require a great deal of care and expense that will have to be provided by someone. Marriage helps to connect fathers to their duty of supporting both mother and child.
The healthy formation of families is also necessary for societies. Without enough young men of the right age, the nation cannot defend itself from the aggression of others. The youth are also necessary to contribute to the job market, provide taxes, and in modern America participle in funding social-welfare programs.
Marriage and Love
Finally, marriage is a spiritual, physical, and emotional union between spouses. In it both learn to sacrifice and love each other. It is this bond, a wonderful element of marriage, that has been myopically focused on in modern culture. Therefore, while an important part of marriage, it is far less necessary to dwell upon this element than on the others-mutual support, procreation, the good of society, and its divine institution by God. While spouses might not feel in love, the covenant they entered into before God and man requires they fulfill their duties to each other. It requires that they act a certain way regardless of their feelings.
Marriage is an important institution divinely instituted, necessary for mutual support and love, and crucial to the success of the nation in terms of national defense and the economy. Modern Americans have forgotten this and focused increasingly on marriage as an intense emotional bond between two individuals. This falls far short of a full understanding of marriage, succinctly defined by Ryan T. Anderson, who wrote: “In short, marriage unites a man and a woman holistically — emotionally and bodily, in acts of conjugal love and in the children such love brings forth — for the whole of life.”
Christians and conservatives should fight to instantiate this fuller view of marriage in the culture, laws, and public policy.