Marriage is for Breeders, Part I: Defining Marriage

D Christian Harrison - January 20, 2006

The first hurdle anyone faces when discussing gay marriage is the messy state that straight marriage is in. And not just messy in the sense that so many fail to live-up to their potential — not to mention fail altogether… but in the sense that when we talk about marriage, we’re talking about a few different things cohabiting in an inelegant arrangement.

… Marriage as Love

… Marriage as Institution

Which breaks-down nicely into:

… Marriage as Religious Ceremony

… Marriage as Social Contract

And then there’s the whole issue of what a “traditional” marriage really is… is it a man and a woman until death parts them, is it a man and 27 women, or is it something altogether different.

Marriage as Love

Let me make my contention, here, as simple as possible… I believe that marriage/coupling is a natural reflection of our biological and spiritual constructs, and as such, it’s viewed in its most elemental form as the natural expression of love (whatever love is).

Marriage as love, then, is the “natural” state of marriage… it’s what people think of when the dream of being married, and it’s the state of affairs found in the world’s literary and musical traditions.

Now this does not mean that there aren’t other forces at-play: societal norms have an enormous impact, as do other biological drives and plain, old-fashioned temptation (I don’t believe that temptation and the natural man are a 1:1 fit). I believe that the strong biological and spiritual drives to couple are found universally, and regardless of the structure of a marriage, and manifest themselves in terms of “first wives” and our general distaste for group sex…

Competing drives aside, I believe that life-long pair-bonding is the best option for the raising of children and our own emotional and physical well-being (an argument I’ll make at-length in my next post), and others seem to agree — devising their own incentive delivery mechanisms to support life-long pair-bonding.

Marriage as Institution

Community leaders from both secular and religious backgrounds have vested interests in legislating marriage. There are the issues of power-brokering that come to play whenever a body successfully inserts itself into the distribution of rights to natural resources (and, as I said before, the drive to couple is strong, and having a recognized/solemnized/lawful/whathaveyou marriage would be a powerful desire on the parts of large portions of any community). Beyond issues of power, there are the benefits of social engineering: observant community leaders will note that life runs better when all the adults have life-long mates, and all the children have parents (preferably biological ones) looking after them. And as leaders in their community, they will want to encourage such a situation with the tools at their disposal: rule-making, norms-setting, enforcement, and the like.

A Word about Religion

My fellow Mormons will probably argue that marriage is an institution that dates back to Adam and Eve (or Lilith, if you’re of that mind), and I agree. But whether that line is an un-broken one for each and every faith community is unclear… So regardless of a specific dispensation from God, established religious communities continue use some form of marriage as a part (more fundamental in some than in others) of their belief system — enshrining it in tradition and in the language of propriety and piety.

A Word about the Social Contract

Modern, secular communities, by-and-large, inherited their views of marriage from the religious traditions of their founders… but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to winnow-out compelling secular reasons for continued state involvement in regulating marriage. In fact, inasmuch as the United States is an experiment in deliberate society building, our nation is a perfect place to ask (and answer) questions about how and whether the state _should_ be involved.

But that’s the subject of another post.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part II: Marriage in the Social Contract


  1. A quick note…

    In re-reading the post, I see that I raise the question of “what is traditional marriage”, but don’t actually answer it.

    It would take an entire post to do the question justice… a post by someone more qualified than I …but let me just say that I believe the question is a red-herring: from all accounts I’ve read, marriages have always revolved around a man and a woman, and that aberations have either been short-lived or merely extensions to the pair-bond.

    Case-in-point: Mormon polygamy was not so much one man with several wives so much as it was several pair-bonds sharing among them a single male… and even then, anecdotes from the era suggest that there was always a pre-eminant pair-bond.

    Moreover, while its a popular practice, pointing out that reality doesn’t match an ideal doesn’t invalidate the ideal — it should, in truth, cause us to re-examine the ideal, and to redouble our efforts to meet it (if, in fact, its what we want as an ideal).

    Comment by Silus Grok — January 20, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

  2. Great intro…where’s the controversy?

    Comment by don — January 20, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  3. “I don’t believe that temptation and the natural man are a 1:1 fit.”–I’d like to know more (maybe in a diferent post sometime?) what you mean by this.
    Ditto what Don said.
    I really like what you say there at the end about reality and the ideal, too.

    Comment by Bret — January 20, 2006 @ 5:02 pm

  4. Bret: It would be convenient/appealing to believe that _all_ temptation is a result of biological drives coming to heads with spiritual imperatives… but at some point temptation must necessarily be the choice between two spiritual imperatives.

    So there you go.

    Comment by Silus Grok — January 20, 2006 @ 6:11 pm

  5. With all due respect, this entry is poorly organized and all-over-the-board.

    But, let me just state this: idealism is at the heart of the very worst of humanity.

    I like who I am; there’s no reason for me to want to be who you are. If we are different, that’s great. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness. The drive to force me to live my life as you live your life is born of egoism and abuse of power. Nothing more.

    Comment by Timothy — January 20, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

  6. I don’t find anything you wrote here particularly incendiary or difficult, but I did want to ask you a question, Silus, perhaps premature:

    Since you have said that marriage is the natural extension of love of two people, do you not believe that love exists between people of the same sex? Is same sex only an unnatural lust, or can there be real love there?

    Comment by D. Fletcher — January 20, 2006 @ 7:54 pm

  7. D. Fletcher: I’m sure Silus wil respond appropriately to your question, but I feel compelled to jump in here because it disturbs me greatly that there are people who obvioulsy do regard gay marriage as merely an extension of “unnatural lust.”

    And gay marriage isn’t just a natural extension of two people’s love for one another, either. It’s way more complex than that.

    I’ve tried to describe gay marriage in a way that helps make it a very real, graspable social phenomenon. My thoughts are too long to post here; see What gay marriage is if you’re interested.


    Comment by Dave Walter — January 21, 2006 @ 3:57 am

  8. Silus,
    Oh, I see what you mean. I agree.

    Comment by Bret — January 21, 2006 @ 4:52 pm

  9. >But, let me just state this: idealism is at the heart of the very worst of humanity.

    It’s also at the heart of the very best of humanity. No progress has ever been made by people who said “Eh… that’s goood enough I guess.” Conversely, great wrongs, like prejudice, aren’t stopped by people who don’t strive to make them better.

    >I like who I am; there’s no reason for me to want to be who you are. If we are different, that’s great. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness. The drive to force me to live my life as you live your life is born of egoism and abuse of power. Nothing more.

    Poor Silas. He wants to share some thoughtful discussion on an important topic and right of the gate, he’s accused of furthering some oppresive agenda. This is why I have all but closed my ears to leftist rhetoric. They so rarely follow their own pleas for tolerance. They sneer at Bush but then take his same “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” stance.

    Diversity is not only astrength. Diversity is also a weakness. “United we stand, divided we fall.” Don’t forget Nebachadnezzer’s dream statue, the one with the gold head, bronze torso, and feet made of an amalagam of clay and other metals. With no iternal cohesiveness, the feet are easily smashed.

    Comment by harpingheather — January 21, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

  10. I came back to re-read this today, and noticed the link in the trackback. Can it be removed?

    Comment by Ariel — February 17, 2006 @ 11:37 pm

  11. Thanks Ariel. It’s taken care of.

    Comment by Rusty — February 18, 2006 @ 12:25 am

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