The Meaning of Marriage 4

Body as Integral Part of  Human Person, Not Just Instrument for Satisfaction

Please note, by the way, that the Church's teaching here reflects her understanding of the body as fully participating in the personal reality of the human being, and not as a mere subpersonal instrument for achieving ends or inducing satisfactions desired by the conscious and desiring aspect of the self -- considered, as in dualistic theories, as the real person who inhabits and uses a body.

The biological union of spouses in procreative type acts can be true personal communion, precisely because we are our bodies -- though, of course, we are not only our bodies -- we are body-soul composites. We are not non-bodily persons -- minds, souls, consciousnesses -- residing in, or supervening on, and using non-personal bodies.

State's Interest in Marriage as the Best Environment for Raising Children

Q: If marriage is so self-evidently good, then why does the state need to intervene to preserve it? Couldn't it be preserved in churches and religious communities where it is celebrated and lived in the fullest sense?

"The most powerful and basic reason for the public's interest in marriage and its institutional health is its unique suitability for protecting children and rearing them to be upright people and responsible citizens."

George: This is a superficially appealing proposition.

Its appeal fades, however, the moment we consider both: a) the importance of marriages, and thus marriage considered as an institution, to the well-being of society and the state; and b) the vulnerability of marriage as an institution to social pathologies and to ideologies hostile to marriage that weaken the institution's immunities to these pathologies.

The most powerful and basic reason for the public's interest in marriage and its institutional health is its unique suitability for protecting children and rearing them to be upright people and responsible citizens.

As Brad Wilcox, Maggie Gallagher and other social scientists who have contributed to "The Meaning of Marriage" have shown, few things are as important to the public weal -- and in our current circumstances almost nothing is more urgent -- than creating and maintaining a set of social conditions in which children being raised by their moms and dads is the norm.

The Didactic Role of the Law with Regard to the Meaning of Marriage

Certainly religious communities and other institutions of civil society have an indispensable role to play, but law has a role to play, too. The law is a teacher.

It will teach either that marriage is a reality in which people can choose to participate, but whose contours people cannot make and remake at will -- e.g., a one-flesh communion of persons united in a form of life uniquely suitable to the generation, education and nurturing of children -- or the law will teach that marriage is a mere convention, which is malleable in such a way that individuals, couples, or, indeed, groups, can choose to make of it whatever suits their desires, interests or subjective goals, etc.

"Once we understand marriage as truly a one-flesh union, we see that sexual activity between or among members of polyamorous groups or between partners of the same sex, however much they may desire it or find it satisfying, is inherently non-marital."

The result, given the biases of human sexual psychology, will be the development of practices and ideologies that truly tend to undermine the sound understanding and practice of marriage, together with the development of pathologies that tend to reinforce the very practices and ideologies that cause them.

Oxford University philosopher Joseph Raz, himself a liberal who does not share my views regarding sexual morality, is rightly critical of forms of liberalism which suppose that law and government can and should be neutral with respect to competing conceptions of moral goodness.

In this regard, he has noted that: "Monogamy, assuming that it is the only valuable form of marriage, cannot be practiced by an individual. It requires a culture which recognizes it, and which supports it through the public's attitude and through its formal institutions."

Of course, Professor Raz does not suppose that, in a culture whose law and public policy do not support monogamy, a man who happens to believe in it somehow will be unable to restrict himself to having one wife or will be required or pressured into taking additional wives.

His point, rather, is that even if monogamy is a key element in a sound understanding of marriage, large numbers of people will fail to understand that or why that is the case -- and therefore will fail to grasp the value of monogamy and the intelligible point of practicing it -- unless they are assisted by a culture that supports, formally by law and policy, as well as by informal means, monogamous marriage.

What is true of monogamy is equally true of the other elements of a sound understanding of marriage.

In short, marriage is the kind of good that can be chosen and meaningfully participated in only by people who have a sound basic understanding of it and choose it with that understanding in mind; yet people's ability to understand it, and thus to choose it, depends crucially on institutions and cultural understandings that both transcend individual choice and are constituted by a vast number of individual choices.

George, Robert P., Elshtain, Jean Bethke (ed.) 2006, The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals, Spence Publishing, Dallas.

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