What is Marriage?
The media is repeatedly telling us that the "traditional" definition of marriage, that of, "one man and one women to the exclusion of all others" was defined only in the late eighteen hundreds, giving the impression that this thing called marriage hasn't really been around all that long. What they are talking about is the common law definition of marriage. The judiciary simply legally defined what was already in place in society.
Additionally, we hear these days from feminist who assert that traditional marriage is but a means by which the patriarchy asserts its power and assures its property rights over its progeny. Thus they claim, the modern family finds its roots in capitalist patriarchy. Such claims are not surprising since much of radical feminist thought can be traced to Marx and Engels. Indeed Engels had this to say about the monogamous family in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State:
It [the momogamous family] is based on the supremacy of the man, the express purpose being to produce children of undisputed paternity; such paternity is demanded because these children are later to come into their father's property as his natural heirs.Sound familiar? Proponents of same-sex marriage go to great lengths to inculcate the notion in the public mind that marriage, as we know it in Western civilization, is a recent institution, constantly changing and not really all that spiritual in origin. But is this true?
As a Catholic I know that the institution of marriage is a very old sacrament going back to the beginnings of the Church and beyond. The Fathers of the Church wrote about it. St. Augustine, 354-480 AD, wrote of the sacrament in Of the Good of Marriage:
For as much as each man is a part of the human race, and human nature is something social, and hath for a great and natural good, the power also of friendship; on this account God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred. Therefore the first natural bond of human society is man and wife. ... For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk. Then follows the connexion of fellowship in children, which is the one alone worthy fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of the sexual intercourse.For two thousand years, in Western society, marriage has been understood not as something made by judges, nor as something derived from a purely economic arrangement, or as a means to pass on wealth, but as a spiritual bond between a man and a woman which allows for the procreation, protection and nurturing of children.
Why do I mention this? To put to rest the canard that this institution is a fleeting changeling, or a legitimate plaything of political dilettentes, or a matter only concerning the loving couple themselves.
Anyone who is a parent knows that marriage is not about the rights of adults, but the obligations to the children. In enduring the many hardships of parenthood: the sleepless nights with sick babies, the allocation of the available income to the needs of the little ones, the loss of freedom to spend time in the pursuit of adult pleasures, the extra hours at the factory to pay for the schooling, the best cuts of food to the hungry little tummies, the wearing of last year's fashions to provide a few extras for the kids, the watching of Barney, and other kids shows, over and over and over..... You get the drift.
Marriage is a giving, not a getting. But oddly enough it is in this constant giving of oneself to one's children that one becomes fully human and more robustly alive. To the extent that I can call myself a man, it is because I am a father. In giving myself completely as a father, I become a man.
Marriage is the cornerstone of the family and the family is the cornerstone of society. We socially engineer this ancient institution at our peril.