In Paul Rahe’s recent post on same-sex marriage and no-fault divorce, Ricochet member KC Mulville and I disagreed on the primary purpose of marriage. He says it is to bear children (and I recognize and respect this Catholic belief). I, however, believe the primary—the first, but not only—purpose of marriage is the union, and completion, of a man and a woman as one flesh, bound together to more perfectly reflect the image of God.
KC asked the question, “If the responsibility of procreation isn't integral to the understanding of marriage ... where does it come from? Doesn't it seem strange to you that society would have an elaborate institution, filled with ceremony and legal provisions about marriage, but then treat the bearing of children as a secondary afterthought? How can the bringing of new life into this world be a secondary purpose?”
As I began responding to KC in the post, I found myself a thousand words over the 200-word comment limit, so I thought I would post my response here and welcome the insight of other Ricochetti in this discussion.
KC and I are in more agreement than it would appear, though the distinction between our views is important for a broader understanding of marriage (I believe) and actually reinforces and even makes a stronger case than procreation that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
First, to clarify, I never said or meant to imply that the bearing of children is a "secondary afterthought." The command to go forth and multiply was hardly an afterthought, and the bearing of children is integral to marriage. However, child-bearing is not "absolutely essential" to that marriage union; it is not the foundation—it is a blessed consequence.
This is my broader point. Adam and Eve were married as a creational ordinance before they had children, and the goal of that marriage was primarily (as in first) to fill a void—to bring about completion relationally and functionally. That completion is the foundation of all else that follows, including having children.
I think it is necessary to make this point because if you say child-bearing is the "primary" purpose of marriage, then how do you explain and define all the marriages that do not have children (though I know you’ll say that the intent is there, but the reality is that there are no children—this is a very significant factor when you speak of primary purpose)?
How do you answer the many parallels of marriage to Christ's relationship with the church? How do you answer the very account in Genesis that puts the purpose of the creation of the woman, not first and foremost to have babies, but to rule alongside the man and to complete him because he was "alone"? What I am describing is not mere romanticized love, but something essential in being created in the image of God—and something that, I believe, is a stronger argument against same-sex marriage (maybe not legally, but definitely ontologically) than procreation.
Genesis 1 says, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.’” This is the general account of the creation of man.
Genesis 2 gets more specific of that same account: “The Lord God took the man and put in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. . . . The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ . . . Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man . . . That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
This creation account is not only found in the Christian religion but is reflected in many creation myths around the world. In the second and fourth Brahmanas of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of India, the first “person” or “self” was very much alone, with no real happiness, and “he longed for another.” So he split himself into two parts, a man and woman, and they mated and from their union came all the people of the earth.
There is also a story very much like that of Genesis from the Jicarilla Apaches. Their creator, called Black Hacticin, fashioned the first man out of elements from the earth: turquoise, red ochre, pollen, coral, opal, and white clay. But the man was lonely. And so Black Hactcin put lice in the man’s head, and he went to sleep scratching and he dreamed there was a woman lying beside him. When he woke up, she was real, sitting there next to him. These two, the Ancestral Man and the Ancestral Woman, had children and the earth was filled.
Even atheists cannot deny the ontological reality of the sexes and how one completes the other physically and sociologically (a point touched on by Ricochet member Mike Rapkoch's recent post).
Essential to marriage—from a natural and creational standpoint and expressed in many different religions—is the union of a man and a woman, not first to produce children (though that is important and necessary for the continuation of society), but to live a happy, content, and fulfilled life—to not be lonely. In a word, we can’t be happy unless we are complete.
This sense of oneness is foundational. While both men and women are individually created in the image of God, there is a sense—relationally—that this image cannot be fully realized alone. That’s because to be flourishing humans, we must love, give, and serve. We can’t do that in isolation.
Even Adam, pure as he was and in constant contact with his Creator, was in a very real sense “alone.” And not simply alone because he couldn’t produce children on his own, but existentially and relationally alone. The animals were not equipped to be loved and to love him as someone who was also made in the image of God—mind, body, and soul. The animals were not able to help Adam work the Garden and be a good steward of the earth (something he was called to do even without children). He needed a suitable helper. That helper was a woman.
God is triune in nature; he is, in himself, social, relational, giving and receiving in perfect love. His very image is relating to another in love. He acts and exists in his own being. A single human cannot fully reflect the image of God in a relational way alone (though, he can in a special relationship with God himself, which singles are called to in special circumstances).
God made all things good, but then the very first "not good" was that it was "not good for man to be alone." Why? The immediate context was stewardship of the earth and of "being alone." Again, this is not to be interpreted as a romantic self-serving notion of "what do I get out of the relationship." It is a statement that people are not meant to exist alone. Why? Because being made in the image of God, they are meant to give and receive, to love.
Children, then, are a result, an overflowing of that love—just as creation is an overflowing of God’s love within himself. God did not need to create the world or human beings. He is perfectly sufficient in himself, in the social nature of his transcendent (and incomprehensible) being. But out of his love, he created the world, and out of love, a man and a woman create children.
To understand what it means to be made in the image of God and why it is important that marriage be between a man and a woman, it is necessary to remember that God is "neither male or female"; he is not divided or separate—or another way of looking at it is that God is both male and female—that the fullness of the masculine and feminine, unified, is within the Godhead. While each human being is made in the likeness of God—spirit, soul, mind, original righteousness (both women and men)—relationally (that ability to love and give love and to grow more like God through that giving and loving) can only fully come in relation to another human being—a man and a woman. The masculine and feminine must be joined in spirit and body to find full expression of divine love as image-bearers of God.
This is one of the primary motivations of the human heart and the central theme of art and literature in all cultures throughout all time—to fill the lonely void that only a man (for the woman) and a woman (for the man) can fill. I must reiterate, as I have above, that singleness is an extraordinary calling, and one that finds its fulfillment in God—but it is a special situation, and I think we all, if we understand human nature and human longings, rightly recognize that.
The main point I want to make is that marriage by its very nature—even leaving children out of the picture—can only be between a man and a woman because of how humanity is made, the very building blocks of their existence, physically and spiritually. A man and a man are not complete because the feminine image of God is absent in the relationship (no matter how they might try to mimic it). A woman and a woman are incomplete because the masculine image of God is absent in the relationship (again, no matter how they might try to imitate it).
A homosexual couple might be satisfied because of many commonalities and mutual adoration (David and Jonathan, for example, though not a homosexual love, had a powerful, deep, and abiding love—this love was very, very real), but no matter how real and satisfying on some level that love is, it is not “completion”; it is not and never will be marriage, and the image of God—which gives us true joy and happiness as the essential part of our nature—can never be fully attained in a same-sex union.
I don't mean that to be offensive to homosexuals, please know that. Please know I'm saying this without malice or judgment; it's just an honest assessment of my understanding of nature and creation. I recognize and compassionately understand that homosexuals really do love each other, but ontologically and spiritually speaking—as I see it from a theistic, nonmaterialistic perspective (though I admit I could be wrong)—there is something significant to the creation of a man and woman that is essential to human existence, and that union exceeds even the bearing of children.
Men and women were not made the same for a reason, and it goes much deeper than just bearing children. In fact, it goes so deep that if we really understood it (what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman), marriage itself would be revolutionized in our "gender neutral or gender equalized" times.
The real loss in homosexual relationships is not a breakdown of the family, but a loss of human beings living to their fullness in true happiness and in reflecting the image of God. But this is not just a deficiency we find in homosexual relationships by their very nature. It’s a failure in traditional marriages—by choice of thought, feeling, and action—as men fall short of being men, and women reject what it means to be a woman. If we fail to be the best of what we've been created to be, we will not be good stewards in this world; instead, we will undermine, even destroy, it—and each other.
That being said, the real threat to marriage and family, I believe, is a man in a marriage not acting like a man and failing to complete the void in his wife's heart and not loving her and giving in a way that only he can—in a way that not only lifts her up but elevates all of society. The same goes for the woman—a woman not acting like a woman and failing to complete the void in her husband's heart, pursuing her own selfish intents instead of giving and loving in a way only she can—to the elevation of herself, him, her family, and the community.
The practical consequence of this failure is often found in divorce or in unhappy marriages where people seek satisfaction, completion, and the fulfillment of legitimate needs through emotional and sexual affairs.
The issue of children that KC and others are speaking of is very real and important, and the societal implications are serious. We don't disagree on that. But the essence of human thriving is first living as image-bearers of God in this world—in love and with joy as men and women.
That is fulfilled best in the marriage relationship. That is also why when it doesn’t happen, it is so very painful and tragic. Nothing is more heartbreaking than for a woman to be married to a man who has failed or has rejected being a man (either through neglect or abuse). She is locked into a union with a man where there is no communion, no completion, no love. This scrapes at the soul more fiercely than even being alone.
The same is true for a husband who is bound to a wife who fails to complete him because she refuses to be true to her feminine self, to give, to love, and to be the woman God created her to be. Her love is turned inward, toward self-satisfaction, instead of outward to her husband, loving him as only she can.
Nothing is more satisfying for a woman than to be loved by a man, acting fully and responsibly as a man. In this feminist age, women might deny that need and that longing, but it is intrinsic to their nature—and in their most honest moments, they'll admit it. To be loved by a man who is true to his masculinity and who expresses that in a loving and sacrificial way completes us like nothing else in this world. This value, however, this essential part of marriage, sadly has been lost in our feminized culture, and we feel empty and incomplete because of it.
Most human beings are longing to be joined with another. They were created to love, to serve, to give—to be complete in God's image, but that joining can only be truly accomplished when the two halves of human nature come together—male and female. This is primary the purpose of marriage.