The Odd Couple
© Copyright Martin Addison and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence
Another of the possible questions (see What is marriage?) which seems to me a good place to start and lay foundations for discussion of marriage is: Why marry?
It’s a question that apparently many people today in Western societies (at least) ask. In NZ (as in most Western countries) the marriage rate has been declining almost every year since 1970. The introduction of “Civil Unions” has had little effect on this trend (there were only 301 civil unions registered last year, including both same sex and heterosexual unions, while there were 20,231 marriages).
This suggests that over the last four decades people have increasingly been unconvinced that “Why marry?” has a good positive answer. Yet the evidence seems clear. On almost all mental and many physical health statistics those who are married do “better” even when other factors like income and profession are factored out. There is even evidence that married people are wealthier, though whether the impact of bringing up children (a very expensive hobby ;) was taken into account I am not sure! Children are, of course, the other (and probably much more significant) reason people should marry. Again the statistics seem clear, children born and raised by a married couple do better on almost every measure.
If, even only for the sake of argument, we accept that marriage has great benefits for the individual and for society, then an interesting slant on the demand for “gay marriage” is suggested. If marriage has such obvious benefits, surely it would be wrong to deny those benefits to all who desire them?
However, if (again even if only for the sake of argument) we accept that “gay marriage” is socially desirable, and even ethically desirable.(For even if homosexuality is morally wrong, it would still be morally wrong to deny the health benefits of marriage to a homosexual couple.) There remain two major problems to discuss. One is theological and only concerns Christians except insofar as it might impinge of religious liberty. The other is social and should concern everyone.
Taking the social issue first. Marriage normally implies bringing up children. Couples who are unable to conceive and so produce and bring up children are encouraged (though not required) to adopt. Should this “right” also be extended to Gay Marriages? There seems to be evidence that children are “best” brought up in a stable married relationship where both male and female partners are present as objects of attachment and as role-models. If (again for the sake of argument) this is likely to be true, then perhaps even if the right to gay marriage is allowed the “right” to adopt of such gay couples might need to be restricted (compared to otherwise similar hetero-sexual couples). For there is a clear and stronger right. All children have a right to an upbringing that is as “good”, and likely to achieve good outcomes, as we can reasonably offer them. This right (of a relatively helpless child) is a higher obligation on society than any right of an adult couple.
Therefore: we need research reports, carefully compiled and debated by both professionals and the community at large to determine whether children do have such a “need” for both male and female parental figures. And, Christians of all people should not be distracted from this fundamental question of the rights of children (the powerless on this issue), by debate over mere sexual morality!
Gay marriage in Church:
Returning to the less important question, if a society introduces Gay Marriage should churches be compelled to celebrate such marriages. Here the clear answer in any open society is, no! Each church (and, of course, other community) should have the right not to recognise or celebrate such marriages. Anything else would be the imposition of religious rules by the state in a case where there is no clear obligation on the state to do so.
We have come a long and winding way from the apparently simple question: Why marry? This is because like: What is marriage? it is a very good question. It is one that should be near the forefront of the coming discussions!