Why Marriage?

Why marriage? Why leave the chairs empty on a lovely beach?

The Odd Couple
© Copyright Martin Addison and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Why marriage? According to the research evidence marriage leads to greater health, wealth, and happiness! Marriage has so many positive outcomes for married people, as almost all studies report.

After the question What is marriage? another good place to start laying foundations for discussion of marriage is: Why marriage?

Negative answers

It’s a question that apparently many people today in Western societies (at least) ask. In NZ (as in most Western countries) the marriage rate1 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).2

This suggests that over the last four decades people have increasingly been unconvinced that “Why marry?” has a good positive answer.

Positive answers

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.3 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.

Adoption:

Taking the social issue first. Marriage normally implies bringing up children. Society encourages couples who are unable to conceive and so produce and bring up children to adopt. Should we extend this “right”4 also to Gay Marriages? There seems to be evidence5 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)6 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 marriage? 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!

  1. I.e. the number of marriages per 1000 unmarried people aged 16 and over. []
  2. All statistics, unless otherwise mentioned, are drawn from the government’s Statistics New Zealand website mainly around this page. []
  3. See for example “Marriage and men’s health” summary report from Harvard Medical School. []
  4. I have used inverted commas to signal that I am far from convinced that there IS such a “right”, but the discussion is often phrased that way. []
  5. I confess I have not yet studied the evidence enough to have my own opinion, hence “seems”. []
  6. And, as with the other suppositions,  until or unless evidence suggests the contrary. []

4 comments on “Why Marriage?

  1. Nathan

    If both masculine and feminine roles are required by children:

    Would Aunties/Uncles, Teachers, Grandparents etc fill those roles?

    Do grandparents even count? (Given that the differences between sexes becomes less apparent as people age).

    Aren’t homosexuals and lesbians renowned (stereotypically so)for their ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’ respectfully?

    What is the level of manliness or femininity required for child raising? Are tomboys bad mothers?

    Should widows remarry asap?

    Regarding the church, shouldn’t the church celebrate all loving relationships regardless of legal status? Banning gay marriages from churches or from using pastors as celebrants would further ostracise a section of society from church.

    All this is under the assumption that children are the main reason for marriage. I would have thought that firstly, the main reason is to unite (through both legal, religious and social understanding) a partnership of lovers for the purposes of helping each other through life, from mutual respect and admiration etc…

  2. tim

    Great questions :) some of them go way beyond what I was trying to do in this post, but here are some attempts at answers (though it is usually easier to ask great questions than provide good answers ;)

    > Would Aunties/Uncles, Teachers, Grandparents etc fill those roles?
    Yes. But the evidence is mainly about the primary caregivers and all these others are not primary caregivers.

    > Do grandparents even count? (Given that the differences between sexes becomes
    > less apparent as people age).
    Hmm… I’m not sure. What I do know is that my Granny and Grandad did not seem less different in terms of “gender” than my parents…

    > Aren’t homosexuals and lesbians renowned (stereotypically so)for their ‘femininity’
    > or ‘masculinity’ respectfully?
    I’m not sure this is the issue, as I understand the evidence it’s the different role-models and targets for attachment. I was not saying “Homosexual couples should not be allowed to adopt.” Just that such adoption should not be a “right”. As it should not be for heterosexual couples. The child’s rights need more protection by society than the adult’s.

    > What is the level of manliness or femininity required for child raising? Are tomboys
    > bad mothers?
    No. But perhaps if the differences from the norm are extreme it ought to be a factor taken into consideration?

    > Should widows remarry asap?
    Again, no! But they probably need to, and usually do, think (even agonise) about the male figures in their children’s lives… Children matter!

    > Regarding the church, shouldn’t the church celebrate all loving relationships regardless
    > of legal status? Banning gay marriages from churches or from using pastors as celebrants
    > would further ostracise a section of society from church.
    I think here my earlier post about not obscuring the difference between marriage as a legal status and marriage as a theological concern is relevant. Also I suspect we are using “celebrate” in different senses. I meant definition #6 from Dictionary.com “to perform a religious ceremony, especially Mass or the Lord’s Supper“. And was arguing that churches should not be compelled by law to perform such ceremonies. I think that is an aspect of freedom of conscience that needs to be protected regardless of what one may think about gay marriage.

    > All this is under the assumption that children are the main reason for marriage. I would
    > have thought that firstly, the main reason is to unite (through both legal, religious and
    > social understanding) a partnership of lovers for the purposes of helping each other through
    > life, from mutual respect and admiration etc…
    Yes! Though children are one commonly given answer to the question: Why marry? They are also a significant complication, at least as I see it, to discussion of gay marriage, or at least of “marriage equality”.

  3. Pingback: July 2012 Biblical Studies Carnival « Reading Acts

  4. Heather

    Hi Tim,

    Your points on adoption have prompted me to write up some thoughts on the topic that have been floating around my head a lot the last few days.  Basically, allowing homosexual couples to adopt wouldn’t just mean allowing them to adopt kids out of the ‘pool’ of kids available for adoption.  I agree that, for such kids, concerns about whether the sexuality of the adoptive parents has an impact on these vulnerable kids really must be raised and examined.  However, it would also mean that gay couples that were already raising a child together could then both be recognised as that child’s parents.  In that case, it seems to me clear that that would be the best outcome for the child.  I’m not sure how you could permit one of those cases without the other, though, should that be what turns out to be optimal…

    My thoughts are written up here.

    –Heather :-)