Marriage has become a hotly debated topic within the last few years as the issue of recognizing homosexual marriage by the state has come to the forefront. Both in initiatives to outlaw it and to legalize it by various groups on both sides.
But the arguments focus on two main areas: legal definition of marriage and the biblical classification of homosexual sex as a sin. Homosexual groups tend to focus on the inequality of the former, while religious groups focus on the latter. Meanwhile, few seem to be asking what marriage really is. Not purely based upon legal questions, or purely based upon Biblical prohibitions, but on a holistic approach that takes all aspects that define marriage into consideration.
To that end, I am going to do a series of posts about marriage. This will not be a complete historical run down, but will involve the following main topics:
- What is Marriage?
- Alternate Forms of Marriage
- Divorce, Remarriage, Adultery
- Healing Marital Devaluation
Some of these topics will overlap, but I think they can lay the groundwork to a fuller understanding of these controversial issues by all sides, as well as other issues that are often ignored by our culture and the Church. So let’s tackle the first topic:
What is Marriage?
Marriage is defined by biology and culture. For the Christian, also by biblical theology. The later will only matter to Christians directly, but if understood in context, syncs nicely with biology and can inform the cultural aspects. Non-Christians may appreciate understanding its basis if they can get past preconceived ideas about the topic.
In this installment, I’ll examine:
The Biological Basis for Marriage
Often people will survey the structure of “husband and wife” in the animal kingdom to prove the diversity of marital and familial makeups on display. For sure, there are many. All the way from a mate eating the other directly after sex to lifetime partners. However, what often isn’t focused on is the similarities.
Sex. In one form or another, it always involves the sharing of DNA for the purpose of conception. Sure, there may be an off beat example out there, but the basic biological purpose of two entities coming together in a sexual union is for procreation. Without that purpose, there would be no basis for a marriage or family structure, however that might play out in any individual species.
From species to species, the purpose of sex, the purpose of forming a husband/wife relationship, is to ensure the propagation of the species. If an activity cannot potentially create that outcome, whether it does or not, there is no biological marital union.
Look at it this way. There are countless activities that we share with each other, many of them pleasurable. Whether it is eating together, going to a movie, or enjoying a game of tennis, none of those activities are seen as creating a marriage or union.
Meanwhile, our society views sex as just one more enjoyable activity to share with someone you like. No more bonding than sharing a bowl of ice cream. Yet, when one considers the biological foundation of marriage, it boils down to sex. For practically every animal, sex and the creation of offspring is the foundation of that union.
If you think about it logically, it should be obvious. Take a husband and wife. Let’s suggest they appear married in every way. They live together. They spend quality time together. They share their intimate lives together. They have a legal paper saying they are married. Even a wedding. Yet, neither has ever had sex with the other. Answer this question. In what way is this living arrangement any different than best of friends sharing living expenses under a mutual contract?
The obvious answer is, it isn’t any different. I could easily set up a living arrangement with my best male friend or even a woman who wished to live a celibate life, and duplicate the same scenario. If all marriage involves is mutually shared living arrangements and friendships, then how is that deserving of any special recognition? Anyone can create a contract to set up such an arrangement.
But add sex into the mix, and one has a totally different animal. Then DNA is shared, and potentially merged, creating a union of the two into a new person. Once you have that potential, the marriage of the two species takes on purpose. Because only that act creates a family structure. Without sex creating a union, you have two good friends living together, and sex is just one among many pleasures that are shared but means nothing more than going out to watch a movie.
Mammals. While in the animal kingdom at large, how “marriage” and families are structured varies widely, in the sub-classification of mammals, less so. In fact, one of the characteristics of this class is the care for children within a family structure of a father and mother. Can you find exceptions? Yes. Yet the vast majority of mammals, of which humans are one, have a father and mother living together to care for the offspring produced by having sex. The fact humans for over at least 6000 years of our known history do this, is one reason we are classified as a mammal.
What does this prove? Very simply, this. At its foundation, the basis for a family structure, and therefore the basis for two people to be married, is sexual union in a way that potentially produces offspring. All other marital characteristics flow from this fact. Even Jesus, as we will see, acknowledges this reality.
This physical union turns the “water into wine.” Living together is changed into familial bonds. Legal contracts are turned into sacred vows. Pleasure is transformed into loving bonds. Man and woman are united as husband and wife.
What is marriage biologically? It is the sexual union of two people to form the core of a family. I’ve heard many say, “Oh, we’re just living together. We’re not married.” I say, “Oh yes you are. If you’ve had sex, you may not be legally married, but in reality, you are.” Just have either one of you cheat on the other, and tell me you won’t react just as strongly about it as any “married” couple would.
Why? Because sex creates a marital union between two people. It is a biological reality that’s been with us since creation.
Next time, the Biblical basis for marriage.