Marriage

For many religious conservatives, this term has a specific, core meaning that has been recognized for thousands of years – an enduring union between one man and one woman. In their view, the male-female union is ordained and blessed by God as a sacred central pivot-point of society.  

For others, this seems a curiously revisionist definition that ignores the way marriage was defined differently even in the Bible - e.g., as between one man and two or more women in polygamous relationships. These progressive and secular voices further highlight other historical shifts in a way that portrays marriage as going through a remarkable number of changes - socially, culturally, and legally - over the years. For instance, they would insist that marriage based primarily on the emotion of love (rather than practical family economics) is only a relatively recent phenomenon starting in the 1800’s.

To those in the conservative communities, these characterizations of history seem to exaggerate the extent of evolution and the significance of particular shifts. For instance, the idea that marriage for love only began in the 1800’s is seen as possibly a wild distortion of history that overlooks many examples of loving unions - all the way back, to their view, to the beginning marriage between Adam and Eve. Although there have been interesting variations in how marriage has been practiced over time, conservatives would also argue that these all reflect variations on the same (consistent) theme of man-woman relationships.  

All this seems yet further reflection of narrowness to religious liberals and progressive people who now overwhelmingly embrace committed loving relationships between LGBT partners as worthy of the label marriage. Rather than calling these unions “gay marriages,” some advocates insist on simply calling them “marriage” - similar to how “interracial marriage” became “marriage” as these unions became more accepted. By putting the word “gay” in front of the word marriage, this side argues that these relationships are being portrayed as inherently different in meaning or purpose - rather than recognizing the way that same-sex couples pursue marriage for the same reasons as opposite-sex couples: love, family, commitment, and protection.

To conservatives, all of the above reflects a polished and successful campaign to effectively eliminate their own meaning of the term from public relevance – imposing another meaning entirely on a word of deep importance to their community. Rather than an advance in a better society, they see this shift as a troubling step away from Judeo-Christian norms.

Still other thinkers focus not on the definition of marriage per se, but on who should properly define it. Specifically, some assert that the government should not be involved in either the definition or the sanction of marriage; rather, it should be left to individual faith organizations. "Taking government out of the marriage business," in this view, would necessarily put a halt to favorable government treatment of marriage in the tax code and other areas of the law.

Conversation Catalysts: 
Contributors: 

Tracy Hollister, Jacob Hess

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