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Defining Marriage, Part II: Conjugal vs. Revisionist

This is a four-part series on Defining Marriage, a new booklet from FPIW. 
Here is the series: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

“What is marriage?” That little question can be explosive, for it also includes the heated controversies of: 

  • Sexual Identity: What about homosexuality and transgenderism? 
  • Sex: What is the meaning and purpose of sex? Is it holy, sacred, and monogamous? 
  • Single-Parent Families: Are single-parent families just as good as two-parent families? 

Despite such controversies, for the sake of ourselves, our children, and our community, it is important that we examine marriage because the debate has engaged nearly every level of Western Civilization — government, media, entertainment, education, and beyond. How a civilization defines marriage will dramatically fashion its fate. And how a person defines marriage also will fashion one’s fate. 

We must begin with learning both sides of this heated debate. “This is the first necessary thing for people on both sides of this deep divide to understand: that their opponents are not loveless cads, idiots or liars. There is an inherent reasonableness to both sides. But they contradict each other. And therefore one side must be wrong and the other right,” explains Peter J. Kreeft.

And so we ask here: Which side is right? 

We answer: The traditional, natural, conjugal view of marriage is correct because both Scripture as well as logic unaided by faith support it as best for human flourishing. The essence of marriage is universal (true for all people); objective (not invented by man, but discovered); as well as immutable (unchanging no matter the location or historical time).

Let’s look at the logic on both sides of the debate. There are two general definitions; we will begin with the natural or conjugal view, and then present the artificial or revisionist view. 

(1) A conjugal view says marriage is defined by nature, not man. Like mathematical truths, marriage is discovered by man, not invented by man. Man cannot change it by law, or majority opinion, or court ruling, or external label any more than we can change the nature (design) of a square. 

  • “Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and any children they might have,” to paraphrase William May. Marriage is a special union found throughout history in contrast to relationships with our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances; marriage is different than any other relationship. With more depth, Sebastian Walshe says: “Marriage is the lifelong communion of a man and woman, established by their free consent, for the sake of the generation and education of children.”
  • Marriage is for raising children. The fact that some people cannot have children does not impact the fact of marriage’s purpose to create and educate children, any more than a blind eye unable to see still exists for the purpose of seeing. All things equal, children are raised best by receiving two types of love: the unique love only a mother can give, as well as the unique love only a dad can give. 
  • Marriage is for unity. Katherine Kersten writes, “Marriage has always and everywhere been a male-female institution because it is rooted in biology and human ecology. Across the globe and through the millennia, its public purpose has been the same: To connect men with their children and the mother who bore them, so that every child has a loving, committed mother and father.” Historically, and across human cultures, this natural view — with its essential elements of gender, children, and exclusive sex — has been the normative definition of marriage. 

(2) A revisionist view says marriage is defined by humans, not nature. Marriage is a man-made invention, a social construct. We can define it however we want. Marriage is man-made because there is no higher source of moral authority than man or culture. “Love is love” and consent is essentially the only criteria for marriage. No consenting person should be discriminated against. 

  • Marriage is only a loving union; marriage is only “an affirming adult relationship.” Marriage is essentially an emotional bond of love that aims for fulfillment for as long as each person finds it. 
  • Such marriage equality advances civil rights, compassion, human dignity, and tolerance. 
  • Children are not an essential part of marriage; children are an accessory. The relational view seeks to separate children from marriage. 
  • Gender is not an essential part of marriage. The relational view aims to separate gender from marriage as well, and thus it allows same-sex unions, for example. 
  • Sexual fidelity, or exclusivity, is not an essential part of marriage. Sexual relations are to be defined according to the agreements of each person, e.g., “an open marriage.” 
  • This view is revisionist from the historical norm, but it is the dominant view in Western Civilization today. It found support in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court ruling was 5 to 4 in favor of Obergefell.

Our society needs people to defend the conjugal view. How can we defend marriage? We offer a free booklet that equips readers with both Scriptural insights as well as logic unaided by faith. The fate of a civilization rests in large part upon how it defines marriage, and we have a calling to defend this sacred institution.

This article is an excerpt from the free booklet Defining Marriage: Why Only One Man and One Woman? 

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