That’s the question posed by the editors of THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE, a collection of scholarly essays examining the societal impact of same-sex marriage. Essentially the answer is “because we’ve never had to”, at least not in the way we are forced to discuss it today.
Though marriage has been at or near the heart of almost every issue of human endeavor, from royal alliances to what to make for dinner, the fundamental male-female nature of marriage has never before been called into question, which is why we find ourselves stammering in defense of marriage after we say “Because....”
In fact, the very fact that we are at a loss for words is sort of an explanation in itself. From the dawn of human consciousness, and quite without instruction other than that which was carved into our bodies, men and women intuited the need to “marry” long before there was a word or a “grunt” for it. It probably went something like this:
Man and woman make baby. Baby can’t take care of itself. Man go hunt and collect berries to feed baby and woman. Sooner or later, man and woman make another baby. Man go hunt some more and collect more berries.
It probably wasn’t out of any external sense of moral obligation that the man did his part to provide and protect. Sons and daughters, in time, meant protection and help when the man could no longer protect or help himself. The permanent bonding necessary to raise a child to adulthood simply derived from the will to survive.
In short, marriage is the organic extension of the procreative act. It proceeds from the very nature of our bodies, which are fundamentally ordered towards generation. All of nature is simply designed to make more of itself. And the life-giving, life-nurturing, life-long thing that we have come to call marriage, which some try to tell us is mere social or religious convention, is really a primordial phenomenon that has, through generations of natural selection, proven to be the most effective model of human survival.
True, both society and religion eventually adapted it, codified it, regulated it, and protected it, but they didn’t create it, and never claimed to. And this is why “same-sex marriage” will never achieve the equality it presumes to seek. Same-sex marriage will forever owe its existence to the state. And irregardless of the rights and status the state might concoct for it, same-sex marriage simply has no history, no primordial roots, and no organic connection to human survival.
This is not because history is homophobic. Same-sex unions of any kind, quite apart from any religious circumscription, are, by their very nature, a Darwinian dead-end. And no legislative or judicial machinations can change that fact.
But this is also why we find it so difficult to defend marriage. Long before same-sex marriage appeared on the legal horizon, heterosexual married couples, through chemical, surgical, or mechanical means, had already divorced sex from its procreative end. And, natural marriage, the organically occurring intuitive relationship between the co-creators of a unique and separate being, once intentionally and artificially stripped of its procreative end, simply has no standing. Thus, our appeals to the procreative purpose of marriage ring with a contraceptive thud relative to the increasing din of chants for marriage equality.
In altering its ends, its purpose, we have altered the nature of marriage itself. Empirically speaking, the “good of the spouses” has become the primary end, and child rearing has not only become a secondary end, it has been relegated to an optional marital appendage - something to fit in once educational and career goals are met and before a woman’s biological clock runs out...if at all.
Such a thing is completely new to the human experience. Marriage has never been ultimately about spouses but about progeny. And unintentional sterility aside, everything about marriage is historically, culturally, and socially ordered to support that end.
That many, if not most, of us have subscribed to this new ordering of the purpose of marriage, leaves us little ground on which to stand, be it in opposition to same-sex marriage or explaining why couples should marry at all.