Designed to be Married

In a recent article on CNN Albert Mohler responds to complaints that conservative Christians have an unwarranted focus on homosexuality. He aptly parses the difference between the laws that governed ancient Israelite society and the principles that govern the lives of Christians, and provides a solid basis for Christians to maintain strong opposition to normalizing homosexual behavior.

What I find lacking in Mohler’s argument as well as most Christian’s discussion of homosexuality is the fact that human sexuality is firmly rooted in our design. In Scripture our sexuality doesn’t emanate from Old Testament law or even the teachings of Jesus, but in our very natures. Christians find this in Genesis 1 commanding the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply” and also in the description of a monogamous life-long marriage in Genesis 2 that pronounces that a man “be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” This is the understanding of marriage that was later reiterated by Jesus.

As it turns out the Christian argument for the preeminence of heterosexual relationships transects the secular one. There is no doubt about the importance of the reproductive aspect of heterosexual relationship, from the aspect of maintaining the human species. Marriage however is equally important in this respect. As I have noted elsewhere the long term relationship between men and women who parent children together has physiological impacts on adults and children which facilitate the investment necessary to raise a child.

And on a societal level a healthy nuclear family is perhaps the greatest indicator of success in one’s life in terms of education, employment and later relationships. The income and education gaps in our society often fall along the lines of marriage success.

And the failure of the traditional family has notably pernicious effects. As Steven Pinker details in his recent book on the history of violence The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Free Love and anti-authority 60′s had a dramatic impact on the American family, and a corresponding dramatic increase in violence in the following decades. A diminished commitment to the marriages and families had a decivilizing impact. In many ways this explains why older adults oppose gay marriage in higher numbers than younger do. These people were the free-loving hippies of yesteryear – and they remember the damage such social experimentation did to our society.

In his letter to the Romans Paul employed the argument from design when he described what happens when we move away from the purposes of marriage for which we are created:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Romans 1:26-27

In this sense law and morality are merely descriptions of our ‘natural functions’. The laws in Scripture governing sexuality then aren’t arbitrary at all but flow from understanding the behaviors that allow for human flourishing. Thus we can no more confer marriage on homosexuals than we can confer the ability to breastfeed on men. And attempts to pretend men can breastfeed would be as harmful to child rearing as ignoring the importance of traditional marriage was in the 60s – or today.

So while there is certainly warrant for a Christian to oppose homosexual behaviors and the idea of homosexual marriage from Scripture, we also have an appeal to nature and to the benefits of supporting monogamous, committed heterosexual relationships as a basis for healthy parenting and human flourishing, an idea which is well supported by data and history.

8 Responses to Designed to be Married

  1. “And on a societal level a healthy nuclear family is perhaps the greatest indicator of success in one’s life in terms of education, employment and later relationships. ”

    True. And your suggestion for gay men and women would be what? Marry a heterosexual? Would you marry a lesbian who decided to live a life of heterosexuality for religious or political means? This almost never works, even for the most dedicated:

    One woman recalls of her ex-husband whom she divorced before learning he was gay:

    “It took a few days, but then the memories started flooding back – the times he would disappear and I wouldn’t know were he was. The coldness when I questioned him about where he had been. How he could be such a good husband and father most of the time and then a complete stranger at other times.

    When I finally left after ten years, I didn’t even know why – I just knew something was missing in our relationship. I still had feelings for him and wanted it to work but when I tried to explain to him how I felt he could only reply “Well, I kept a roof over your head and you never missed a meal”.”

    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/05/how-i-learned-my-husband-was-gay.html

    Granting a marriage license to a gay couple doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make viable parents … this holds true for heterosexuals as well (after all, even convicted pedophiles and rapists can get married). Adoption can be granted or denied to them for a whole host of other reasons.

  2. jackhudson says:

    The problems homosexuality may or may not cause with marriage really aren’t relevant to the confirmed power of marriage when practiced in a way that conforms with human design. While we may respect the right of people to spend their lives with whomever they wish, our society needs to re-enforce those institutions which best promote human flourishing – and in the case of human biology, that would be a monogamous committed relationship between a man and a woman.

  3. Mike D says:

    First, you’ve got Pinker wrong. I remember on an old post of mine when you referred to that section of Pinker’s book. I hadn’t got there at that point (“The Civilizing Process”), but when I did I was rather surprised you’d bothered to refer to it at all. Because while Pinker does mention the change in norms, including the weakening of traditional family structure, as correlating with a temporary increase in violence, he immediately follows with rigorous explanation that this is strictly correlational, and that there is insufficient data to establish it as causal. This is particularly obvious since the trend toward the change in ‘traditional’ marriage/family structure has continued even as the last couple of decades have seen significant drops in violence. Your argument here is a cum hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy and it’s a frankly a rather dishonest representation of Pinker’s book.

    Secondly, you’ve got marriage wrong. It’s been straight people, not gay people, who have redefined marriage over the years. For most of history, marriage was an exchange of property. Women had few if any civil rights and most marriages were arranged. Often, including for most of the patriarchal heroes of the Bible, marriages were polyamorous, in addition to the keeping of “concubines” – female sex slaves. Nowadays, marriage is (for most people in the free world) a mutual commitment between people who are legal equals. It may be for life, or not. They may choose to have children, or not. They may be monogamous, or not. It can be religious in nature, or not. The point is, it’s up to them.

    Third, you’ve got the science wrong. The verdict on the effect of raising children has been in for a long time:

    “More than two decades of research has failed to reveal important differences in the adjustment or development of children or adolescents reared by same-sex couples compared to those reared by other-sex couples.”

    [Source] End of discussion. The APA has similarly made their stance on the issue abundantly clear, and the abundance of research flatly contradicts your Bible-based assertions.

  4. jackhudson says:

    First, you’ve got Pinker wrong. I remember on an old post of mine when you referred to that section of Pinker’s book. I hadn’t got there at that point (“The Civilizing Process”), but when I did I was rather surprised you’d bothered to refer to it at all. Because while Pinker does mention the change in norms, including the weakening of traditional family structure, as correlating with a temporary increase in violence, he immediately follows with rigorous explanation that this is strictly correlational, and that there is insufficient data to establish it as causal. This is particularly obvious since the trend toward the change in ‘traditional’ marriage/family structure has continued even as the last couple of decades have seen significant drops in violence. Your argument here is a cum hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy and it’s a frankly a rather dishonest representation of Pinker’s book.

    I have never been impressed with your supposed reading of Pinker – I noted him extensively and large parts of the chapter cover the importance of families conferring civilizing behaviors to their children. This was true from the arrival of women and preachers in the Old West to the “great age of marriage” in the 40s and 50s. (p.108-109). He also cites events like Promise Keepers and the Million Man March which emphasized the importance of marriage and parenting and which in turn helped to begin to reduce rates of violence in the 90s (though this certainly wasn’t the only factor). Of course I cross validated the benefits of marriage with linked scientific and government studies above – but you seemed to have ignored that. You just ignore evidence you don’t agree with. You can’t call my presentation dishonest when you obviously don’t remember what he wrote.

    Secondly, you’ve got marriage wrong. It’s been straight people, not gay people, who have redefined marriage over the years. For most of history, marriage was an exchange of property. Women had few if any civil rights and most marriages were arranged. Often, including for most of the patriarchal heroes of the Bible, marriages were polyamorous, in addition to the keeping of “concubines” – female sex slaves. Nowadays, marriage is (for most people in the free world) a mutual commitment between people who are legal equals. It may be for life, or not. They may choose to have children, or not. They may be monogamous, or not. It can be religious in nature, or not. The point is, it’s up to them.

    Again you are making things up. Marriage has certainly involved the exchange of property but that has never been its primary purpose. Obviously property can be exchanged outside of such a commitment. Some marriages in ancient Israel were polygamous, but polyamory was never encouraged and legal marriages always involved a male and female in a lifelong relationship . The reason marriage happens at all is to produce children – it always costs males to provide for a females and children in their household. While marriage practices have varied from culture to culture over history, marriage is one of the rare universals – and it has always involved the raising of children, or it would be a useless expenditure of time and resources.

    Third, you’ve got the science wrong. The verdict on the effect of raising children has been in for a long time:

    “More than two decades of research has failed to reveal important differences in the adjustment or development of children or adolescents reared by same-sex couples compared to those reared by other-sex couples.”

    [Source] End of discussion. The APA has similarly made their stance on the issue abundantly clear, and the abundance of research flatly contradicts your Bible-based assertions.

    As Patterson (A lesbian activist who is hardly objective on the subject) herself acknowledged in that same study from nearly 10 years ago:

    Research in this area has also been criticized for using poorly matched or no control groups in designs that call for such controls. . . . Other criticisms have been that most studies have involved relatively small samples [and] that there have been inadequacies in assessment procedures employed in some studies.

    So far all such studies have had similar flaws. I am willing to bet you are totally unfamiliar with the breadth of such studies, and how the data was gathered and reported. So while I appreciate your faith in a single old study of a smal; population of self-reporting homosexual couples about their effectiveness as parents, I hardly think that contradicts the established biology of several thousand years of heterosexual parenting.

  5. You write: “The reason marriage happens at all is to produce children”

    When a heterosexual couple goes to obtain a civil marriage license, is there any inquiry as to their capacity or desire to have children? Are they screened for a past history of a felony, child neglect or abuse or addiction issues? Are they tested for fertility? Are they asked about the stability of their prior relationships? Are they required to validate that they have the means and/or character to rear children?

    Nope. To the contrary, a convicted mass murderer, who shouldn’t be within a mile’s radius of a child, can marry their pen pal while still in prison, and I’ve never heard a single word from the marriage traditionalists that there was something misguided about this, especially given the ease with which heterosexuals can reproduce.

    It also amazes me how some of the most vocal proponents of “traditional marriage” (such as the Catholic Church) take no issue with blessing the second, third and even fourth marriages of men who have children from prior wives. The RCC, in its choice to sanctify Newt Gingrich’s third marriage to his mistress, put his children into a home that did include their biological mother. Yet, they’ll ramble endlessly about how the purpose of marriage is to “unite children with their biological parents”. Sure it is.

    So you can talk about what the purpose of marriage is for, but none of you seem to be actually adhering to those standards (or even bothering to try very hard) when it comes to heterosexuals.

  6. subayaitori says:

    We have the potential to be monogamous because we evolved to be. But human’s aren’t locked into monogamy for any reasons I can tell.

    http://www.amazon.com/Dirty-Minds-Brains-Influence-Relationships/dp/1451611552/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1338789691&sr=8-5

    Monogamy is merely an evolutionary adaption to help ensure the survival of the parent’s offspring. But the instinct can be easily overridden by excess amounts of testosterone or estrogen and even environmental factors. And some people actually have genetics which over-produce both, so they tend to be less monogamous naturally. And we all are susceptible to the influences of our environments. So monogamy is not a black and white issue.

    As for the claim that monogamy lends to human flourishing, I wouldn’t be so sure that statement is true. The divorce rate among monogamous couples alone seems to dispel that myth–that the only happy, well to do families, are the monogamous ones. Rather, it seems mass divorce of monogamous couples implies that their marriages were restricting in some way.

    Maybe if their marriages were more open… they could have enough variety to not feel trapped with only one partner who they are growing away from. Of course other marriage models have never been thoroughly vetted and so there really isn’t any comparison to be made here.

    For example, you cannot say Monogamy promotes flourishing better than Polyamory as there have been no polyamorous marriage models to test that claim against.

    As the old saying goes, it takes a community to raise a child. In fact, the study of Native American and Eskimo culture has showed that children raised in collective groups do fine. Why couldn’t that apply to family organization styles as well? Or for that matter a marriage one? That doesn’t mean a more complex marraige model wouldn’t be without its problems, but it would be interesting to test and see if it fixed some of the problems we find with monogamous type marriage models–such as lack of flexibility, lack of variation, greater potential to grow disinterested in your partner after children, of the simple fact that you might run into someone more compatible who you are better suited to be with.

    That’s one thing I have always found restricting about monogamy. It asks for fidelity to one person and one person only. But there is no guarantee you will always love that person the same way you did when you met them. Especially after your ‘love sickness’ wears off. What if you discovered you had married an ogre and then met your soul-mate ten years too late? More importantly, what if your partner was perfectly fine, but not your best match? Does the oath of fidelity override happiness? If so, then it impedes human flourishing.

    I actually think a polyamorous marriage model would overcome this obstacle. It’s just hard to theorize, because there simply haven’t been adequate tests to yield any data. But that’s the prediction I’d make, and I hope someday we could be open minded enough to allow for more than one paradigm–especially where marriage is concerned.

  7. subayaitori says:

    Also, I would add that monogamy was more important when survival was difficult and human offspring frequently died off in child birth or of illness or injury early in life. Now a days, our modern lifestyles, medical science, and safer cultures ensure relative ease for raising our offspring. Children can grow up happy. So monogamy serves less of a purpose, biologically speaking, in terms of aiding in the security and development of children. Which is why I think we should try other types of models and see whether or not they work better or worse than the one which is, more or less, antiquated.

  8. subayaitori says:

    Actually, we should allow for a variety of competing models, and the best suited model will emerge naturally from trial and error. That’s what I meant to say. But we have only the one model. So we can’t know either way.

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