Is it for sexual gratification? companionship? procreation?
Today's legal battles concerning the acceptance of same-sex marriage are being fought on the same territory as those who battled the use of contraceptives in England during the 1940s. This Time article describes a case that went all the way up to the House of Lords. For ten years a wife refused to be sexually intimate with her husband unless he used a contraceptive. Perplexed and desiring to have children, he sought to have the marriage nulled. (Something I think they ought to have discussed before tying the knot.) The House of Lords turned down his request, deciding that procreation did not equate consummation of a marriage.
Newspapers were inundated with letters to the editor in regard to this legal decision, many quoting the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer.
"First, it [marriage] was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of His holy name."The Catholic cardinal even chimed in with
"The primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary end, mutual support and the relief of concupiscence. . . . Contraceptive intercourse, whether with the aid of instruments or not, is not consummation of marriage [and is] against nature . . . shameful and intrinsically immoral."In the midst of the ensuing heated debate, A. P. Herbert, M.P., perhaps caused the halls of Parliament to ring with chuckles only to be quickly silenced by contemplation when he stated that "if marriage-with-contraceptive isn't marriage; then adultery-with-contraceptive isn't adultery."
Today, those opposing gay marriage are using the very same arguments. Senior Director for the Center for Marriage and Family Studies Peter Sprigg made the following statement in his explanation of the public purpose of marriage:
"[M]arriage is a public institution because it brings together men and women for the purpose of reproducing the human race and keeping a mother and father together to cooperate in raising to maturity the children they produce."Is marriage then only for couples who are willing and able to conceive? The Seattle Times reported in February that a group of gay-activists are recommending that an initiative be added to the November ballot advocating that very idea. The initiative would go even further in that marriage would be dissolved if the couple is still childless after three years of marriage.
The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance is a parody of the acronym DOMA which stands for Defense of Marriage Act. The act passed the state Supreme Court last year 5-4 opposing same-sex marriage in part because they are not for the purpose of procreation. Gregory Gadow and his parody organization hope that their initiative will cause the Washington Supreme Court to re-evaluate its 2006 decision.
"We want people to think about the purpose of marriage," he said. "If it exists for the purpose of procreation, they must understand then that these are the consequences."Many operate under the assumption that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation. Even the man who has lived with his girlfriend of ten years will thoughtfully suggest that when they are ready to have children that they will get married. But is this truly the purpose of marriage? Is multiplication God's intent for bringing a man and woman together for a lifetime? Is this a valid, logical, biblical argument against such hot issues as homosexual unions and contraception?
What is the purpose of marriage?
This is the topic for an ethics paper I am currently working on. As I work on the paper I would love any insights you have to share on this matter or any resources you might like to offer to aid my research. As you can see, this is an important question to tackle. I would be grateful for any specific sources you might like to share with me whether they are egalitarian, secular, complementarian, biblical, personal, or from the perspective of church fathers.