The deconstruction of marriage

In this article, A Marriage Form Will Just Be Icing On Our Cake – washingtonpost.com, a lesbian woman in California talks about getting married to her partner. In doing so, she gives an excellent explanation of why the institution of marriage is, literally, coming apart:

Over the last 10 years or so, as the country has been talking about same-sex marriage, and as my relationship with Ellen has evolved, I’ve come around to the idea that marriage isn’t one institution. Marriage is one word we use to describe a whole suite of institutions. Marriage is about money and property, love and religion, procreation and companionship. For most of history, nobody thought to distinguish between all of those different parts of marriage, because a wedding was the moment when a couple came together in all those ways. The day the priest blessed a couple, they became a single legal entity. That day, they moved into a new house together and had sex for the first time. The myriad distinct ways two people can put their lives together were rolled up in a single event.

In the past several decades, that has changed, for both straight and gay people. Couples routinely live together and have sex before marriage. Babies are born to unmarried women, mostly without scandal. Couples might buy a house together but keep separate bank accounts. A wedding, gay or straight, is not necessarily a moment of great transition so much as it is a simple marker of a years-long process.

I can’t pretend to speak for the people who are against gay marriage, but I think this is part of what they mean when they say that gay marriage will unravel the whole institution. Our national conversation about gay marriage has already shown how the different elements of marriage — legal, religious, romantic, economic, civil, procreative — have become independent. Any couple can decide to be romantic and economic partners, living together because they are in love, without a church wedding and without ever having children. We have friends, a straight couple, who have two children and a joint mortgage but are not legally married. Now, adults have the prerogative to mix and match the various things that make a marriage in whatever way they choose. It’s just that when gay people do it, it’s more obvious that “marriage” has already been deconstructed.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bruce

    She’s totally right, insofar as describing the new ways Americans (and Europeans, I think) view marriage.

    “Now, adults have the prerogative to mix and match the various things that make a marriage in whatever way they choose.”

    Whew. Ain’t freedom grand. The land of the free, and the home of the…mix and matchers.

  • Bruce

    She’s totally right, insofar as describing the new ways Americans (and Europeans, I think) view marriage.

    “Now, adults have the prerogative to mix and match the various things that make a marriage in whatever way they choose.”

    Whew. Ain’t freedom grand. The land of the free, and the home of the…mix and matchers.

  • http://utah-lutheran.blogspot.com/ Bror Erickson

    The state divested all interest in marriage with the no fault divorce.

  • http://utah-lutheran.blogspot.com/ Bror Erickson

    The state divested all interest in marriage with the no fault divorce.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Wow, this is very well put. She is right. I am not sure if legalized gay marriage can do any more damage to the institution that hasn’t already been done.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Wow, this is very well put. She is right. I am not sure if legalized gay marriage can do any more damage to the institution that hasn’t already been done.

  • The Jones

    Yeah, that’s nice, but I think a gay pride parade is much more eloquent, effective, and precise. I think it does much more for the legalization and normalization of gay marriage in America. Psh, what is this person doing!? Is that an argument!? That has no place in the gay marriage debate. If it did have a place, we probably would have seen it already.

  • The Jones

    Yeah, that’s nice, but I think a gay pride parade is much more eloquent, effective, and precise. I think it does much more for the legalization and normalization of gay marriage in America. Psh, what is this person doing!? Is that an argument!? That has no place in the gay marriage debate. If it did have a place, we probably would have seen it already.

  • http://amusedmomma.blogspot.com Paula in Colorado

    Although she may be correct in describing the reality of the institution of marriage, wouldn’t it be wise to question whether that should be accepted, dare I say, tolerated? Should we try to reunite the various aspects of marriage back into the traditional view of it? It really didn’t take very long for it to unravel, just a few short decades.

    For instance, just because people are having children out of wedlock, doesn’t make it the best way to do things. There may no longer be a shock value to it as in past generations, but that is because of its increased frequency of occurance.

    I hope that we would aspire to greater things and hold the institution of marriage to a higher standard than the compartmentalized version that seeks to make it into something for everyone.

  • http://amusedmomma.blogspot.com Paula in Colorado

    Although she may be correct in describing the reality of the institution of marriage, wouldn’t it be wise to question whether that should be accepted, dare I say, tolerated? Should we try to reunite the various aspects of marriage back into the traditional view of it? It really didn’t take very long for it to unravel, just a few short decades.

    For instance, just because people are having children out of wedlock, doesn’t make it the best way to do things. There may no longer be a shock value to it as in past generations, but that is because of its increased frequency of occurance.

    I hope that we would aspire to greater things and hold the institution of marriage to a higher standard than the compartmentalized version that seeks to make it into something for everyone.

  • Booklover

    Although homosexual marriage is wrong, the heterosexuals were the first to cheapen marriage with their sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, and divorce when they got tired of marriage. Sad. And we Christians are the Bride of Christ. We should have known better.

  • Booklover

    Although homosexual marriage is wrong, the heterosexuals were the first to cheapen marriage with their sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, and divorce when they got tired of marriage. Sad. And we Christians are the Bride of Christ. We should have known better.

  • fw

    #6 Booklover

    “Although homosexual marriage is wrong”.

    Ok I am asking this about secular society. (of course I am talking about the secular society only because no one is yet forcing churches to marry two homos or to accept buddhist church members into their lutheran church)….

    you beg a question….. do you feel that homosexual marriage is more or less”wrong” more than is allowing pagan religions to get building permits and have roads built to their temples at public expense and have their equal rights enshrined in the constitution? If your answer is no, then what is the big deal about gays getting a marriage license like any other tax payer?

    I agree with the general view of the rest of the posters that the real threat to marriage are many, and almost all perpetrated by heterosexuals and not homosexuals.

    THIS fact begs the question as to why the frantic political activity over gay marriage. It seems that in Massachussetts the institution of marriage looks pretty much as stable as it always has for heterosexuals. Does anyone here have any anecdotal or other evidence that real marriage among heterosexuals has been affected in even a miniscule way by all those homos seeking a monogamous life-long legally binding relationship? $100 and a new car for the first person to provide some solid evidence that this has happened…

    Is there anyone here who ever truly felt that letting a couple of queers marry would ever in any mininiscule way affect any heterosexual marriage in any way whatsoever? I would love to hear from you!!

  • fw

    #6 Booklover

    “Although homosexual marriage is wrong”.

    Ok I am asking this about secular society. (of course I am talking about the secular society only because no one is yet forcing churches to marry two homos or to accept buddhist church members into their lutheran church)….

    you beg a question….. do you feel that homosexual marriage is more or less”wrong” more than is allowing pagan religions to get building permits and have roads built to their temples at public expense and have their equal rights enshrined in the constitution? If your answer is no, then what is the big deal about gays getting a marriage license like any other tax payer?

    I agree with the general view of the rest of the posters that the real threat to marriage are many, and almost all perpetrated by heterosexuals and not homosexuals.

    THIS fact begs the question as to why the frantic political activity over gay marriage. It seems that in Massachussetts the institution of marriage looks pretty much as stable as it always has for heterosexuals. Does anyone here have any anecdotal or other evidence that real marriage among heterosexuals has been affected in even a miniscule way by all those homos seeking a monogamous life-long legally binding relationship? $100 and a new car for the first person to provide some solid evidence that this has happened…

    Is there anyone here who ever truly felt that letting a couple of queers marry would ever in any mininiscule way affect any heterosexual marriage in any way whatsoever? I would love to hear from you!!

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Absolutely; the misdefinition of marriage hurts the institution. We’ve seen it in Europe, where marriage rates (for all) have plunged once marriage was misdefined to include same sex couples.

    Also, let’s not forget why there is family law in the first place; it is because there is a need to have standard rules for what happens when a marriage fails, to protect the weaker vessels–mothers and their children. The fact that the court has ignored the historic rationale for family law means that future decisions built on that decision will also ignore the reality of the needs of mothers and children.

    Absolutely, mis-defining marriage hurts people. God invented marriage, and the state doesn’t have the right to change His definition.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Absolutely; the misdefinition of marriage hurts the institution. We’ve seen it in Europe, where marriage rates (for all) have plunged once marriage was misdefined to include same sex couples.

    Also, let’s not forget why there is family law in the first place; it is because there is a need to have standard rules for what happens when a marriage fails, to protect the weaker vessels–mothers and their children. The fact that the court has ignored the historic rationale for family law means that future decisions built on that decision will also ignore the reality of the needs of mothers and children.

    Absolutely, mis-defining marriage hurts people. God invented marriage, and the state doesn’t have the right to change His definition.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bike Bubba (@8), you give us an example of correlation, but fail to show causation. Were the marriage rates in Europe plunging before “marriage was misdefined”? Was there a particular plunge after that definition changed? What data are you looking at?

    Anyhow, I don’t get this argument. When I decided to marry my girlfriend (now wife), I didn’t consider for a moment the ability of gay people to marry or not (nor, apparently, did any of my unbelieving friends). And I can’t imagine anyone thinking, “Well, we were going to get married, but now gay people can, so what’s the point?” It’s silly. Is anyone here thinking of getting divorced now that gay people can marry — is your marriage now worth less?

    The institution wasn’t injured because of the possibility of gay marriage. It was injured by heterosexuals and other sinful people who didn’t care about God’s will for marriage, who had taken it from an eternal union based on selfless love and turned it into one based on sex, selfishness, greed, etc. And this happened well before gays were allowed to marry anywhere.

    Bubba, you said “the state doesn’t have the right to change His definition” of marriage. Does that mean that divorce should be illegal? That a lack of submission should be illegal? Did God allow for divorce under Moses?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bike Bubba (@8), you give us an example of correlation, but fail to show causation. Were the marriage rates in Europe plunging before “marriage was misdefined”? Was there a particular plunge after that definition changed? What data are you looking at?

    Anyhow, I don’t get this argument. When I decided to marry my girlfriend (now wife), I didn’t consider for a moment the ability of gay people to marry or not (nor, apparently, did any of my unbelieving friends). And I can’t imagine anyone thinking, “Well, we were going to get married, but now gay people can, so what’s the point?” It’s silly. Is anyone here thinking of getting divorced now that gay people can marry — is your marriage now worth less?

    The institution wasn’t injured because of the possibility of gay marriage. It was injured by heterosexuals and other sinful people who didn’t care about God’s will for marriage, who had taken it from an eternal union based on selfless love and turned it into one based on sex, selfishness, greed, etc. And this happened well before gays were allowed to marry anywhere.

    Bubba, you said “the state doesn’t have the right to change His definition” of marriage. Does that mean that divorce should be illegal? That a lack of submission should be illegal? Did God allow for divorce under Moses?

  • Booklover

    If we must be silent when Bob marries Harry, do we also have to be silent when Bob marries Harry *and* Sally? How about when Bob marries the local poodle?

    This really isn’t “my issue”; but really, how far are we going to let it go?

  • Booklover

    If we must be silent when Bob marries Harry, do we also have to be silent when Bob marries Harry *and* Sally? How about when Bob marries the local poodle?

    This really isn’t “my issue”; but really, how far are we going to let it go?

  • Mark

    I think Marriage began to unravel because of and/or indicated by the use of the word ‘relationship’. If marriage is a relationship, then one can enter relationships…and leave relationships. If marriage is a ‘relationship’, why not other variants on the theme…after all, it is only a ‘relationship’? After all, we have all sorts of relationships. This change of language (change the language,eg, gender inclusive language, change the reality: see liberal mainline Protestant church bodies) This has opened Pandora’s box, not only to gay marriage, the re-definition of marriage but also divorce and remarriage as serial monogamy, ‘hooking-up’, etc.

    As a pastor I teach engaged couples rather adamently marriage is not a relationship. Marriage is still “an estate ordained by God”. When I use the R-word, I will then point out: marriage includes a multiplicty of relationships, eg, roomies, business partners, co-parents, etc. But not one of those relationships can encompass what the word ‘estate’ conveys: a place we take our stand in the world, for the world, in service to the Lord. Pastors shied away from the old language in order to relevant (another dreadful R-word, along with ‘reaching-out’ and ‘relativism’). Marva Dawn wrote a book, “Walking the Talk” about regaining Biblical words devalued by denominations and culture. No, we won’t change the Gadarene rush of the culture, that many of us helped precipitate, but we can still be as the Lord called us, salt of the earth and teach and preach in these dark days, the true Word. But if salt has lost it’s saltness…

  • Mark

    I think Marriage began to unravel because of and/or indicated by the use of the word ‘relationship’. If marriage is a relationship, then one can enter relationships…and leave relationships. If marriage is a ‘relationship’, why not other variants on the theme…after all, it is only a ‘relationship’? After all, we have all sorts of relationships. This change of language (change the language,eg, gender inclusive language, change the reality: see liberal mainline Protestant church bodies) This has opened Pandora’s box, not only to gay marriage, the re-definition of marriage but also divorce and remarriage as serial monogamy, ‘hooking-up’, etc.

    As a pastor I teach engaged couples rather adamently marriage is not a relationship. Marriage is still “an estate ordained by God”. When I use the R-word, I will then point out: marriage includes a multiplicty of relationships, eg, roomies, business partners, co-parents, etc. But not one of those relationships can encompass what the word ‘estate’ conveys: a place we take our stand in the world, for the world, in service to the Lord. Pastors shied away from the old language in order to relevant (another dreadful R-word, along with ‘reaching-out’ and ‘relativism’). Marva Dawn wrote a book, “Walking the Talk” about regaining Biblical words devalued by denominations and culture. No, we won’t change the Gadarene rush of the culture, that many of us helped precipitate, but we can still be as the Lord called us, salt of the earth and teach and preach in these dark days, the true Word. But if salt has lost it’s saltness…


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