Through time and across widely varying cultures, marriage has existed as the union of a man and a woman who join in a pact that signals to each other, their children, and society at large, that they are taking responsibility for one another and, perhaps more importantly, for the children their union will create. If children were created asexually there would be no need for marriage; personal agreements between adults would be enough. Marriage through time and across cultures has ensured that a child will know and be raised, wherever possible, by the man and woman who created him or her. Since both halves of the human species are necessary to procreation, only units that involve both can be marriages.
There are many reasons why individuals will want to marry and there are many personal benefits (like companionship and assistance) that will be experienced by the parties to a marriage, but these do not explain the social interest in marriage. Our laws do not recognize the category of marriage merely to signal that committed relationships are valuable or to give a stamp of approval to love. Indeed, marriage need not be satisfying to the parties to be valid as a legal and social matter. It may be a great thing for each person to have one other person in the world who is always there for him or her, but society does not recognize marriage in order to do this. Otherwise our laws would regulate friendship and other important personal relationships which provide this good. The social interests in marriage have to do with the reality that the intimate relationship of a man and a woman can create (with or without the intention of the spouses) the possibility of procreation. Even where the couple do not have children directly as a result of their union, they can provide to a child otherwise deprived of parents the great good of being raised in virtually daily contact with the two parts of humanity, with both a mother and a father.
In the wake of the sexual revolution, powerful social trends have tried to force a retreat from the idea that marriage is more than just a private agreement. Relying on increasingly dominant notions of radical individualism and sameness of men and women, some elites now call for redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. They argue that marriage should focus not on the interests of children in being raised by a mother and father who are legally and publicly committed to one another and the children they create, but should rather be an agreement defined only by adult desire. If two people want to “marry,” they say, the law ought to accommodate their desires.
Because marriage is a powerful social idea, activists know they can use it to send a new message – that all adult relationships are precisely the same. Contrary to the lessons of millennia of human experience, in redefining marriage the government would be endorsing new ideas: men and women are interchangeable, children do not need a mother and a father, those who believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife are discriminators. Under this new regime, marriage would be unable to serve the child-centered purposes it once did. It would be primarily an enshrinement of adult desire with any potential benefits for children merely incidental.
Other changes in the law and culture of marriage have certainly weakened the social institution, but this change would entirely dismantle it.
The Utah Constitution defines marriage as the union of a husband and wife. Therefore, no state court could force a redefinition on the state. Activists will continue to press for such a change by any means they believe necessary, including federal court action. The need for constant vigilance to protect the unique and uniquely valuable institution of marriage is imperative.
Lecture: Maggie Gallagher at Drake Law School
Article: “Does Marriage Have a Future?”
Article: Gay marriage and reshaping society
Speech: Robert P. George at BYU