Like any compassionate, thinking person, I have spent a lot of time recently pondering the topic of marriage, especially as it pertains to the topic of same-sex marriage. I have processed many factors, thoughts and emotions in coming to my own personal conclusions. I have applied logic, scripture, prophetic counsel, and the wisdom of my own dear wife in my attempts to formulate a cohesive body of thought on the matter. Having done so, I feel a sense of obligation to share these thoughts in hopes that perhaps some of them will be useful to others who are conducting their own search for truth and understanding.
In order to present my thoughts as logically as possible, I will address four topics:
– A cultural and historical perspective
– Marriage – the social contract
– Marriage – the sacred covenant
– Perspectives on marriage today
A Cultural and Historical Perspective
The first marriage in recorded history is, of course, that of Adam and Eve. It is irrelevant whether you consider this story to be myth or fact or somewhere in between; the story has survived millennia of translations, and remains to this day the standard of a monogamous, life-long companionship. Adam and Eve comforted each other in their time of need, they begat children, they mourned over them, and they rejoiced over them. Theirs is a story of love and commitment to each other and to their God and it still serves as a model for marriage throughout the Christian world. Throughout history, there are stories of the man and the woman – together forever in a monogamous, committed relationship. There are stories of the man and women in not-so-monogamous relationships. Over the millennia, we’ve heard examples of political marriages, economic marriages and other marriages of convenience. Most marriages were arranged for social and economic reasons and had nothing to do with two people falling in love. Ruling families were united in marriage, creating political alliances that lasted for decades if not centuries. It was a common practice for young daughters to be ransomed with expensive dowries; in other words husbands were bribed to take the young woman in marriage. The not-so-implied contract was that the husband would provide food and shelter for the wife in exchange for housekeeping, child-care, sex and posterity – preferably sons. Men who could afford to support more than one wife often did; others maintained concubines.
Marriage in recorded history has, with few exceptions, always reflected a patriarchal order. Whether one wife or many, there was always one husband, and his role was that of the provider, while the women of the family were the nurturers. Women were almost totally reliant upon their husbands for the most simple of needs. Divorced or widowed women were forced to rely either on their families or the kindness of others for their support. Women who could not bear children, or who could not bear sons, were subject to being cast off as would be an unprofitable servant.
Even romance does not seem to have played a very big role in marriage. Enduring tales of star-crossed lovers almost always included conflict with an arranged marriage, or with class or other cultural boundaries. Some resulted in a “happily ever after” ending, but most ended tragically with the death of one or the other, or both. Love in a marriage seems to have been more about enduring together the trials of life; about learning love and respect as the result of loyalty and kindness exhibited over the years; about the bonds that are built through the process of birthing and raising children.
Historically, then, the institution of marriage seems to have been a system for order, survival, and procreation. Yet we all know there is more. The scriptures have much to say. For example:
Marriage is ordained of God…….
And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. D&C 49:15
……and it is a requirement for entering into the highest realm of the Celestial Kingdom.
And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage; D&C 131:2
In a related declaration, we discover that neither the man nor the woman are completely whole on their own……
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. Corinthians 11:11
Sex is to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set……
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4
And those that honor the law of chastity will be blessed for doing so……
And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them. 4 Nephi 1:11
And finally, the very relationship between God and Man is often likened to a wedding, with Christ Himself as the Bridegroom.
And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. Revelation 19:9
In addition, regardless of what history may document to the contrary, love and romance do play a role in marriage – a huge role. We didn’t just inject romance into marriage in the past century. I pity the young man or woman who has never swooned for the beauty of a prospective companion, or felt the bittersweet pangs of longing than can only be triggered by that special someone. It is built into our very nature to seek after not just the satisfaction of lustful desires, but the fulfillment of hallowed dreams of true love – eternal love. Each of us has yearned for that sweet romance that would become the subject of legends and the source of longing sighs of young girls, the rapturous dreams of young boys.
But marriage today has become almost unrecognizable when compared to the divinely blessed marriage that I experience every day of my life. One can easily become confused trying to make secular sense of the controversy over the definition of marriage; rights versus privileges, activist judges vs. the voice of the people, compassion and love versus tradition and scripture (must they be mutually exclusive?). I hope to shed some light on this unsettling, even confounding mélange of thoughts, attitudes, prejudices and commandments that define today’s “perspectives on marriage”.
Marriage – The Social Contract
Ironically, I’ve chosen to approach this subject initially by discussing the topic of divorce. If not for the contractual nature of a marriage, divorce would not be necessary; therefore I think the evolution of divorce laws tends to mirror the evolution of marriage and its place in secular society. Prior to the 19th century, divorce was only available to wealthy men, and was typically employed as a device to enable them to remarry without losing favor in the eyes of the church, which was the major socio-political organization of the day. It was intended to be used initially only in case of proven adultery (by the woman, of course) and gradually as a criminal punishment against either spouse for infidelity, abuse, or abandonment.
The major problem with divorce was that, in a marriage, as mentioned earlier, the woman typically sacrificed any means of self-support in the interest of home-making and child-rearing. The harsher, more survival-centered the environment, the more likely it would be that the woman depended entirely upon the man for temporal support. If she left the marriage, for whatever reason, she typically no longer had any means of support. Her maiden family was most likely barely surviving as it was, and there was hardly another seat at the table. Death from starvation or disease became a very real possibility (as if it weren’t already), and “the state”, which would care for such women today, didn’t exist in its present form. It follows, then, that very strict divorce laws were maintained largely in the interest of protecting the women. For the upper crust of society, these harsh realities were less binding, therefore formal divorce tended to be limited to those who had money to insulate themselves from the stark reality of life among the lower classes.
It seems that the development of the middle class, along with the increased distribution of property among the classes, has had a huge impact on the evolution of divorce, and therefore on marriage, because along with that came the need for a fair division of wealth in case of divorce. Add to that the rise of women’s rights which drove a dilution of the patriarchal order in western society, and we begin see a change in attitudes and laws governing divorce and marriage. Again, prior to the 19th century, most marriages were religious, performed by a priest, and divorce had to be granted by the church, a condition which was and still is officially forbidden in the Catholic Church and many protestant denominations. Enter, then, the civil marriage and civil divorce.
While England had provisions for civil marriage prior to the 19th Century, it was the French Revolution, which wholly rejected the church’s role in the state, followed by the spread of the Napoleonic code throughout Europe that really opened the doors to civil marriage and civil divorce in western society. Marriage became a tool of the state to govern the division of wealth in case of divorce, and to intervene on behalf of children. The stage was set for the confusion, even conflict, between “marriage – the civil contract” and “marriage – the sacred covenant” to develop into a full-fledged war.
Over the last two centuries, the role of the church in governing marriage and divorce has gradually diminished and the role of the state has inversely increased. At the same time the role of “the state” has gradually increased throughout our daily lives. I personally was overwhelmed when I read the following quote from “Answers.com”: “According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138 statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges. These rights and responsibilities apply to only male-female couples, thanks to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage as between a man and a woman.” In addition, there are other “privileges” that are reserved for married couples such as visiting and “next-of-kin” privileges in hospitals or emergency care situations, health insurance spouse and family benefits, funeral and bereavement leave, adoption and foster care eligibility, and the right to tax-free inheritance of property.
The point of all of this is that married couples have evolved into a “protected and privileged” class of people – granted rights and privileges that are not available to those people who, whether by choice or the rule of law, do not fit into this legal classification. The reasons for this are, in my mind, pretty simple and clear – our society has long recognized the stabilizing role of two-parent families, and the state, as an extension of that society, has formalized this by enacting laws encouraging couples to marry, have children, and stay together. The pressure on women to marry for survival has been reduced dramatically over the centuries. The increase in personal wealth; the rights of women to “own property” independent of their husbands (yes – that was not always a given); the availability of education and employment to women have all served to break the essential bond between marriage and survival, but the importance of the marriage relationship to the survival of our western society is still recognized and cannot be overestimated.
Marriage – the Sacred Covenant
In my attempt to present a balanced perspective on the condition of marriage in our society today, I have to this point concentrated mostly on the history and social development of marriage – the more secular dimensions of this cornerstone of society. My true feelings on the topic, though, are that marriage is a sacred covenant between God and the two spouses, eternally ordained as the primary means of bonding humans together as a society in this world, and as a divinely ruled kingdom in the eternities. For those of us who accept scripture as the word of God and a guide to the truth about who we are, there are numerous scriptures that attest to the place that marriage holds in God’s eternal plan for us and for the universe.
The Lord Himself declares in D&C 49:15, when answering questions about the anti-marriage beliefs of the Shakers, “And again I say unto you, that whoso fobiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.” Other scriptures attest to “marrying and giving in marriage” as somehow a measure of the validity of a civilization or as a sign of the society’s oblivion to coming catastrophes, be it the flood or the second coming (Matthew 24:38, Moses 8:21, Luke 20:34, Luke 17:27). In the case of the Nephite Zion society after Christ’s appearance in the Americas, it was said of them, “And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.” (4 Nephi 1:11)
Christ has taken great pains to point out that marriage is an ordinance for this world, declaring multiple times that after the resurrection “they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in Heaven. (Matthew 22:30. See also Mark 12:25, Luke 20:34-35, D&C 132:16)
As mentioned earlier, Paul’s declaration in Hebrews 13:4, which says “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” stands out as a clear directive that we are to seek marriage as well as confine our sexual activity to the marriage bed itself.
And, of course, the scriptures of the restoration make marriage’s essential role in the Lord’s creation even more clear when they reveal doctrines such as in D&C 131:2, which states “And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage”. Note, He describes marriage as an order of the priesthood – the very priesthood through which the entire universe was created! Section 132 goes even further in defining the “New and Everlasting Covenant” as the covenant of eternal marriage, at one point declaring “For behold, I reveal unto you a new and everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then ye are damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.” (D&C 132:4) Marriage has suddenly become not only a privilege ordained of God unto man, but a commandment which was instituted from before the foundation of the world (D&C 132:5), upon which exaltation is conditioned, and which was instituted for the fullness of God’s own glory (D&C 132:6). Since the Lord declared in Moses 1:39 that “…this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”, we now see marriage positioned as being essential to the fulfillment of God’s plan for man. The Savior goes even further in chapter 132: 19 to declare that marriage in the New and Everlasting Covenant, once sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, is in effect “when they are out of the world”. Verse 20 assures us that “….they shall be from everlasting to everlasting”; and verse 21 says, “Verily, verily I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory”.
Speaking of the Holy Spirit of Promise, I would like to share a personal testimony of its glorious power. My wife and I were sealed in 1993, which was 5 years after we were married, and also happened to be 5 years after I was baptized. Just before our sealing, I began to ask myself “why is this so important?” I came to the conclusion that, since it is the Lord’s mission that we be “one” in Him (John 17:22, Mosiah 18:21, D&C 35:2, Romans 12:5, Romans 15:16), then perhaps marriage is a test; a test to determine if I can become one with just one other person. If can’t pass this test, how is it possible that I could become one with all those in Christ’s kingdom? Since the day we were sealed, I have sensed that there was some power binding us together, making our marriage stronger, deepening the love that we have for each other. It was only recently when I was reading an article about the sealing power of the Holy Spirit of Promise that I realized that, over the past years, our marriage was gradually being sealed as promised, and that this mysterious, nurturing, binding power was truly the Holy Spirit itself.
A concluding thought about “Marriage – the Sacred Covenant”. About a year ago, when an aunt asked me specifically if I thought she would be with her husband, who had recently died, in Heaven, I did a quick search of the Bible, because I knew she wasn’t LDS, and discovered that nowhere in the Bible does it say anything remotely like “families are forever”. I shared this with her, and then told her of the doctrines of the restoration concerning marriage. I never heard back from her. However, prompted by this experience, I have conducted an informal poll over the past few months of Non-LDS Christians, asking them if they believed that they would spend eternity with their spouse and family members. Most said unequivocally, “Yes, I do”, while a very few replied, “I don’t really know”. It seems that almost everyone who believes in God and an afterlife believes that the family associations will continue beyond death, yet only Latter Day Saints have scriptural support for this belief, and only Latter Day Saints teach it as doctrine. To me, this is a testimony of the truthfulness of this doctrine……that people somehow instinctively know that this will be the case, even when they can’t support it with scripture.
Marriage – the Sacred Contract: ordained of God to be the basis of the family unit and thus the core structure of His Kingdom (Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion – D&C 132:8). Sex is to be reserved for marriage. It binds the couple together, it strengthens the marriage through profound intimacy, and it helps ensure a safe, stable environment for children to be raised and nurtured in. Marriage provides an environment in which individuals are able to learn to sacrifice their individual desires in the interest of the marriage and the family……..we learn to sacrifice and to place the welfare of others above our own. Marriage is ordained unto man for a wise and eternal purpose, and truly represents an opportunity for man and woman to enter into the most sacred of covenant with his creator.
Marriage – The Future in Western Society
It is clear to me that over the years marriage evolved from an institution ordained of God as a cornerstone of His plan to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man into a social convention dominated by men, in perpetuation of their comfort and power, at the expense of women. It has further evolved today into a social contract associated with a myriad of privileges and “rights” that define a protected and privileged class of people. It is the designation of these rights and privileges that has sown the seed of marriage’s destruction. Society has rightfully been evolving towards the elimination of special privileged groups and the eventual elimination of formal discrimination against minorities in our society. African-Americans, Native Americans, women, religious groups, and immigrants from all over the world – all are going through or have gone through the process of overcoming the prejudices that have defined them in various ways as second-class citizens.
Now add homosexuals to that group. They not only rightfully want to be protected from housing, hiring, and myriad forms of social discrimination, they represent the only group of the aforementioned minorities whose have been ineligible to receive the privileges associated with marriage. There are certainly other emotional issues at play – the desire to publicly solemnize their love and commitment for example – but that has nothing to do with the social contract aspect of marriage, and it would do nothing to gain for them the legal standing that comes with marriage. The people of California voted to define marriage as between one woman and one man, and there is much consternation at the rulings of “activist” judges overturning the will of the people, but I’m not convinced that they haven’t ruled correctly – the only way they could. I’m not convinced that the people have the right to vote to deny a minority legal rights and privileges that are available to every other class of people in the nation (even single people?).
Our problem with marriage today is the fact that we have so thoroughly confused the sacred covenant with the social contract. Would homosexual couples be happy to form their own church, gain legal standing, and have their marriages solemnized by the clergy that acknowledges such relationships, if it isn’t recognized by the state? I suspect not. What good would that do them, anyway? Would heterosexuals be satisfied with the same arrangement? Now, maybe we’re getting somewhere. The major objection of the “religious right” is that marriage is defined by God as being between one man and one woman. Now they want the state to define marriage the same way. But I don’t think the state can constitutionally or morally do that because in doing so they are denying the rights and privileges associated with married couples to this select minority. The state’s choice is to either remove these rights and privileges from the social contract of marriage, or grant them to all couples regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation.
There actually may be a silver lining to the current situation. Partly because of this confusion between marriage – the social contract and marriage – the sacred covenant, the whole institution has, in my mind, been polluted. Divorce rates are at an all-time high. Pre-nuptial agreements, while still relatively rare, somehow demean the whole idea of marriage being “until death do us part”. In general, most marriages are, in reality, “until we decide we don’t like each other anymore”. The idea of a marriage being a three-way covenant between God and the couple rarely enters into the equation any more, except among the very religious.
I suggest that if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, the line between social and sacred marriage will become so well-defined that the distinction will be much clearer. The confusion mentioned above will be diminished, and marriages solemnized before God will stand as a beacon to all who will look to it. My dear wife, the artist, suggested the following analogy. Imagine that you have sprayed a spot on a clean windshield with a substance that will repel dirt. While the windshield is clean, this protected spot is unnoticeable. But as the dirt begins to collect on the rest of the windshield, the spot begins to stand out, until it eventually provides the only clear view of the road ahead.
I know that marriage is ordained of God between a man and a woman. I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit of Promise in my own marriage. It is truly a thing of glory and I eagerly anticipate discovering the blessings that await us on our eternal journey. But we live today in a largely secular society, and it is the rightful role of government to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. I believe that this crisis has been developing for years, if not centuries, and may actually have been cleverly perpetuated by the same hand that has threatened individual agency since the Great Council and the War in Heaven. With cunning patience, he has been whittling away at the moral fiber of our society using greed, pornography, covetousness, and theological perversions to lure us into sharing his unique misery. Through his insidious guidance, the government first associated rights and privileges with marriage in an attempt to encourage and sustain the family. Now, though, the family’s role as the building block of society has diminished. The sustaining effort failed. Or did it? Perhaps the plan all along was not to sustain the family, but to destroy it. Consider this:
Today, the definition of a “family” is, as a result of rampant immorality, severely diluted, and the stage is set to justify the extension of these marriage rights and privileges to anyone who desires to consider themselves a family.
We have, in turn, become accustomed to the government defining marriage by “licensing”, or granting, these rights and privileges, and we no longer even consider that the government had no right to regulate marriage in the first place; in fact, we ask them to define marriage.
Add to this the government’s obligation to protect the rights of the minority.
The government has no choice but to expand the definition of a family beyond its traditional and divinely inspired definition of a man, a woman and children. The result is a spiral of destruction with traditional marriage and the family at its center. Perhaps the plan worked after all.