Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A post by Steve Clemons on his site, The Washington Note got me thinking. What is the great threat to marriage and why does the "breakup" of marriage constitute such a grave threat to our society? (It must be noted that most of the cries of doom come from folks who mourn the decline of proper, straight and christian marriages.)

I understand the idea that marriage is the basic union that helps define our social system. Yet what I and proboably an overwhelming percentage of this country know is that family is not necessarily blood.

My Godmother and her family is as much my family as my cousins and sisters are. My sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts are all related to me through marriage and blood, genomes, etc. My Godmother's family is related to me through a social ceremony. I even have an aunt who isn't my mother's sister, but her best friend. Technically, she isn't my "aunt", and so if there was some extreme case she has no de-facto claim of guardianship, but she is certainly my aunt.

How many extended non-blood related family groups are out there? How many people have been helped, loved and supported by a group of people who are not bound to them through marriage?

The nature of relationships extends far beyond our ability to cleanly define them. We define them for our own piece of mind or for technical reasons (legal reasons of custody, taxes, etc.). Yet those "defined" relationships are only as valid as the relationship of the individuals involved.

The Catholic Church recognizes the right of a woman to annul the marriage if her husband is abusive. Certainly, no one would say that an abusive marriage is a valid relationship, yet in the abstract the dissolution of a marriage is looked upon as a symptom of a failing society.

Certainly we should support couples who want to pledge themselves to each other in a public ceremony, but that should not be the barometer of the health of our society.

Rather, we should look to how much we as a society support those we are not legally obliged to stand by. There are countless single-parent and non-married families that are just as morally sound and have just as much of a positive impact on society as any straight, christian couple with the 2.5 kids.

Just because certain vocal individuals have a preconceived notion of what is the "correct" form society should take does not mean we should abandon our ability as a society to decide what is best. Biblical definitions may serve to give their opinions "weight", but the New Testament is a rather straightforward piece of work (barring Revelations) and it is far less concerned with the old testament style strictures than with the basic idea of loving others as yourself.

The NT gives many of society's most doctrinaire critics difficulty because its basic message is not strictly disciplinary nor focused on legal definitions. Jesus supped with the sinner after all. I think that was the point of the story of performing miracles on the sabbath. Get caught up in the technicalities and you miss the point. The whole spirit vs. letter thing.

Perhaps we should focus less on who's with whom and more on the quality of the relationships.

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