In one of his last posts, Logan argued for the need to define, for society, what is the purpose, the ultimate end, of marriage. He chose to focus specifically on its purpose in society, as an institution. I would like to attempt to answer that question, but I would like to do so by working my way up.
I would like to start with marriage on a smaller scale—what does marriage mean to me? To the individual?—then see how this translates to society.
So, as a Christian male, my view and practice of marriage is dominated by my religion. Marriage for te Christian is sacred because it is a symbol of mankind’s relationship with God. Throughout The Old and New Testament this is true. The nation of Israel is condemned repeatedly in terms of harlotry or other terms of unfaithfulness. In the New Testament as well, the church is referred to as the “Bride of Christ” multiple times, and the celebration in heaven at the end of the world is a wedding feast. So, marriage—my marriage—is a symbol to me of a very large component of my worldview: spirituality, theology, history, eschatology, etc.
It is also a religious practice (in addition to a religious symbol). The Bible has many commands regarding married behavior. For husbands, the most prominent and repeated is the command to “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Here, it is easy to see how the symbol and practice interact and are related to each other.
It is important to see from these two facets that marriage, for the Christian, is an important part of both how he sees the world and how he is to behave in the world. As such, marriage in both concept and reality is valuable to him.
The notion of marriage as something of value is an important starting point for any discussion about marriage
Now, the obvious difficulty lies in reconciling this notion with other worldviews. For the non-Christian, what is marriage? Is it still valuable? In the same way?
Yes, of course it is still valuable. Marriage has a cultural vale that might be related to its religious value, but is certainly separate (in fact, the cultural value is often mistaken for the religious). In American culture, marriage is valued because it confirms relationships; it is a public commitment for a couple. It legitimizes those relationships, contracting them with the state. It also grants rights to people because of their relationship. My wife as the right to my money and property—especially if I die. It is interesting that marriage as an institution is basically a public declaration of the societal validity of personal love. It also functions to provide for procreation by creating an emotionally and economically caring environment in which children can grow up healthily.
All of this is to create what I believe to be an important principle for a profitable discussion of marriage: it works from the ground up. There has to be an intrinsic value in marriage that legislation protects. Marriage cannot be made valuable through legislation—it can only be made conventional.
Now, I’m not sure what this implies, practically speaking. Further thought is required.