Happiness, Gay Marriage, and Eternal Marriage

In light of the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court on gay marriage, I’ve been thinking a lot about politics and religion and where the two – for me, anyway – should meet. I’ve struggled for a long time wondering whether legislating against gay marriage was the most “Christian” thing to do, or if something else ought to be done first (such as, I don’t know, dialogue?). By now, it seems inevitable that gay marriage will be legal somewhere in the U.S., even if it never is in the great state of Utah. We have effectively lost marriage.

I realize it doesn’t always help to look back and ask “what could have been done?” In fact, I for one am more in favor of asking “what can be done now?” And yet, there are times when asking one question implies the other. This might be one of those cases.

For a long time now, marriage has been considered a means more than an end. Historically, marriage has served any number of purposes, ranging from political – binding kingdoms – to social – saving women the embarrassment of out-of-wedlock children. Presently, among Mormons, marriage serves as a means to salvation (as well as sex, but as much as that factors into the gay marriage quandary, let’s save it for another day). But among the ends to which marriage has become a means, there is one in particular that seems to have done us the greatest disservice: happiness.

By calling marriage a means to individual (or collective, for that matter) happiness, we as a society have put marriage in a tight spot. Social scientists are adamant that marriage provides people with better health, better finances, better sex, and an overall better life. To deny these things to any person would be like subjecting that person to slavery. After all, the pursuit of happiness is one of our inalienable rights. So denying marriage to gays is like denying them the right to be happy, healthy, and wealthy, or at least to deny them their full potential. If marriage is indeed a means to happiness, then we as a country have an obligation to provide access to people to marry whomever they wish if we are to uphold those cherished Constitutional values. It’s no wonder gays want more than just civil unions; wouldn’t you?

So what could we have done if we really wanted to defend marriage? My solution: we should have considered it an end of itself. We should have taken seriously “for better and for worse” and shown the world that marriage wasn’t about happiness, it was about marriage, and marriages can be both happy and sad, rich and poor, healthy and sick, and can still be good marriages. If marriage had been an end, you would have seen fewer divorces and more “unhappy” marriages, and then marriage itself wouldn’t have been so darn appealing. And with less appeal, there would have been fewer voices clamoring for the “right” to be married.

If I’m right, then perhaps we ought to learn something from what we could have done. After all, we still think of marriage as a means, especially in the church (I think the implied “for better or for worse” in our sealing ceremony is lost on many couples). Doing so damages the sanctity of marriage even among the “faithful” and teaches us (although implicitly) that marriage when it is difficult is not marriage. Perhaps now that the “definition” of marriage is lost to us, we ought to start thinking ahead and considering how to defend the “sanctity” of marriage. One first step might just be to give marriage the status of “end.”

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20 Responses

  1. Nice post, Joe.

    I think it gives us a lot to think about concerning what marriage is and how it ought to be defended.

    I personally don’t think it’s right for marriage to be aligned with economic perks. This shouldn’t make a difference for people who see marriage for what it really should be.

  2. Very thought-provoking post.

    I find it ironic that Mormons tend to be very adamant about defining marriage as a man and a woman – and making that definition law. In the 1800s, Mormons and their leaders argued extensively against any state involvement in marriage, saying it was none of the state’s business. How the tables have turned…

  3. Joe,

    Great post. There’s a lot to think about here. Just a few points I want to respond to.

    First, I’m not sure that shifting the focus from “happiness” to marriage as an end in itself would make it more or less appealing to homosexuals or any other group. Either way, considering marriage in terms of its appeal seems to fall into the happiness trap that you are trying to avoid.

    When you use the term happiness, it seems to me that you are specifically referring to individual self-fulfillment. I agree that this has become a shaky foundation for all kinds of marriages. The union becomes a means to serve individualistic ends and is a recipe for almost certain divorce.

    I do think that we need to be clearer on what “marriage for its own sake means.” Calling it an end in itself does not remove the need to explore and explicate what that end is. It certainly changes the current equation if we remove individual self-fulfillment and whatever romantic entitlements come with that. But where excactly does that take us? How does marriage for its own sake become any more for heterosexuals and any less for homosexuals? I do think that you are onto something here, but I want to understand more.

  4. Brady, you’re absolutely correct: before accepting marriage as an end we need to determine what that means. But I think that for many (even LDS), marriage as a means is so appealing that we would necessarily have a host of gays not interested in it anymore. Like their straight counterparts, they are primarily interested in marriage for the benefits.
    I confess that there are those interested in companionship and those certainly would like marriage however it comes, however my point was there are far fewer of them and those interested in defending traditional marriage wouldn’t have to put up near the fight.
    Now that you mention it, it seems to me that those who are truly interested in companionship are the gays we should be having a dialogue with anyway. I’m going to say something provocative here and I hope I can be forgiven if I’m overstepping boundaries, but it seems difficult at times to distinguish between those who are gay because of the epicurean lifestyle and those who are gay because they truly “feel” gay. I think any sort of dialogue would be more productive with those who truly feel gay and defining marriage as a means might help sort those out.

  5. […] Happiness, Gay Marriage, and Eternal Marriage Thinking in a Marrow Bone – June 20, 2008 […]

  6. […] Happiness, Gay Marriage, and Eternal Marriage Thinking in a Marrow Bone – June 20, 2008 […]

  7. What goes on in California will affect the whole country, Utah included. First, there is the cultural effect. Soren Kierkegaard warned against a revolutionary age that “leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance.” Second, there will be inevitable legal challenges when same sex couples will demand in court that their marriage be recognized by the federal government and by the states based on the full faith and credit clause of the constitution. Defense of marriage acts will be challenged as unconstitutional. The issue will be on the ballot this fall in California, unless the courts intervene to stop it. A constitutional ban on same sex “marriage” failed in Massachusetts for the lack of fifty legislative votes. (Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the [legislature] See Gen 18:24).

    This is a watershed issue. This is a core value issue. John the Baptist laid down his life to defend the marriage bond. We don’t have to be against anyone. We just have to stand for the right for the sake of future generations, because this will affect the formation and education of future generations.

    Please visit ProtectMarriage.com and consider a donation.

  8. “We have lost marriage.”

    How have we lost marriage? Gay marriage has been legal here in Mass for four years. I was against it at first, but now I have to admit gay marriage has zero negative effect on LDS marriages or family values.

    The Church is bigger than Utah, some of us live elsewhere and have different testimonies.

  9. The Church will be able to survive the decline of marriage in the larger society, though perhaps at some cost. That decline is nevertheless something I oppose. I wholeheartedly support the Church’s proclamation supporting a different view of marriage than what is being enforced by the courts in Massachusetts, where I once lived. Whatever becomes the normative marriage pattern will have considerable long-term effects on family law, on education and child rearing, on the extent to which religion is tolerated in the public square, and a host of societal patterns. Zero effect? I would wait a generation before drawing that conclusion.

  10. Leo,

    Yes, I agree. For Steve to say there will is zero negative effect is awfully presumptuous.

  11. There are a couple of things you say, Steve, that are presumptuous. First of all, you presume that determining the effects of gay marriage on LDS marriage and values begins when gay marriage became legal in MA, when in fact, the effects had already taken their toll. That was part of the point of my post: we didn’t lose marriage to the gays, we lost it to society (by we, I mean LDS). Gay marriage is merely one of the consequences of having lost it in the first place.

    Second of all, you presume that my testimony is somehow based on the standard, canned testimony of all Mormon residents of Utah (or something like that). I’m a little disappointed that someone as open-minded as you seem to be would be so quick to stereotype me or anyone here in Utah (yes, that is where I’m writing from). I hope you’d give me a little more credit: I have thought about some of these issues a little bit.

  12. Joe, first of all–love your post. It is great. I think you need to publish this idea. Steve, of course you don’t seem bothered now by gay marriage. Just like any sin, the more exposed you are to it, the less it affects you. I believe the right testimony to have is to follow the Prophet’s counsel and stand up and defend that marriage is between and man and a woman. Just because you have a “different” testimony doesn’t mean it is right. And just because we live in Utah doesn’t mean we think the church only exists in Utah. This site has majority Utah viewers because the fact this site is from a guy living in Utah.
    Joe, this was an absolutely fantastic post and addressed a lot of what I was thinking. Thank you thank you

  13. Joidee:

    This site has majority Utah viewers because the fact this site is from a guy living in Utah.

    We certainly have a majority of contributors who are from Utah — though I’ve been trying to change that. And I think we do probably have more viewers from Utah than any other state or country, but I’m not sure whether this constitutes a majority of all the viewers. There are plenty of viewers (and commenters) who are from around the country, perhaps roughly reflecting the distribution of the church in the U.S. I have no way of verifying this, though.

    I would simply add to Steve that many Latter-day Saints IN UTAH are quite different from each other, and many outside of Utah are quite similar to the stereotypical “Utah” church member Steven seems to be referring to. The fact that he is from Boston and others are from Utah, by itself, means perhaps less than he might think.

  14. Dennis, Thanks for the clarification. I was a little too hasty adding my post before thinking, and Steve, I apologize if I have offended you. I just really meant to say that the Church is true everywhere and because I live in Utah I would never think I was better than anyone outside of the state or that I had a stronger or better testimony than anyone else.

  15. This is an interesting discussion. As a Californian LDS, I have had particular interest. I do not think we have lost marriage yet, nor is gay marriage a necessary pitfall of an advocation of marriage in the way you described. Perspectives on marriage are quite individualistic and I’m not quite convinced that people have the idea of marriage you suggest. Why do people wait so long time to get married if it so appealing and makes us so happy? I think people are more aware of the sacrifice and heartache it can cause than we give them credit for.

    Wanting to continue a similar conversation, I would appreciate some rejoinders to a recent post on my blog on attraction and gay marriage. Head to edowdle.blogspot.com .

  16. Just cruising through, and wanted to add a voice to something Joe said. I would offer that it isn’t the “for better or worse” part that society stopped taking seriously, it was the “till death do you part”…part. Of course every culture has its own traditions, but for the most part, at the center of the original/ traditional marriage of colonized America was a union that once recognized by God, was not to be put “asunder” by any mortal and lasted until death claimed one or both parties involved.

    The vows were basically intended to remind the couple (and congregation) that marriage naturally involves opposites-health and sickness, richer and poorer, good times and bad ones, and to be sure they had fully considered these things BEFORE they pledged their lives to each other. They implied that none of the reasons stated within the vows could be used to dissolve the union-because both parties had essentially “read the fine print and signed the contract”. As a society-we ignored that and then shoved it aside completely.

  17. Continuing aetheressa’s thought, I wonder if the seriousness of the commitment of marriage has also degraded by a waning belief that marriage is a union recognized (if not even bound in heaven) by God. Then you throw in the additional factors of confusion and differing notions as to what marriage actually means, the apparent ease of divorce, etc.

    Anyway, like Ryan, I tend to be confused on this issue. I’ve always held to the notion that the government has no right to meddle with my privacy (and I count marriage as part of that privacy) and the church has always been very clear that it does not dabble in a person’s politics. Now the government is meddling (among innumerable other counts) (though by extension they’re meddling because they (whomever started probably prior to the US government existed) started meddling when they created marriage licenses). And the church is also telling me what to do with my politics. Then throw in the fact that I honestly don’t quite know what my stance is. Where’s that dialog for shedding light on both sides of the issue when I could use it?

  18. But Joe.

    Marriage ISN’T an end. It’s a beginning and a continuation of that beginning.

    And I don’t buy the logic that it’s denying anyone their right in the search for happiness. This doesn’t determine what people can DO, just what we will officially CALL it.

    If we are wanting to introduce something new and different into the social/political scene- then we need a word that is new and different. We can’t just take the word of something else and water down its meaning.

    If someone wanted to say they were Mormon but they weren’t really it wouldn’t be limiting their lives to not recognize them as Mormon. It’s just that Mormon means something. Just like marriage means something.

    Words have real meaning. When we water them down we lose something. We all lose something.

  19. […] that you have entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant, which includes eternal marriage, Elijah confirms these blessings with a seal that cannot be broken, a “welding link.” Then, as […]

  20. […] to a level compatible with eternity. The temple ceremony is only one step in the process of eternal marriage, and in some ways, the easiest. The hardest part is treating your spouse as someone you love so […]

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