Marriage Special Edition

    1. Marriage I
    2. Marriage II

On this auspicious Day 1 of Supreme Court arguments on DOMA and Proposition 8, I bring some thoughts on marriage that are not, at least in the second case, like anything I’ve written before on the subject.


To get me to share the “Marriage Equality” slogan, you’ll have to persuade me of a reductionist idea of what marriage is. The meaning of “marriage” is logically antecedent to whether “equal” marriage is (1) self-evidently just or (2) a bit of mock-solemn mummery.

If marriage is a comprehensive conjugal union of complementary sexes, same-sex marriage is impossible.

If it’s a bundle of government benefits for people who pair up and promise to remain a mediating structure, then same-sex marriage is, I suspect, self-evidently just – and the question of whether the two are GLBTetcetera is a red herring.


While one could decry the evils of a secular culture that treats sex like candy, to do so would miss, to me, a much more severe problem: a Christian culture that treats sex like candy.


First of all, sex is not the summit of human experience, not even close. It can be wonderful, but communion with the living God is the summit of human experience and central to Christianity. Sex is not central to Christianity. Case in point: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born of a Virgin.

Second of all, sex is not the summit of human experience. Did I say that already? Well, it can’t be said enough. As a student of theology, I cannot help but point out that the practical attitude of some (behaving as if sex, albeit within marriage, is the summit of human experience) presents a serious christological problem. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is not only fully divine, but fully human. Indeed, he is understood to be the redemption and fulfillment of all that it means to be human. Despite the historical fiction of Dan Brown and other Gnostics before him, Christians believe that Jesus was celibate. If the Gospels and early Christians are willing to go on so much about his Mother, how much more so would they have venerated his wife!

Provocative stuff, at least in some circles.

I agree wholly with the author thus far. But then he cites a precedent I struggle with, and in which I suspect he’s eliding  context:

Third of all, sex is not a necessary component of marriage. It may be a normative part of most marriages (as are, I would hasten to add, children), but paralysis, for example, does not annul a marriage. Furthermore, it was not unheard of in the early Church for a man and a woman to get married and at the same time to take vows of celibacy and live their lives totally committed to one another but, in that area, as brother and sister. Oddly, I have been able to physically see the anger in Christians’ faces when I have told some of them this in the past.

(Emphasis added)

Let me acknowledge that the author is not inventing these celibate “marriages.” They are reported in hagiography, and I accept them as true in at least a hagiographical sense, and perhaps literally as well.

But traditionally, a particular sexual act has been necessary to consummate marriage. Indeed, I’ve engaged in my own bit of provocation by defending sexual sociopath William Jefferson Clinton’s claim that he “did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky” because they didn’t do that act. (Say what you will, that Baptist boy could split hairs with the best of them.)

In Western Christendom at least, a marriage was not considered valid without consummation, and could be annulled. The Orthodox Crowning Services is full of prayers that presume consummation with procreative intent.

So I suspect that the totally committed celibate “marriages” deserved the scare quotes I use for them, and that they were, in historic context, something like stratagems to protect each other from forced marriages in the unequivocal sense. (See my scholarship disclaimer below.) After all, while Jesus was fully human while celibate, we do not affirm that He was fully married.

I’m hoping to draw out the author on this, as he’s also on the WordPress platform, but comments seemed disabled on the entry I’m critiquing here. Mine aren’t. But we may have trouble communicating theologian-to-lawyer.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.