Teachable Moments

    1. Civil Unions by another name
    2. Distinctly Orthodox Marriage
    3. Prohibited Marriages in Orthodoxy
    4. Meanwhile, from the purveyors of stultification
    5. The Pill Did It In the Bedroom With Pleasure

In addition to making me uncharacteristically surly and misanthropic for a spell, this week’s focus on marriage, real and faux, produced a lot of teachable moments.


First, friends resurrected the 20-month-old Civil Unions by Another Name: An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage. I gave it fairly short shrift yesterday, and I retract none of what I said then, but there’s more to be said:

  1. The author never really defends Gay Marriage in the sense of saying that it’s logical or that it is sound government policy. 
  2. The furthest he goes is to say that we should stop hyperventilating about it and counting on the state to “sanctify” marriage. 
  3. He notes, correctly, that strictly speaking, Orthodox theology does not recognize the full legitimacy of most marriages, including non-sacramental religious weddings, not to mention those “by a judge in a courthouse or an Elvis impersonator somewhere on the Vegas Strip.” Yet we’ve found an easy enough accommodation treating these couples as married in a sense: “Anyone who thinks marriage is something sacred needs to recognize that from the church’s perspective all marriages granted by the state for tax and inheritance purposes are just civil unions by another name.”

Now, beyond what I already said, above or yesterday, where does the author go wrong?

  1. I think he underestimates the extent to which gay marriage proponents are seeking affirmation of normalcy, and will brook no dissent. That’s part of the reason they turn Civil Union laws against the states that adopt them, arguing – I’m not making this up – that since the state gives them all the benefits of marriage, only irrational hatred could cause them to withhold the name “marriage.”
  2. Although I think he’s correct that Churches with explicitly sacramental views of marriage will be last affected by the gay marriage tsunami, and may be almost completely unaffected, it is no small matter to me that the religious freedom of Baptists and low church folk who’ve allowed their buildings to become virtual wedding chapels in some cases, will be under attack sooner rather than later.
  3. He makes the profound error of implying, if only by the title, that if there’s no strong religious objection to the state extending “marriage” (civil unions by another name), then there’s no objection at all.


Metropolitan  Hillarion (Alfeyev) writes Orthodox Marriage and Its Misunderstanding:

There are two misunderstandings about marriage which should be rejected in Orthodox dogmatic theology. One is that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation … In fact, in Orthodox understanding, the goal of marriage is that man and woman should become one, in the image of the Holy Trinity, Whose three Persons are essentially united in love. To quote St John Chrysostom again, ‘when husband and wife are united in marriage, they are no longer seen as something earthly, but as the image of God Himself’ …

Another misunderstanding about marriage is that it should be regarded as a ‘concession’ to human ‘infirmity’: it is better to be married than to commit adultery (this understanding is based on a wrong interpretation of 1 Cor.7:2-9) …

In the Orthodox Church, there is no understanding of sexual union as something unclean or unholy. This becomes clear when one reads the following prayers from the Orthodox rite of Marriage: ‘Bless their marriage, and vouchsafe unto these Thy servants… chastity, mutual love in the bond of peace… Preserve their bed unassailed… Cause their marriage to be honorable. Preserve their bed blameless ….

Its worthy reading for Orthodox and anyone else who thinks their view of marriage may be a bit thin and would like to thicken it.


John Sanidopoulos at Mystagogy lists Prohibited Marriages in the Orthodox Church, including the mythical (in the fully snarky and contemptuous sense) “gay marriage” of Adelphopoiesis.


We learned that Piers Morgan is an insufferable ass. Oh, wait! We already knew that.

We learned that he’s so insufferable that he makes El Rushbo and Bill O’Reilly look like Socrates in comparison.

El Rushbo, by the way, thinks that we lost the marriage issue when we started attaching adjectives to “marriage.” Serial monogamy like his own has nothing to do with it. No sir. Nothing to see here. Move along now.


Damon Linker thinks we lost the debate 50 years ago, when there was no debate.

Gay marriage has come to be widely accepted because our society stopped thinking of marriage as a conjugal union decades ago.

Between five and six decades ago, to be precise. That’s when the birth control pill — first made available to consumers for the treatment of menstrual disorders in 1957 and approved by the FDA for contraceptive use three years later — began to transform sexual relationships, and hence marriage, in the United States. Once pregnancy was decoupled from intercourse, pre-marital sex became far more common, which removed one powerful incentive to marry young (or marry at all). It likewise became far more common for newlyweds to give themselves an extended childless honeymoon (with some couples choosing never to have kids).

In all of these ways, and many more, the widespread availability of contraception transformed marriage from a conjugal union into a relationship based to a considerable degree on the emotional and sexual fulfillment of its members — with childrearing often, though not always, a part of the equation. And it is because same-sex couples are obviously just as capable as heterosexual couples of forming relationships based on emotional and sexual fulfillment that gay marriage has come to be accepted so widely and so quickly in our culture.

He’s not the first to say so, but he’s a bit more mainstream than some of the überCatholics who’ve mostly said it before.

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“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.