Article by Thomas Kadmon, ICR. Image by Diocesan.
We are discussing marriage, sex and the family, and what interfaith dialogue has to offer thereon.
There are groups who are deeply sceptical of interfaith dialogue, as is their right.
And not just groups on the fringes of Christianity. Hitzb ut-Tahrir is a radical Islamist jihadist group, for example, that suspects interfaith efforts are a covert way of foisting western values on Islam. Let me therefore answer the more generalised objection of covertness in a more pointed form, with a full disclaimer. I am not simply your old-fashioned, proselytising Catholic missionary with a presentational spin suited to modern sensibilities. Whatever your creed, I respect your sincere truth-seeking. We can learn from each other, as long as reason is our constant companion. If you come over to my side it will be due to a divine inspiration, not to my cleverness. The tradition I cleave to says befriend the alien and love the enemy, because its goal is the healing of broken relationships. Hardly is our humanity more broken than in the area of marriage, sex and family.
Marriage as committed
Last time I defined my position, which I can take apart chunk by chunk and invite piecemeal engagement. I said marriage is a committed, exclusive, lifelong relationship between one man and one woman, and open to life (i.e. babies). By committed, I mean something more than two people voluntarily renewing their togetherness day-by-day. A de facto couple may have organically developed a solid, loving relationship; they may even have brought children into the world together; they may be substantially married 'by nature', without caring too much to be married 'by culture'. A Catholic might say their union just needs a sacramental seal. From a civil perspective, the couple's substantial commitment still could be formalised, publicised and permanentised. It could be formalised through the law. It could be publicly witnessed and celebrated by family, friends and community. And it could embody the explicit intention to perdure across time - which is a bit like committing to the future in the present.
Marriage as lifelong.
The characteristic of 'lifelong' is used above to describe marriage. There are some who describe themselves as 'serial monogamists'. They claim to move through a succession of one man-one woman relationships. A man who says he is now with his fourth wife, having had three divorces, would be an example of a serial monogamist. Obviously, this is a different, time-bound conception of marriage from my proposition. Not that there is anything in this finite world that is not time-bound. The question is whether or not the time bound should be formulated thusly: till death do we part. There is a certain quality and depth to a relationship that can survive, grow and flourish through the several seasons of mature life. Serial monogamists and polyandrists, it is hard to escape the conclusion that you are not interested in the whole of your partner, if he or she is only fit for a season - say, the springtime or the autumntide of life. Perhaps you like their smoothness but not their wrinkles; their excitement but not their sorrow. The position is a strong one that says: resolve to be a man or woman for all seasons.
Marriage as exclusive
I contend also that marriage is exclusive. The so-called 'open relationship' is not exclusive. A man is free to sleep with other women, a wife to sleep with other men. They do this by arrangement. Presumably the proponents believe there is a superiority to their consciously designed agreement above common-and-garden adultery. Normal cheating is usually furtive and feeds off the betrayed partner's ignorance. But there may be brazen infidelity, as when there is no longer any care for the damage or consequences. There is even culturally-sanctioned adultery, say, in Italy or China, where it can be widely accepted that men will have their mistresses. A section of society thinks that escorts and prostitutes for males and females perform a vital service, with commerce and the internet backing such activity to the hilt. All this of course mocks the principle of exclusivity; or at the very least challenges it. But it is not only infidelity, both shamefaced and shameless, that witnesses against exclusivity. There is conscious religious polygamy, such as the Mormons used to practise and, more eccentrically, such as certain cult leaders practise. Then there is Islam and the institutionalisation of polygamy, which perhaps should be treated as a category of its own.
Everybody knows that exclusivity confers the sense of specialness. If your partner is 'getting it on' with someone else, you likely feel unspecial, unless you have unhealthily compartmentalised your sexuality from the rest of your being. So the fruitful conversational point around exclusivity is specialness. Consider its value and consider the traditional association of sex with specialness. It feels deeply and biologically rooted, not merely an arbitrary convention. It is reasonable to suggest that the onus of proving their position lies on those who claim marriage does not have to be exclusive.
Marriage as between one man and one woman
Heteronormativity cannot be a mere social bias if there is something pre-established about the marital complementarity of sexes. The western democracies moved precipitously under leadership of certain elites to challenge, indeed deny, this criterion through the relatively recent referenda on 'same sex marriage'. This was, of course, unheard of for the vast majority of humanity's history. It would be too disrespectful to my opponents' conviction to suggest that 'same sex marriage' is a fad and might be ephemeral. They believe it is here to stay, which means they believe marriage can be what they want it to be; which means they could not believe that its nature was established by the Creator. Even in the teeth of lines like 'male and female created he them'. Biology agrees with religion on this. About 1 in 20,000 chromosomal patterns produce the true hermaphrodite. The rest produce males (xx) and females (xy). The sexual differentiation at the cellular level is reflected in the external genitalia of girls and boys.
Marriage as 'open to life'.
Another scriptural line explains why sexual complementarity is essential to marriage and mating: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." But this suggests that marriage is ordered to procreation; and that is another reason why marriage is between one man and one woman. This leads us to the last criterion of marriage in the above proposition. It should be "open to life", that is, there needs to be a readiness to accept babies as a blessing, and there is one major, natural way for that to come about. A discussion of marriage thus raises the issue of the genesis of the family, its nature and purpose.