Marriage: Mirrors and Windows

Jason Kuznicki (Positive Liberty) has penned a long post in which he attempts to restate the purpose of marriage. In this essay, he proposes marriage is about nurturing. This was written in partial reaction to those who have argued that there is dichotomy between those who feel marriage is an institution to protect the helpless (i.e., children) and those who feel it is celebration of a sexual relationship between two consenting adults. Mr Kuznicki feels that this distinction is false, he writes that marriage is

it is a reciprocal agreement with another individual (and often with God), to look after the total well-being of that person and of any children that might come into your mutual care.

It seems that the only “problem” with this view it is only half of the picture.

Mr Kuznicki has done a fine job of describing marriage from, what I would term, an inward perspective. Looking outwards, as it were, marriage serves to enlarge and unite two families across generations. It links families (clans?) of parents, grand-parents, children, cousins, uncles, aunts, brothers, and grand-children in a web of responsibility, companionship, affection, and love. Both views of marriage are necessary. Roman Polanski in his film Bitter Moon, expressed his pessimism concerning the long term health of relationships which remains inwardly focused without the intergenerational renewal which comes with children and concomittant larger family responsibilities, sorrows, and joys.

As so often happens, that which I’m currently reading speaks to this topic as well. M Jouvenel (Sovereignty) has difficulty (but makes a little progress) when he tries to consider the political good. This is a thorny issue, but a few things became clear. Germane to this discussion is that for all of us, we look back with a feeling of loss to a time when life contained more constancy of relationships and that that the social network with which we interacted was smaller and more intimate. And as our social network has expanded in our modern life, so has the family contracted. M. Jouvenel writes:

That the family of old today is smaller in scale than the family of olden days has been sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that funerals brought together a much more extensive “family” than they do now. … The old wives who concern themselves with establishing ties of kinship which strike us as distant and insignificant are in fact engaged on a task with an antiquity of many thousands of years, futile though we think it, it has beyond question played an exalted role in social progress

Same sex marriage (SSM) seems to me logically to be an effort in emphasizing the inward side of marriage over the outward. It can be linked with the ongoing societal push emphasizing the personal over the social and encouraging the personal anonymity found in modern life. This is all just a piece of a larger social upheaval in which the smaller intimate social structures of old and the larger family life is being replaced with something new. Many hearken to a cry to return to the older tribal structures and have a feeling that something important is being left behind. This world wide adventure in social restructuring may succeed or fail, but is important to understand what is being given up and that the success of the experiment is not assured.

Mr Kuznicki ends by offering some policy suggestions for why the government might be good to support “nurturing” relationships irrespective the gender of the participants. I would suggest that a traditional marriage and family structure might be worthy of different considerations than a nurturing covenantal bond between two adults. This is not just because children are defenseless, a lot of work, only occaisonally cute, but required for the continuance of the race. But because traditional family life and intergenerational bonds are what tie us to who we once were, and this might be valuable.

(Update: Mr Kuznicki has a follow-up post here.)

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  1. Jim Anderson says:

    Why is welcoming same sex couples into the bonds of matrimony a contraction of familial connectedness? For generations gay men and women have been outsiders in their own families. Allowing them the normalcy of sanctioned relationships would be an improvement in that respect–equally inward- and outward-looking.

  2. Mark says:

    As Mr Kuznicki points out in his second essay, he is trying to re-frame the debate in a larger way, moving from “sex-talk” vs “baby-talk” to replace that with “nurture-talk”. My point is “nuture-talk” omits “clan-talk”.

    Neither Mr Kuznicki nor I are speaking directly to the SSM/HSM debate and policy except in the most general terms. Mr Kuznicki ends by noting that it might be good for the state to promote good nurturing relationships. I’ve noted that there are perhaps additional reasons to support clan building, not denying that there are reasons to support nurturing.

    My 2nd point might be that those stubbornly insisting on the importance of baby-talking have an underlying feeling of loss of the small-town connectedness and clan that has come with our modern society. Framing the marriage debate in terms of nurture-talk or sex-talk while natural in the personal anonymous modern society highlights what is being lost in our brave new world.

  3. Mark says:

    Ah, that was just me being a little sloppy. I was sort of attempting to sidestep the discussions about the ethics and implications of obtaining children in ways besides the … uhm … obvious one.

    See the comment I left at Positive Liberty.

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