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.)