On this website I use an unconventional definition of the word family. Many existing documents still use the word family where they actually mean an oikos. I suggest the following definitions.
A group of humans who have a biological relationship: parents and their children. They do not necessarily live in a same oikos.
A group of humans who live together in a same household, forming an economical entity that provides a secure environment where its members can rest, where children can grow up, sick people can recover and old people can die.
The plural of “oikos” is “oikoi”. Also called “life groups”.
Most human civilizations use the approach of growing up their children in oikoi. This approach is probably optimal for humans because we have a relatively long childhood; humans need about 15 years before they are biologically able to reproduce, and almost twenty years before they are socially able to live on their own and form themselves a family. An oikos is the best environment for humans to learn social rules, develop their emotional skills and cultivate their individual faith. That’s why providing community support to oikoi is a basic part of most human cultures.
National law systems need to define what exactly is to be considered an oikos and what not. Saying that the only valid form of oikos is “a man, a woman and their children” is obviously not enough as definition. What happens when one of the parents died or changed their mind and formed a new couple with another partner? Or when one of the partners turns out to be (secretly) part of several oikoi at once? What would happen with the children of a divorced couple? How to handle existing cases of patchwork oikoi, polygamic oikoi and homosexual oikoi?
An exclusive union of two humans who decide to build an oikos as partners of same rank.
Two partners having the same rank is a fundamental difference to most other forms of organizations.
A same partner cannot be member of multiple couples at the same time.
- civil union¶
The state of being a legally confirmed couple, which includes legal community support to protect their oikos regarding heritage, privacy, common belongings and other things.
The partners decide to hold together as a couple and receive in turn certain legal privileges to support that decision.
The legally recognized end of a civil union.
A life-long couple, i.e. a couple in which both partners engage to remain a couple until death separates them.
- to marry¶
To start a marriage.
A life-long decision of being unmarried and living in sexual abstinence.
(Definition inspired by Wikipedia, Albanian sworn virgins)
- sexual abstinence¶
The fact of not entering into sexual relation with another human.
Oikoi in the Bible¶
The Bible contains texts that have been written during a period of several thousand years and therefore documents different law systems regarding oikoi, including polygamic ones.
Most systems documented in the Bible are patriarchal.
Jesus didn’t care much about his family. Some quotes:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26
But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
These observations make me say that Christian values are not about what is a valid marriage and what not, they are about how to find peace on Earth given the fact that humanity consists of many cultures. This is why we cannot say that same-sex marriage is against “Christian values”.
Every religious organization has its clear definition about what a family or a marriage is. For example the Catholic Church defines them quite clearly in its teachings and doctrines. See Marriage in the Catholic Church. But even the teachings and doctrines of the Roman Catholic church –the biggest religious organization on Earth– cannot be considered “divine” as long as there is one human on Earth who refuses to follow them.
Until death separates you¶
Two girls are talking about their love stories. One of them says “I am so lucky! Last week I got two different marriage proposals! I just can’t yet decide with whom to start…”
Yes, national laws allow to “try again”. The Roman Catholic refuses this idea of a second chance. This rule makes sense because when a man and a woman have children, they share a life-long common responsibility for their children, independently of whether they want it or not, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they actually manage to assume it or not. I call a marriage when they want, acknowledge and celebrate this common responsibility. The Church knows cases where a marriage gets recognized as “invalid” or “cancelled”. But even these cases are not “divorces”, they rather recognize the fact that the marriage never existed.
I use to say that if my own marriage would fail, I hope that I would manage to live as a single and wouldn’t do the same mistake once more.
The difference between a marriage and a civil union is that the former lasts “until death separates them” (i.e. until one of the partners dies) while the latter can be divorced.
Most national laws cannot regulate marriage (as I define it) because they don’t allow for lifelong agreements. Human laws should call it a civil union. I find it disturbing when the word marriage is used in legal texts, because this makes people think that a marriage is the same as a civil union.
People tend to ignore this difference. I wonder why they make a ceremony and call it a marriage when they are actually just saying “hooray, we agreed to live together for some time, as long as it suits both of us”. For me this is just a civil union, just a temporary legal agreement between two individuals. I perceive it as a degradation of language when people call this a “marriage”. This wrong wording might cause us to loose the original meaning.
Yes, my definitions of marriage and family differ (slightly IMO) from those of the Catholic Church. I suggest that marriage should not require a plan to have children, i.e. a marriage should be allowed to be platonic. This definition would allow same-sex marriage.
Message to young couples¶
Modern cultures seem to have no problem with couples who refuse the idea of marriage (as I defined it) and still want to have children.
But please consider what this means to us, the other humans.
Raising a child takes almost twenty years. That’s a long time for a human. Not many humans agree to do this job for other people’s children and without being paid for it.
A child growing up in community with only one adult is a bit like a human with only one leg. It is a sub-optimal education environment. Yes, there are ways to work around such a handicap, but these solutions need more energy and money than the optimal solution of a family.
So when you make a child and then stop living together as a family, you create yet another sub-optimal education environment. You are shuffling off some of your responsibility upon us, the other humans.
Living together as a couple is a challenge because having two partners at the same rank is a fundamental difference to most other forms of organizations.
A marriage in the Catholic Church (i.e. not just a civil union) is a promise to bind yourself, to hold on even in difficult times. This promise can give you undreamed-of energy when needed. Without this promise your couple faces a bigger danger of breaking apart before your children are adult.
That’s why I ask you: If you know that you love each other and want to have a family together, then wait with having sex until you also agree that this means a life-long binding. And when you agree to be bound until the end of your life, then don’t wait any longer, tell this good news to the world and get married. If you fear the costs of a wedding ceremony, just choose a more decent way to celebrate your decision.