Most human civilizations use the approach of growing up their children in families. 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. A family 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 families is a basic part of most human law systems.
Since reality is different from ideal, human law systems need to define what exactly is to be considered a family and what not. 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 partner is part of several families at once? Or when one partner has several partners of the opposite sex? What happens with divorced families, patchwork families, polygamic families and homosexual families?
Families 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 families, including polygamic ones.
Most systems documented in the Bible are patriarchal.
Jesus didn’t care much about his biological 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 I disagree when I hear someone say that same-sex marriage is against “Christian values”.
On the other hand, 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. To me this seems a clear corollary of the Good News.
Here are my personal definitions of some terms.
A group of adults and children who live together in a same household, forming an economical entity that provides a secure environment where the children can grow up.
A union of two humans who decide to hold together to each other for all or most aspects of their lives.
A couple consists of two partners having the same rank. That’s a fundamental difference to most other forms of organizations.
- civil union¶
The state of being a legally confirmed couple, which includes legal community support to protect the couple 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.
Until death separates you¶
Two girls are talking about their love stories. One of them says “I am so happy! 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 Catholic Church refuses this idea of a second chance, and for me this rule makes sense. 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 exceptions in rare cases when 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.
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. I agree that I am probably just nit-picky.
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 without giving a formal permission to have sex together.
Protecting the institution of family¶
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.