The Unchangeable Definition of Marriage

by Joseph Delli Gatti

Marriage has become a hot topic, not just online, but in the news, in political campaigns, and in the courts around the country.  There seems to be a lot of confusion about what marriage is or what it can be.  I find myself somewhat amazed that five states in our nation have actually conceded that, not only is a homosexual “marriage” possible, but that the state should recognize homosexual relationships as publicly accepted marriages – to be held in the same esteem by society as a heterosexual marriage.  I certainly disagree.

A lot of explanations exist online as to why homosexual relationships should or shouldn’t be recognized as marriages.  Many articles discuss civil rights and equality for homosexuals, whether or not homosexuality is inborn, and whether or not homosexuals can control what is perceived by a majority of Americans as immoral behavior (see states that approve of/acknowledge homosexual marriages).  All of the articles that I have read on the subject erred in their focus.  

In fact, I haven’t seen a true and elementary explanation of marriage anywhere else online – not one that is agreeable to Christians, Muslims, Jews, and secularists.  Yet an elementary explanation does exist.  This has inspired me to share an explanation, definition, and purpose of marriage with Internet searchers.  I don’t adresse everything here; however, this article provides the reader with a general understanding of marriage as it applies to all mankind.

So what does this author (Joseph W. Delli Gatti) profess that marriage is?  I believe that marriage is a spiritual matter, a legal matter, and more.

Marriage has been defined by science to be the combining of two or more differing elements to create a new one.  Like the science definition, the Bible, outlines that a marriage is a covenanted relationship made by two people of two differing sexes to join together to multiply.  Regardless of whether or not someone believes in the Bible’s Old Testament, they have to accept that the Old Testament is the oldest record known to man, that it presents ancient culture, and that it’s the basis for the beliefs of the great majority of the world’s population.

I believe that a marriage relationship is the single most important relationship in which we can engage with another human being.  A marriage doesn’t consist of only creating children (or helping God bring His children into the world), but also consists of that couple sticking together to work in harmony to rear those children to adulthood and beyond – thus resulting in children who have had adequate examples of parental roles, a good moral foundation for proper relationships, and a desire to engage in the same type of procreative relationship that created and nurtured them to adulthood.  Marriage relationships continue to help and teach the resulting children until both members of the marriage have died.  I don’t believe that relationships outside of these procreative relationships constitute true and *valid marriages.

If the government had an interest in marriage, and it does, what would those interests  be?  Going clear back to Old-Testament times, the community had both obligations, benefits, and a relative interest stemming from a couple’s marriage.  Wherever communities have declared a respect for and an obligation to preserve life, they have generally taken a role in approving, recognizing, protecting, regulating, and promoting marriages.

In ancient times, when a man and a woman joined together to procreate, the relationship was considered sealed through the act of consummation. Although not all cultures required proof of the completing sex act, marriages could be disputed if no child resulted. Additionally, if no child resulted, it was acceptable for a man to take an additional wife or a hand maid to ensure his posterity. This relationship can be noted clear back to that earliest written record known to man.

In ancient times, to ensure that marriage had the best possible chance at success, and to protect the resulting children, society put into place witnesses to testify that the marriage was valid. This could be anything such as

  • A group of people that stands outside of the tent/house on the wedding night or the next morning to ensure that consummation has taken place
  • A single witness that the couple has consummated their marriage (proof demonstrated live or by showing the resulting blood and fluids on the bed sheets the next morning)
  • A solemn oath made before a societal representative or witnesses affirming the couple’s procreative intentions
  • A signed document from some type of witness/official that the marriage is valid, and that it should be recognized by the community

Religious leaders acted as witnesses that a marriage was valid, and as authoritative figures proclaiming that the other members of the church/state should recognize it.  The church/state qualified seekers of marriage based on worthiness, age, etc.  It sought to proclaim God’s blessing upon the relationship expected to bring His children into the world.  They gave the final word concerning whether other members of the church should acknowledge or respect the marriage.

Now days, although the government isn’t so intrusive, untrusting or even possessing the time to verify that a marriage has been consummated, many states have laws  requiring the act of consummation to validate a marriage – if the couple claims that their marriage hasn’t been consummated, the marriage is easily annulled.

States qualify people based on gender.  This ensures in a very general sense that the couple is capable of engaging in a procreative act.  Blood tests, age qualifications, familial exclusions, etc. all ensure that the relationship has the best possible chance at meeting the purpose of marriage, and that the resulting children from that marriage won’t knowingly be created with major and preventable defects.  After the license is granted, the couple engages in a ceremony that is witnessed by a societally approved official, and the certificate of marriage is authorized. From that point on, the community recognizes that procreative relationship, reverences it and protects it.

Most religions will recognize a state’s authorization and recognition of a marriage, and the state will recognize most church conducted marriage ceremonies. These ceremonies are a more polite way (and perhaps more appropriate way) to confirm and acknowledge a marriage rather than having people wait outside the tent or house – or having people wait until a pregnancy or child occurs before declaring it a valid marriage, sustaining it, and affording it protection, etc.

Some marriages take place without state or church approval or knowledge. Some heterosexual couples join together and create children (and even live together with those children) without meeting societal or other requirements expected of them. These people could be fined or otherwise penalized in most places. They’re engaging in an actual marriage that society (for one reason or another) never promised to observe or reverence/protect.

In some marriages, a husband or a wife will go out and engage in reproductive relations with someone other than their approved spouse. This is called adultery, and is punishable by societal and religious laws. In a way, it’s a secular form of polygamy too (or taking a second spouse/mate whether approved by God and society or not).  Other abuses to marriage exist that result in children being removed from the home by the community, that result in fines for the offending couple, and even that cause possible imprisonment to the offending members of the marriage.

In many societies, and in US anti-sodomy laws, the powers and relationships of procreation were/are defined and limited to very specific allowable expressions.  They specify(ied) that procreative powers are only to be used in procreative types of acts within the bounds of state-approved marriages.  Anti-sodomy laws restrict(ed) people from also engaging in activities with animals, children, the dead, members of the same sex, and with other alternatives.  Anti-sodomy laws have been under attack by the advocates of the “sexual revolution” since the 1960s. In 2002, the Lawrence V Texas case largely nullified our states’ anti-sodomy laws (which is why I have also added the “ed” and past tense phraseology here).

Some couples, although engaging in heterosexual acts, cannot produce children. In old times, and in many places around the world, these non-producing relationships could be disputed as invalid, and land agreements, dowries etc. could be nullified.  In the US, once the state has approved of and has recognized the relationship as a marriage, it doesn’t revoke the certificate. It continues to recognize the heterosexual sexual relationship as a marriage (keep trying, right?).

These relationships can still provide adequate homes for children, and can substitute marriages that have been deemed unfit for children.  These relationships can take the place of  marriages in which the death of both parents leaves a child or children homeless, and can replace marriages that have resulted in abandoned children, etc.  These couples can engage in marital acts, can provide proper role examples to children, and can continue to serve most of the purposes expected by the state, God, and that are expected by society in general.

And who knows – I had a friend who was diagnosed with a certain condition, and was told that she couldn’t ever have children.  And now, by what I believe is a bit of a miracle, she was able to conceive and bear a child.  Just because a heterosexual couple doesn’t currently have a child of its own, that doesn’t mean that it never will. I’ll leave that decision and chance to God, and choose to honor their marriage just like the rest of society does.

Marriage relationships, to the LDS population, last beyond death when sealed in an LDS temple, and when honored properly by their worthy participants. Marriage serves an even higher purpose after death – even if the married couple is not able to procreate in this life. Genders were established before this life, and will continue to be required after this life. The Family: a Proclamation to The World briefly describes this special relationship, and helps us understand why it’s so sacred and important – even beyond the civil “until death do us part” vows.

While nobody needs to be LDS to accept that a marriage is a procreative relationship, only the LDS people (as far as I’m aware) believe in the loftier or higher after-life purposes of marriage.

Everyone and anyone can respect and defend marriage for what it means to the community, and for that which the vast majority of people and traditions around the world accept it: a covenanted relationship made by two people of differing sexes before God and/or witnesses to physically join together with the purpose of bringing children into this world, and rearing those children to adulthood – to engage in the same process – replenishing the earth and populating society generation after generation.

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Foot Notes

* valid marriages to LDS people don’t require that the couples are able to reproduce in this life, but that the couple consists of a male and female in order to accomplish God’s roles for them after they die and go to Heaven.  I believe this to be true as well, and would honor a heterosexual marriage that appears to be fruitless in this life.