My fellow blogging priest, Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things, offered a thought-provoking post today, about couples writing their own marriage vows, but no longer promising "till death do us part" but rather,
"Vows like 'For as long as we continue to love each other,' 'For as long as our love shall last' and 'Until our time together is over' are increasingly replacing the traditional to-the-grave vow -- a switch that some call realistic and others call a recipe for failure....
Fr Tucker, in addition to pointing out this is annullment-bait, asks, "Why should my tax dollars be spent on government recognition of these kinds of unions, which I'm morally opposed to and aren't really marriages at all?"
Where's the outrage, Fr. Tucker asks -- where's the legislative crusade? "The same thing goes for the strings of divorces and remarriages, or for unions that deliberately exclude children, or for "open" marriages where both parties are free to be as unfaithful as they please," he adds. "Civilly approved parodies" of marriage are outrageous, whether heterosexual or homsexual, he observes.
"Give them both a pass, condemn them both, or get the government out of the approval business altogether. But at least be consistent."
A thought-provoking post, hence this post today: I did think about it, and I shall continue to do so.
Should government get out of the marriage business?
The state is in the marriage business because society has a valid interest in promoting marriage, and state encouragement of marriage benefits society at large. As a libertarian-leaning type, I think I'd like it if non-governmental sanctions sufficed to induce marriage (although maybe I wouldn't, if it unleashed snooping, Mrs. Grundy types policing people's private affairs); but that isn't likely to happen any time soon.
And the law is a teacher; it not only protects values, it inculcates them.
Further, while Fr. Tucker is correct that all the deviations are "parodies" of full, real marriage, not all "parodies" are created equal. Would a household resulting from a divorce-and-remarriage be equally problematic, for children, as a household effected by an "open marriage"? I don't see that.
I don't know, but I suspect Fr. Tucker would agree with me in not wanting government to be too zealous in eradicating the parodies he speaks of; so then it comes down to the government -- if it does anything -- acting to deter more forcefully the worst parodies, and -- if possible -- deter mildly the less-bad ones.
That is, after all, what government has done; unfortunately, the public will for such things has declined, so we have looser divorce laws as well as much less social disapproval for breaking up homes and so forth.
But because the public will isn't there to support a fully consistent policy, doesn't mean there's no point in doing anything. By that logic, we shouldn't outlaw any abortions until we can outlaw all of them.
But Fr Tucker is surely right in asking if the moral outrage is selective, and why.
And those who are up in arms about gay marriage: have any of them divorced, and remarried without benefit of a declaration of nullity? Do they contracept? Are they single, but shacking up? Maybe they should stop wagging their fingers; their own sins against marriage and chastity are quite serious.