Marriage and conversation

March 10, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

We've been hearing a lot about marriage lately from celibate clergy and other experts, so I thought that a layman's prspective might be of interest.

Much of the talk keeps returning to procreation as the fundamental component of marriage, presumably because of the "be fruitful and multiply" injunction in the Creation story, though neither the church nor the state objects to the marriage of people who are past childbearing age, or unable to bear children, or uninterested in bearing children.

But procreation is not the fundamental issue in the second Creation story.* There, "the Lord God said,'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.' "

The not-goodness-of-being-alone is a theme that John Milton takes up in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce," which, paradoxically, contains some lovely writing on the meaning of marriage, focusing on "the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace."

It is, Milton argues, that "in God's intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and noblest end of mariage."

And if being solitary was so much in need of a remedy before the Fall, "how much more is it needful now against all the sorrows and casualties of this life, to have an intimate and speaking help, a ready and reviving associate in marriage?"

Civil marriage, the kind regulated by the state, has nothing to say about "meet and happy conversation," being preoccupied, as the law always is, with property and inheritance and insurances and all manner of legal niceties. But it provides a shelter within which that conversation can take place with some degree of security.

Not to make Milton, who was talking explicitly about men and women, into a latter-day advocate of same-sex marriage, one may yet notice that those qualities that he finds most valuable, most central to marriage are not necessarily limited to heterosexual couples.

Residents of the Free State of Maryland will likely be voting in November whether that civil shelter should be extended to same-sex couples. I am not sugesting how you should vote, which is a matter for your own conscience and principles; but while the citizens of this state are conducting a discussion of what marriage is and should be, the broadest understanding should be part of the conversation.

*The one in Genesis 2. You knew that there were two versions, right? They were redacted by an early and anonymous editor, or, more likely, series of editors.

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