A lot has happened since 2003 when University of Chicago professor Don Browning wrote in Marriage and Modernization that “marriage is not a popular topic” and “is often referred to as the ‘M’ word, almost in the same category as other dirty words.” Today among much of the population, marriage is simply ignored or avoided, while for many others it incites bitter contention over its very nature and meaning. It is time to go back to the beginning and review how marriage came to the human race.
The book of Genesis recounts that after creating all other forms of life, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (1:27). Only then did God behold that his creation was “very good” (1:31), even though it would not be complete until the newly created male and female were brought together into a family unit to become “one flesh” (2:24). It was what Pope Francis described as “the summit of divine creation” based on “the complementarity between man and woman,” or, in the words of biblical scholar Bruce Vawter, “a union of persons who together make up a new person.” It was also to be the pattern for all time, notes Harvard professor Gary Anderson: “The joining of Eve and Adam will be a model for every subsequent human marriage.” That unique complementarity would not only produce children but provide them with the ideal refuge, as recognized by the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child: “The child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding,” and “shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents,” for “mankind owes to the child the best it has to give.”
But what occurs when mankind fails to do so? In his newly released book, The Future of Christian Marriage, sociologist Mark Regnerus points to the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution as “what happens when a nation seeks to unravel not just marriage, but a host of sexual norms.” Among the sweeping societal changes wrought by the Soviets was their radically lax social legislation whereunder, as one writer described, “men and women would come together and separate as they wished.” It was a step towards what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had advocated in their 1848 Communist Manifesto when they called for the “abolition of the family” (appallingly echoed in March 2020 by the Soros-funded organization OpenDemocracy: “We deserve better than the family. And the time of corona is an excellent time to practice abolishing it”).
What was unexpected in the wake of the Soviet laws was the extreme “disillusionment” and “social and relational chaos that… emerged in the form of homeless children, abortions, envy fostered by polyamorous mates, and even problems in the workplace.” Society was unraveling to the point that Stalin was forced not only to abandon the radical legislation but to reverse it and actually provide incentives for the natural family. In retrospect, marvels Regnerus, “it’s hard to imagine such profound upheaval legally foisted upon the family—one of the oldest and most primal of institutions—only to be reversed in a decade’s time.”
The Soviet marriage debacle does not augur well for what lies ahead in the United States since the Supreme Court handed down its Obergefell decision—over scathing dissents such as that of Chief Justice Roberts, who denounced it as “an act of will, not legal judgment” in which “the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia… Just who do we think we are?” Justice Alito foresaw that the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy” and “will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent,” while Justice Thomas warned of “inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society.” Such red flags hoisted by some of our brightest minds suggest a question: Can human beings distort the divine order of marriage without bringing disaster upon themselves?
Legal machination is not, of course, the only threat. As Regnerus and others point out, there is widespread retreat from marriage out of sheer neglect or unwillingness to commit, with severe consequences for children and adults alike. The situation calls to mind another observation of professor Browning: “Law cannot stop family decline by itself. It must be part of a larger work of culture where law joins with religion, the human sciences, the market, public policy, and the arts to once again honor the natural family and equip persons to have the skills, commitment, supports, and rewards necessary to form and maintain it.”
A major stride in promoting pro-family culture was taken by the Vatican in 2014 in its Humanum Conference in which Pope Francis explained that “every man and every woman brings their personal contribution—personal richness, their own charisma—to the marriage and to the upbringing of their children. Thus, complementarity becomes a great treasure” and “also a thing of beauty.” Among the other participants was President Henry B. Eyring, who spoke of the beauty he and wife had experienced: “We have been complementary beyond anything I could have imagined…. I realize now that we grow together into one—slowly lifting and shaping each other, year by year…. Above all, our unique abilities allowed us to become partners with God in creating human life. The happiness that came from our becoming one built faith in our children and grandchildren that marriage could be a continuing source of satisfaction for them and their families.”
In Regnerus’s concluding chapter, he writes, “Marriage is where love creates, is demonstrated, and learned. Why should we be surprised that communities and countries are fragmenting when their common experience of matrimony is becoming rarer?… Can Christianity still thrive if marriage retreats? Can civil society? We will find out.”
Actually, we already know the answer, and we therefore reiterate our invitation from a recent World Congress of Families declaration: “We call for a culture that honors and enables faithful, fulfilling, and resilient marriages; that recognizes and protects the uniquely valuable contributions of both mothers and fathers to the lives of their children; and that encourages the values and vision necessary for young people to look forward to and prepare for successful marriage and parenting. We call upon officials and policymakers, internationally, nationally, and at all levels of government, to immediately establish policies and implement measures to preserve and strengthen marriage and family.” Truly, the future of marriage is the future of society, and we must act now to save both.