Since the decision of the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges effectively legalized civil marriage between two people of the same sex in all 50 states, many opponents of same-sex marriage have been wondering what to do. Is there anything to do? The law has clearly come down on one side, and it’s not the side of the Catholic Church or even many secular organizations. It now falls to advocates for opposite-sex marriage to try to change hearts the way same-sex marriage supporters successfully changed laws.
Religious arguments won’t sway everyone, though, so it’s useful to have a historical, philosophical, or social vantage point to rely on. That’s part of how I found the Love and Fidelity Network. I’ve been keeping tabs on their work for several years now, since I worked in campus ministry. College campuses are customarily places for exposure to new ideas and inherently places where young people make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. They’re an excellent place to spread the message of marriage, family, and sexual integrity.
“Sexual integrity” is the rallying cry of the Love & Fidelity Network. There is a perception that we can do whatever we want with our sex lives, especially while we’re young, without those chose having any effect on our future. From the POV of sexual integrity, however, our sexual choices really do affect our futures. Each year, the Love & Fidelity Network sponsors a conference for student leaders called “Sexuality, Integrity, and the University.” Last fall, Helen Alvaré, J.D., Professor of Law at George Mason University and a graduate of Cornell Unversity and the Catholic University of America, gave a delightful presentation about what a marriage culture would look like. It’s an intriguing picture. Watch the video below…or read my summary for a briefer version of her vision.
As Dr. Alvaré explains, a “marriage culture” is one in which every person understands four essential facets of marriage:
- Admiration of one sex for the other
- Appreciation of spousal partnership, interdependence, and complementarity
- Willingness to join a family
- Understanding sex as being ordered toward raising children
I love speakers who tell stories. It’s what Jesus would do (and did). Dr. Alvaré explains that in a marriage culture, people learn to respect and admiring the opposite sex in and of itself, not just in a romantic way. We find the “other” attractive and interesting. Now, her illustration of this mysterious attraction was visiting her husband while he was in the middle of a fishing trip. He was sweaty, smelly, wearing muddy overalls, and covered in blood and fish guts from cleaning a fish in the bed of his pickup truck. She pulled up and thought, “Wow. This guy is really cute.” Call me crazy, but I don’t find fish guts attractive. I can however, relate to the mysteriousness of the “other” as a draw toward marriage. It’s an opportunity to spend a lifetime learning to understand someone so different from me in a particular, intimate way.
Later, and in the Q&A component of the video, Alvaré elaborates on the importance of sexual complementarity to building a marriage culture. Having one parent of each sex helps us understand sexual complementarity in a way that having opposite-sex siblings doesn’t. They help, but they’re not the same. Siblings relate to their opposite-sex siblings mostly because they have to. Spouses have chosen to be linked to this “other” for life, and the existence of the siblings comes only from that choice and that union.
She goes on to note that, in our current attempt at a marriage culture, we don’t value women as women so much as we value women’s ability to be more like men. The standard for the pinnacle of womanhood is a man. A woman who “has it all” is one who has everything a man has plus her unique feminine gifts—or one who doesn’t have any of the woman’s gifts, but has all of a man’s. She can’t “have it all” unless she has what a man has, but the man doesn’t have to have anything she does in order to “have it all.” There’s no reason for a woman to be manly in order to be more womanly, and the reverse wouldn’t make any more sense. In a culture that lacks confusion, women can be women, men can be men, and neither has to be any worse than the other.
Alvaré continues, saying that, in a marriage culture, permanent interdependence with one’s spouse is seen as a good thing. Partnership is valued, which requires an acknowledgment and appreciation of complementarity. She tells another story at this point: the story of trying to meter her children’s video game time. Her solution was to set a time limit. At the end of the allotted time, she tracked down her kids and took the Gameboy away. Of course, they managed to sneak in some extra time while she was on the hunt. So that didn’t work. But when her husband was in charge of enforcing the time limit, he took a different approach. As a punishment for going over time, he took the child and the Gameboy outside and chopped the device in two with an axe. When dad was enforcing the time limit, the kids began practically begging to have their video games taken away just so they wouldn’t be destroyed. This is not to say that men are more outlandish and violent than women but to suggest that teamwork was needed to make that limited screen time dream work.
Appreciation of interdependent spousal relationships in a marriage culture also requires appreciation of reliability over constant novelty. It has to be seen as a good thing that one’s days following the “hedonic approach to marriage” are over. It’s not about what you can get out of the relationship. It’s not about what the other gives you. It’s not about doing the same things you’ve always enjoyed with another person who enjoys the same things. It’s about appreciating the commitment as a useful feature of the relationship instead of a ball and chain.
Finally, Alvaré notes that a marriage culture requires a willingness on the part of spouses to join the extended family and to join the collective group of all married people. There is a measured bandwagon effect among stable marriages: living among people who are in stable marriages helps to stabilize an otherwise high-risk marriage.
And of course, a marriage culture understands sex as being ordered toward children. For now, sex is still the only way to procreate. Parenting is not an add-on to marriage; it’s an essential feature, and that must be understood even by married people who never become parents. The arrival of children brings the opportunity to appreciating one’s spouse as a parent and loving them in that new role. Parenting begins with sex, so we can’t talk about parenting without acknowledging the importance of sexual integrity. We all had parents, so their sexual integrity (or lack thereof) affects our very existence.
Alvaré’s legal comments are beyond my expertise for commentary. Anyone can encourage or be encouraged, however. It might not be as likely now as it once was that the law will change to bring about a marriage culture, but we can still change ourselves. “Be more than a marker for decency, or an awareness that another opinion exists,” as Alvaré challenges her audience. Be a catalyst for change.