16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
Ruth 1:16-18 Common English Bible
On my wedding day, we had a reception for family and friends at our house. I remember Daniel and I were getting things ready for the event. Daniel kind of gave me an order to get something done. I looked over to a friend who smiled and said, “you’re stuck with him now.”
In the debate over same sex marriage, there has been a lot of talk about the weakening of marriage or about the freedom to marry, but there has been little talk of what marriage does to the people in question, or at least what it should do. What has been shown are same sex couples kissing each other, holding hands and the like. What we see is what we are told by secular culture what marriage is all about: romance and personal fulfillment. In their 2002 pamphlet, Preparing for Christian Marriage, John McFadden and David McCarthy explain how the world views marriage:
Moonlight and roses; hearts and flowers. A young couple romping through the surf on a lonely beach, holding hands. A slightly older couple, cheering exultantly as little Jenny scores her first goal, or smiling ruefully as Tommy tracks his muddy feet across the recently cleaned kitchen floor. A couple advanced in years, still holding hands as they assist one another
to the front-porch swing of a charming farmhouse. Such are the images of healthy marriage regularly featured in the media, particularly in advertising.
When we understand marriage only in reference to private pleasures and personal fulfillment, we lose the ability to understand how marriage in community will transform us. We miss the full meaning of living in communion with others “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.” We miss the profound experiences of sharing difficult times, being present to each other’s suffering, working to understand each other and to communicate better, and joining together with others in making community life ‘life-giving’. Ironically, our culture’s emphasis on personal fulfillment limits our fulfillment as whole human beings. Common cultural understandings of love and community are shallow. In their fullness, love includes steadfast endurance, commitment, and duty; community includes finding ourselves through our dependence upon others, and their dependence upon us. Jesus’ words ring true: we gain our lives when we give them away, and lose them when we attempt to keep them for ourselves.
In contrast, marriage in a Christian view is more communal than individual, more about committment and duty than just romance:
Our consumerist society encourages persons to pursue their own needs and desires at all costs. As a result, human relationships — marriage, family, friendship — are increasingly viewed as transitory and disposable. Families are now dissolved and created like corporations. When no longer useful, commitments are broken. But a clear contrast is found in the logic of Christian community, which gives a distinctive shape to Christian marriage. In community, each individual is an indispensable part of the body, with different gifts and duties. Likewise, each married couple is called to offer their special gifts to common life. Married couples are called to regard their relationship as a commitment that is more important than their own individual desires, and in doing so, husband and wife open the possibility of loving in a profound and life-giving way. Such a couple helps to make this a world fit for children to grow in, a world where children are loved and protected by adults who care more deeply about the future of the world’s children than about their own gratification in the present.
Marriage in this sense is counter-cultural in a society so thoroughly steeped in individualism, for it is centered in the conviction that we have given ourselves to a relationship that is more important than our individual wants and wishes, and that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Whether we are blessed with children of our own or not, our marriages are a gift to the world’s children. Such a healthy marriage offers an alternative to a consumerist, individualist world, insofar as it puts into action the possibility of a deeper, more gracious way of life. In the way that we love, we will see the steadfast faithfulness of our forgiving God.
So marriage isn’t all about moonlit beaches, but it’s about being committed to a person, someone that we’ve placed above our own interests.
I think that’s what commentator David Brooks was getting at in his latest column. He wrote that in a culture where freedom means having no obligations to anyone, marriage is something that binds two people together and in essence, means giving up some of that freedom.
A representative of millions of gays and lesbians went to the Supreme Court and asked the court to help put limits on their own freedom of choice. They asked for marriage.
Marriage is one of those institutions — along with religion and military service — that restricts freedom. Marriage is about making a commitment that binds you for decades to come. It narrows your options on how you will spend your time, money and attention.
Whether they understood it or not, the gays and lesbians represented at the court committed themselves to a certain agenda. They committed themselves to an institution that involves surrendering autonomy. They committed themselves to the idea that these self-restrictions should be reinforced by the state. They committed themselves to the idea that lifestyle choices are not just private affairs but work better when they are embedded in law.
And far from being baffled by this attempt to use state power to restrict individual choice, most Americans seem to be applauding it. Once, gay culture was erroneously associated with bathhouses and nightclubs. Now, the gay and lesbian rights movement is associated with marriage and military service. Once the movement was associated with self-sacrifice, it was bound to become popular.
Brooks’ explaination of the loss of freedom in marriage prompted a lot of pushback. Among them was an article in Rolling Stone that called Brooks an “asshole” and mean spirited. Amy Davidson, writes in the New Yorker that Brooks overlooks the oppression that gays have faced:
it’s worth challenging Brooks’s central, blind assertion: that marriage equality represents a move from a state in which gays and lesbians lived free to one in which they are constrained—from an absence of state supervision to life under society’s careful watch. Unsupervised and hidden are hardly the same thing. Brooks sees the bathhouses as if there were never raids on them, or as if gays and lesbians had all chosen anonymous settings over the option of holding hands while walking on the street just because they liked dark rooms better. The discovery that even in the most oppressive of circumstances one can create spaces where love survives does say a great deal about the indomitable search for freedom, but to call it freedom’s apotheosis is just absurd.