It really is just a piece of paper

Posted on April 7, 2013 by


I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately that finally get to the core of the gay marriage debate. I have a strong subsidiarity bent, so I’ve been quite discouraged with that passes for conservative thought regarding this topic.

As WF Price recently put it:

So it isn’t that people moved away from an institutional view of marriage and into a self-fulfillment model which in turn led to an “anything goes” attitude toward marriage, as Douthat suggests, but rather that marriage and family were socialized and made far more institutional than they ever had been before, starting in the 19th century (in Victorian Britain first), but really accelerating in the postwar era. Anyone who has been to family court would find the idea of modern marriage as non-institutional to be a bad joke at best — marriage has become one of the most formidable institutions in the US. Yet Douthat and a number of other conservatives believe that gay marriage somehow represents a retreat from marriage as an institution. It does not. Gay marriage is the universalization of institutional marriage. It represents more ownership of marriage by the state.

Precisely. Starting with Martin Luther’s demotion of the publicly-recognized sacramental union to a mere civil contract (in an earnest attempt to protect it from abuse by clerics, which has backfired by resulting in even worse abuse by bureaucrats), marriage was moved from the clerical authorities to the government. Luther even made the situation more complicated for Catholics themselves, as I noted elsewhere:

In defiant answer to the Reformation’s calls to see marriage as something purely contractual and private, the Roman Catholic Church reaffirmed (in the 24th session of the Council of Trent in 1563) that marriage would be honored in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony. The Council went on to explicitly forbid bigamy and divorce, allow annulments and separations, and claimed Church primacy in the administration of the sacrament, among other things.

But the essential problem — let us say, the “core” problem — was the institutionalization of marriage itself. The separation of it from its natural origins — first by overzealous clerics, then by religious reformers, then by racists, then by feminists, and now by homosexual activists — has actually created an additional barrier to Christian couples who wish to bestow the sacrament upon each other and to honor their vows, by obscuring the natural roots of this societal bedrock in a layer of paperwork and poppycock.

This is because each step has added complexity in an attempt to describe something mysterious in written word, and complexity obscures the truth — the Law. This is the natural decay of the law that plagues human society, where we move from Natural/Universal Law to particular laws.

As Aristotle said:

It will now be well to make a complete classification of just and unjust actions. We may begin by observing that they have been defined relatively to two kinds of law, and also relatively to two classes of persons. By the two kinds of law I mean particular law and universal law. Particular law is that which each community lays down and applies to its own members: this is partly written and partly unwritten. Universal law is the law of Nature. For there really is, as every one to some extent divines, a natural justice and injustice that is binding on all men, even on those who have no association or covenant with each other.

There is a natural law that is written on the hearts of men (Rom 2:15), and that law tells us what a marriage is… and what it isn’t. All of this battle over who should have “civil marriage rights” and who not, merely distracts us from the basic point that what the state is offering is not a marriage because a state cannot offer a marriage, they can only offer a piece of paper.