Time hasn't dimmed allure of marriage

By  John P. Moore
  • June 17, 2010
Wedding RingsTiger Woods has been in the public eye recently for all the wrong reasons, and his marital predicament has spurred many joking comments. I suspect the  jocularity masks (as humour often does) a deep concern society has for marital fidelity and, indeed, the overall health and well-being of marriage.

Almost all of society — Christians and non-Christians, young and old, traditionalists and non-traditionalists — really are disappointed when infidelity becomes front-page news. Despite all the cultural changes of this era we still hold marriage in high esteem and believe it is worthy of every sacrifice.

In an unexpected way, society’s high regard for marriage is even evident in the campaign for same-sex marriage. Isn’t it odd that gays and lesbians have fought long and hard to gain access to a social institution that some have denounced as outmoded and anachronistic? Even many who until recently had never expected to don the “shackles” of marriage are now clamouring to be allowed to do so. While Catholics continue to believe (for sound theological reasons) that same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms, the fact that marriage has become a life goal for many who historically have been excluded from it is more testimony to its abiding appeal.

The enduring regard for marriage is even more surprising when considered in the light of certain other societal trends. Premarital sex is now, in reality and in the popular imagination, the rule rather than the exception. On TV and in movies, sex is the common currency of romantic relationships and the notion that it would be restricted to marriage is beyond quaint. Similarly, contraception (or “safe sex”) is widely accepted. Even abortion, while not as widely accepted, has grown in public acceptance over the past 40 years.

In this context, where sex has been separated from the emotional, familial and spiritual dimensions that once gave it meaning, one might expect marriage would have also lost its high esteem. That is, it would seem logical and consistent that those who have lost respect for certain important underpinnings of marriage — the understanding that sex is a gift to be reserved for marriage, and that the creative power of sex must always be honoured — would have also lost respect for marriage itself.

Yet such is not the case. While there has undoubtedly been an increase in the incidence of common-law arrangements, marriage remains the norm and retains its central place in the social life of society. The young and the not-so-young still dream of marriage, still speak of it with reverence and still seek it as the best and finest expression of the commitment that flows from and crowns a relationship of romantic love. Whether the ceremony is performed in a church or at city hall, whether it is simple or complex, modest or extravagant, the bond that marriage confirms is still sought by the multitudes.

The arguments by critics of marriage — that marriage is a remnant of an inequitable and antiquated social system — have fallen (for the most part) on deaf ears. There remains a hunger for marriage that is scarcely diminished from previous generations.

For Christians, the enduring appeal of marriage, regardless of how much this institution is contradicted by certain other societal values, serves as a sign of hope. It tells us that the values related to human love and new life that we hold dear, values which often seem to be trampled by Canadian culture in the 21st century, are in some manner and to some extent held in high regard even by many who do not share our faith.

This, in turn, speaks to our willingness to believe that human love can last beyond physical attraction, that fidelity is more important than momentary pleasure, and that “till death do us part” is not a fleeting outpouring of emotion but a commitment to be fulfilled.

(John P. Moore is an Ottawa writer and editor.)

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