What words in the Constitution could justify the Supreme Court enacting such a radical change in American law? Lawyers surely could have much fun with a question like that, but Justice Kennedy, writing the court’s majority opinion, voiced logic other than just the Constitution. In striking down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), Justice Kennedy was said that not recognizing homosexual marriages “demeans the couple” and “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.” Kennedy’s argument was a carefully crafted explanation that the matter of marriage (and what constitutes one, etc.) belongs to the states.
Yet when the state of California’s constitution included an amendment stating that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” it was federal (not state) judges who said California had no constitutional right to thus regulate marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court, using legal arguments of who had “standing” in the case, upheld the ruling made by Federal Judges (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals), thus effectively rejecting the authority of the state and wiping out what the voters of California had enshrined in their own constitution. So, in the case of DOMA, the federal lawmakers can pass no law upholding marriage of man and woman, for the authority belongs to the states. Yet in the case of the California constitution, the state cannot uphold the marriage of man and woman, at least not if a federal judge says they can’t. At least for now.
But this is necessary (at least the ruling striking down DOMA), says Justice Kennedy, because,
“The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question [DOMA] are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”
And now Kennedy’s language of “disparaging and injuring” your neighbor if you understand marriage to be a man and a woman starts coming into to focus. Who wants to be known as one who “disparages and injures,” as one who “imposes disadvantages” and “stigmatizes” others?
And so we’re left with marriage built on … what? Or, for that matter, what is marriage? According to the Supreme Court ruling, marriage is an affirmation to a “commitment.” From the majority opinion:
“The laws of New York came to acknowledge the urgency of this issue for same-sex couples who wanted to affirm their commitment to one another before their children, their family, their friends, and their community …”
The word used is “commitment.” But one might be committed, perhaps, to healthy eating habits and good hygiene, to the bank holding one’s house note, certainly to one’s country, even perhaps to a football team. Yet none of these are marriage. The language of “commitment” doesn’t quite bring us up to marriage.
In Bernalillo, New Mexico, the Reverend Pearl Gabaldon was conducting ceremonies of homosexual couples, marrying them under a specious reading of New Mexico law—the Reverend Gabaldon’s marriages were later struck down—by which the Sandoval County clerk was granting marriage licenses to homosexual couples. Pointing to a couple of women being “married,” the Reverend Gabaldon happily announced, “Look at the sincerity here.” “Sincerity” works well with words such as “commitment.” But are we any closer to being able to say what marriage is?
The Reverends Grant Daversa and Renate Anne Daversa, who advertise themselves as doing “same-sex” weddings in San Diego, get a little closer to saying what marriage is:
“We believe that same-sex couples have the inherent right to celebrate and commemorate their commitment and that marriage is a uniquely personal union which expresses and affirms the love and commitment between two people.”
So it’s something, and that something is a personal union that expresses and affirms love and commitment.
Speaking of marriage with words such as love and commitment and, for that matter, commemoration and celebration, has us standing on pretty squishy ground. Just what, after all, is the thing one is committed to or loving? It’s a “personal union” according to the language of the Reverends Daversa, but a personal union not quite standing on its own. Rather, it’s expressing and affirming something else—love and commitment. And that has us right back where we started.
Is it possible, though, to speak of marriage in a way that has us standing on firm ground of speaking of the thing itself? We can speak, for instance, of the birth of a child, to which the mother is surely committed, but her commitment doesn’t define the birth. The child’s birth stands on its own as what it is. We can speak of a man’s vocation of being, say, a police officer, which vocation one hopes he loves, but his love of his job doesn’t define the office. It stands on its own as what it is. Can we speak of marriage as what it is?
What is the essence of marriage? The nature? Even, perhaps, the necessity? And, for the Christian, can we make that argument without using Holy Scripture? That should be possible, for marriage is not of the order of redemption. It’s not, then, if we are speaking carefully, of the revelation of Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ is revealed to save sinners. Yet marriage was given before sin. Marriage belongs not to the order of redemption, for which Scripture was given and is necessary, but to the order of creation, which places it not in realm of revelation (as is the case with such things as Scripture, the Gospel, and the Sacraments), but in the order of creation—it is in the realm of natural law.
Therefore, we should be able to speak of marriage without appealing to Holy Scripture. And that means that we can make the argument for marriage in the public square, even among those who have no regard for Holy Scripture.
So what is the argument for marriage? Its definition? Its necessity? A most helpful book is What Is Marriage? (hereafter referred to simply as WIM-AD).
So, what marriage is:
“[Marriage] unites two people in their most basic dimensions, in their minds and bodies” (WIM-AD, 23).
What is this unity? We still have two persons, a husband and a wife. But the unity, WIM-AD points out, is analogous to the unity of organs in a body. The heart is in unity with the bones, which are both in unity with stomach, and so on. Each organ remains what it is, yet each is in unity in that it is ordered toward something along with the other organs. In the case of the body, the organs are in unity toward the health and life of the body. The heart alone accomplishes nothing, so with the bones, so with the brain, etc.
In marriage, what is the unity, and what is it ordered toward? The unity is found most physically at the point of the man’s and the woman’s sex organs. This is startling language, perhaps, but how else does one talk about “one fleshness” and the birth of children? There is complementarity. The man’s sex organ, by itself, produces no new life. The woman’s sex organ, the same. They compliment. Together, they are ordered toward something that is unique to their unity: a new life, procreation.
Marriage institutes this unique one-fleshness. In this way, two men cannot be one flesh with each other—there is no complementarity, their bodies do not fit up into a oneness, and there is no new life. Two women cannot be one flesh. Again, there is no complementarity, body parts just don’t fit up into a oneness, and there is no new life.
So if marriage is the unity of a man and woman, it means much more. It means that the man and the woman are united “with respect to procreation, family life, and its broad domestic sharing,” and it means that they are united “permanently and exclusively” (WIM-AD, 23, 34.).
There is much more to be said, and WIM-AD, while a relatively short book (128 pages), covers the ground well. Questions such as a healthy understanding of adoption or the problem of the death of a spouse give depth and appreciation to a right understanding of marriage and how the institution of marriage is beneficial to family and children even (especially?) in the case of a death or other adverse reality. The instance of a husband and wife unable to bear children, for example, does not mitigate against a right understanding of marriage for procreation and child rearing, but strengthens it; for marriage of man and woman is “a good in itself,” so recognizing the marriages of infertile couples serves at least one purpose: “to recall for us the truth, crucial for healthy and stable marriages generally, that marriage has value in itself” (WIM-AD, 77).
In this way, to speak of the exclusivity and permanence of the marriage of a man and woman is simply to recognize the purpose of bringing up children in a healthy, durable family setting, giving the best situation for stability, along with an appreciation of the complementarity of the role of the wife and the husband. More can be said (and WIM-AD says much more), but we should now be able to speak of marriage as an institution which gives the union of a man and a woman (complementarity, physical and otherwise; and exclusivity and permanence) ordered toward procreation, child-rearing, and healthy families, with a view to the well-being of our society and to following generations. This rescues us from the squishy language of the Reverends Daversa of “celebrating and commemorating a commitment,” or the Reverend Gabaldon giddily pointing to two women being “married,” and saying, “Look at the sincerity there,” or the unfortunate cynicism of Justice Kennedy arguing that those who contend for marriage as the union of a man and woman are “disparaging and injuring” their neighbors.
We can say that marriage is a true thing in itself—not just some commitment to some abstraction that can’t quite be defined on its own. We can say that marriage is not just love (for a brother loves a sister, a child loves a puppy, etc., but these are not marriage), nor just commitment (for a mother is committed to her child, a soldier is committed to his country, but these are not marriage), but is the actual exclusive, permanent, comprehensive union of a man and a woman ordered toward procreation and family life. And we can say this in the public square. Without appealing to Scripture, we can say it to those who have no regard for Scripture. We can say it with an appeal to natural law. And we can in our prayers, then, commend our neighbor, our nation, and our culture to our Lord who not only has created each person, but then has redeemed each with His own blood, and wants all to hear the revelation of His salvation, which salvation is known from … Holy Scripture.
 Supreme Court of the United States, “Syllabus: United States v. Windsor , Executor of the Estate of Spyer, et. al,” http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_6j37.pdf [accessed July 25, 2013], 23.
 Ibid, 21.
 Ibid, 14.
 ABQ Journal, “Same Sex Couples Line Up in Sandoval County to Get Married,” http://www.abqjournal.com/news/state/apwed02-20-04.htm [accessed July 25, 2013].
 Rev. Grant Daversa and Rev. Renate Daversa, “A Beautiful Ceremony,” http://www.abeautifulceremony.us/ [accessed July 25, 2013], and Rev. Renate Daversa, “Engayged Weddings,” http://www.engaygedweddings.com/ca/officiants/a-beautiful-ceremony.html [accessed July 25, 2013].
 Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: New York, 2012).