The Supreme Court spent Holy Week (or, as Jesus would call it, Passover) debating gay marriage, which Chief Justice John Roberts clearly opposes. Religious opponents of gay marriage like to argue that the purpose of marriage is to beget children, so that only heterosexual marriages are "real," because only biological fertility makes a marriage "real." By this standard John Roberts's own marriage is not real, and neither is mine. I do not believe that, and neither should he.
John Roberts did not marry until 41, to a woman his own age, and they adopted their children. Justice and Mrs. Roberts are, as that link suggests, believing Catholics. That their marriage did not result in biological children does not make them less Catholic or less married. Roberts married an intellectual and professional peer rather than, say, a twenty-five year old. If he had married a twentysomething admirer, that hypothetical marriage would likely have led to biological children. Would such a marriage, to less closely-matched spouse, have been more authentic? More sacred? I do not believe so. I do not think Justice Roberts believes so, either.
Like Roberts, I did not marry until my early forties: a year and a half ago last Monday. Like Roberts, I married a person who was my equal or better intellectually, professionally, and emotionally. For me as for Roberts, that meant someone relatively close to my own age. And, like Roberts and his wife, my spouse and I share a faith life that is part of our marriage; as it happens, we and they belong to the same church. External circumstances make beginning a family out of the question for the near future; it would be irresponsible of me to father a child when I spend most of every week hundreds of miles away (just the thought of my wife entering labor while I am that far away from her opens a swampy pit inside my stomach). I am not less married because we do not have children. And I would not be more married if I had chosen a spouse with whom I could wait ten years to begin a biological family because she was half my age: God forbid.
I could not be more married than I am. My relationship with my spouse has become a fundamental element of my identity, whether I wake up beside her or two state lines away. Marriage is not just dating with tax benefits; it has the potential to transform and reorient your life, to change the way you move through the world. My marriage is part of who I am. And my spouse, to borrow John Donne's words, is the compass "who makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun." I believe and hope that Justice Roberts's marriage gives him the same sense of purpose and the same consolations.
I do not believe that marriage is a means to an end, or simply a prerequisite to something else. Nor do I think anyone truly married can believe that. The purpose of marriage is to be married: to enter a lifelong relationship with your spouse. It is, as John Milton argued long ago, a remedy for the loneliness of the human soul: "against all the sorrows and casualties of this life to have an intimate
and speaking help, a ready and reviving associate in marriage." Sex can be arranged by other means; childbirth can be arranged by other means, but, as Milton says, only marriage can satisfy the soul's thirst to join "to itself in conjugal fellowship a fit conversing soul ... many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it." The intellectual and spiritual companionship of marriage, not the potential for begetting children, is essential and irreplaceable.
Justice Roberts' spiritual and emotional bond with his wife, the essence of his marriage, is exactly what he would deny his fellow citizens because they have taken another man for a husband or another woman for a wife. The commitment to intense lifelong partnership comes to those who will not or cannot have children of their own body. That is as true for gay husbands and gay wives as it is for straight husbands and straight wives, as true as it is for John Roberts and his wife, as true as it is for my spouse and for me. Except for the privilege society offers to one class of citizen instead of another, John Roberts' marriage is a gay marriage, a source of profound spiritual and emotional nourishment that transcends the biological. The comforts and fulfillment of Justice Roberts's marriage, which I hope continue for many more years, are no less valid because he and his wife have not conceived children. But neither are the consolations of his fellow citizens' marriages any less real or valid because they, like Roberts and his wife, may not physically procreate. If John Roberts believes, as I trust he does, that marriage is a genuinely spiritual institution, then he should respect and honor the emotional and spiritual bonds of marriage. If mere biology invalidates such a bond, then John Roberts can no more be married to his true partner than two men or two women can be. Their marriages are as real as his, or mine. And to dishonor the sacred reality of those marriages dishonors his own.
cross-posted from Dagblog