August 4, 1995

Love and Marriage

God has given us promiscuous genes.

An unidentified Anglican clergyman, 1995

Sex outside of marriage is viewed as sinful by most churches. At the same time, most clergymen look upon it with a good deal of toleration -it is something that happens often and , if those engaging in it were excommunicated, it would intolerably deplete the ranks of church members.

While I don't have any statistics, I believe that a goodly percentage of people who have sexual relations without the benefit of marriage, end up by loving each other deeply, and their ultimate intent is to marry and raise a family. To condemn such actions is to condemn the creator for giving people sexual urges and the emotion that we call love. We should also be aware that many monogamous species of mammals and birds remain so, raise families and care for them -all without the benefit of a ceremony or a clergyman or government official.

It is becoming more and more socially acceptable for people to live together. While some condemn this, others see it as normal, socially acceptable behavior. It stands in sharp contrast to a promiscuous lifestyle. I know a number of couples who decided to make it legal when they wanted to have children and to give those children the benefit of legitimacy.

Some people, especially fundamentalists, have decided that certain lifestyles are socially acceptable, while others are not. A firm line is often drawn and only one way is acceptable. That is the rhetoric. In practice, many fundamentalists are much more tolerant and have little difficulty accepting monogamous couples who form a family without the benefit of clergy. They are also accepting of occasional sexual transgressions.

Why is this behavior more acceptable than it used to be? One obvious answer is that children who find out that their parents weren't married when they were conceived tend to think that what was okay for Mom and Dad is okay for them.

I am concerned about an apparent increase in single parent families. I think that a child is usually better off for having two parents, preferably of two sexes. I think that most single parents would have preferred it another way and many do end up married.

Shortly after the turn of the century, when divorce was less common than it is today, there were people who advocated what was then called "companionate marriages," in which people lived together until they decided that they wanted to make it permanent. They thought that it would prevent people who were basically incompatible from being tied together for the rest of their lives.

As often happens, young people who have grown up together fall in love, get married and raise a family. No life is a bed of roses, but this way is preferable to others. What is society to do with those less fortunate; those whose marriages are much less than ideal, people who marry others who are not committed, and people whose sexuality leads them into a tragic mistake?

I don't think that the goals of the fundamentalist and of the liberal are very different. Both believe that the desired goal is a compatible family and the raising of children to be productive members of society. Where they differ is in how that goal can be achieved. A liberal set of parents will be delighted if their child decides to marry a childhood sweetheart and engage in sexual intercourse only after marriage. The fundamentalist whose child "strays" will be happy if it ultimately ends in marriage and a family. Both will be unhappy, but accepting of a single-parent family, if it should happen. For both, acceptance usually does not mean approval. Loving parents, of whatever persuasion, do not throw their children away when they do something of which they don't approve.

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