From the May/June, 2016 issue of Touchstone
marriage sex Love Is Love by Tyler Blanski

Feature

Love Is Love

But Sex Is Sex, the Essential Foundation of Authentic Marriage by Tyler Blanski

If two people love each other, they should be able to get married, right? This is the popular logic for so-called gay marriage. "Love is love."  What if the slogan is gibberish? It is not a definition or even a description of love, and it certainly is not an intelligible proposition or premise in an argument. An apple is an apple, but it does not follow that a McIntosh is a crabapple is applesauce is apple cider is apple pie. A wide variety of loves dovetail in marriage, it's true, but is there a "marital love" distinguishable from other kinds of love that, once experienced, entitles lovers of any variety to marry?

More to the point, "Love is love" is misleading in the gay marriage debate because the defining characteristic of both marriage and homosexuality is not actually love, but sex. We are reminded of this fact when we remember that a marriage is not a marriage until it has been consummated, and that a homosexual relationship is not a homosexual relationship unless it is in some way sexual. Now, to observe that both marriage and homosexual relationships are distinctly sexual is not necessarily to equate the two. And the fact remains that many homosexual couples love each other, and that love is an integral part of marriage. But what makes both marriage and homosexuality recognizably different from other kinds of relationships is not love but sex; and, as we shall see, sex is what makes homosexuality and marriage so distinct from each other.

To say that I think marriage ought to be a cold and stubborn contract void of romance and affection, or that I think infertile couples or couples that choose not to procreate are not really married, is an erroneous characterization of my thesis. I am, however, admittedly playing the role of Mrs. Lynde, who voiced a practical and cautionary word when she saw Anne of Green Gables and Gilbert Blythe walking together: "Anne is a young woman and Gilbert's a man. . . . He's a fine fellow, and Anne can't do better. I hope she won't get any romantic nonsense into her head." What I am trying to argue is that although marriage is a comprehensive union of love, what makes it distinct and different from other kinds of companionship is not love, but sexual-reproductive complementarity.

What I am trying to do is almost impossible. I am trying to convince you that the role we have given love in marriage is not too weak, but too strong. The most basic value of autonomous marriage-for-love (as opposed to arranged marriage, for example) is that the best reason to marry and stay married is love, especially "romantic love," and our appreciation of marriage has suffered much for it. Elevated so highly above marriage's other aspects as to obscure them, love has greatly diminished the meaning of marriage, and now is the hour of our discontent. With gay marriage, the most basic value of marriage-for-love has reached its zenith. It is the beginning of the end. Gay marriage stretches marriage-for-love to the breaking point.

Bear with me. Very little is as pedantic and cumbersome as the explanation of what should be common sense. It is much easier to spin a yarn than to untangle its knots, and "Love is love" is no exception.

Love Is Love Is Homosexual?

Love is love. So why should a gay couple's sexual orientation obstruct them from marrying each other? That depends. First, what exactly is the relationship between love and sexual preference?

Love is love, but is all love sexual? A man can love another man, even find him exciting and attractive, and not want to have sex with him. A mother can love her son, a brother can love his sister, a pastor can love his flock, and you can love your slippers, even desire them on a cold night, but nothing about these loves is sexual. Anne of Green Gables and Diana Barry held hands when they walked home from school, sometimes slept in the same bed, danced together, loved each other deeply, were "bosom friends," and nothing about it was sexual. Just because two people of the same sex love each other, it does not follow that their relationship is homosexual.

A homosexual does not simply love someone of his own sex, but loves him in a sexual way. In fact, however awkward it is to say it, for any given relationship to be homosexual it does not necessarily have to be loving, but it must in some way be sexual. A homosexual relationship is by definition sexual in that it is experienced in sexual attraction or intimate bodily contact between individuals. Is love, then, necessary or even apposite to a discussion about homosexuality and marriage?

Love is love, but is love the same thing as attraction, even sexual attraction? It should go without saying that friends and siblings and coworkers may be genuinely attracted to one another without that attraction being sexual. Being attracted to someone—to a magnetic personality, say, or a passionate public speaker—is not necessarily to be sexually attracted to him, much less to love him. As any woman who has felt more than she wanted to when she met the eyes of a man not her husband can tell you, attraction can be the very opposite of love. But the homosexual is not simply attracted to people of his own sex; he is sexually attracted. He may even be in love, but if his love does not have this sexual element, it ceases to be homosexual.

Appetite is not love. Sexual attraction and love are not the same thing. Yet it is impossible to describe and define homosexuality without discerning sexual attraction as the necessary base or core. For what is homosexuality if not a sexual preference or orientation? At the end of the day, love, however desirable, is secondary if not altogether superfluous to a relationship's being a homosexual relationship.

All of this serves to illustrate that "Love is love" is not apropos to the discussion of gay marriage. Love is not intrinsic to sexual attraction, sexual preference, or sexual orientation, but subsidiary. This is not to say that a homosexual does not love, but that a homosexual is homosexual because of his sexual preferences, and a preference is not the same thing as a love. Sexual attraction can mature into something more than mere desire, but the fact remains that love is not homosexuality's essential or characteristic attribute. It doesn't imbue the warm fuzzies to say it, but when talking about homosexuality, "love" is extraneous. What about when we talk about marriage?

Love Is Love Is Marriage?

What is the relationship between love and marriage? It sounds heartless, but love is not the indispensable and defining feature of marriage. Stability, fidelity, intimacy, and love are all good and important things, but the demarcating essence of marriage is rooted in the biological fact that we human beings reproduce sexually, and that our offspring require an unquantifiable amount of care and education. The unique capacity for a man and a woman to become a mated pair makes marriage so distinct and different from all other kinds of companionship. Don't get me wrong: marriage is a comprehensive union of love, but if the couple cannot become one flesh, is their union comprehensive? In other words, is love the distinctive feature of marriage?

Love is love, but "marriage is not simply a ratification of an existing love. It is the conversion of that love into a biological and social continuity. The essence of that continuity is children," George Gilder wrote in 1986. He continues:

Regardless of what reasons particular couples may give for getting married, the deeper evolutionary and sexual propensities explain the persistence of the institution. All sorts of superficial variations—from homosexual marriage to companionate partnership—may be played on the primal themes of human life. But the themes remain. The natural fulfillment of love is a child; the fantasies and projects of the childless couple may well be considered as surrogate children.

It's unromantic but true—a marriage need not be amorous or passionate to be a marriage. But it must be consummated. If I may refer to canon law, if a marriage has been ratified but not consummated, it may be annulled. Ratum sed non consummatum. Marriage is sexual by definition, sexual in that it must be consummated. And for a marriage to be consummated, the couple must have performed the act that fulfills the behavioral conditions of procreation. Any other kind of sexual activity, including an interrupted sex act, or anal or oral sex, cannot qualify as consummation because these acts cannot potentially result in the conception of a child.

Apart from its unique suitability to the conception and rearing of children, everything else about marriage is plastic and derivative. Love is desirable and attendant, but sexual complementarity is primary and essential.

Now, it could be asked, if a man and a woman "have sex" outside of wedlock (thus engaging in what I am calling marriage's distinctive feature), does my argument imply that they're somehow automatically married? Not exactly . . . but perhaps here we can appreciate, if only for a moment, the moral opprobrium our forebears put on fornication—it is a mockery of marriage, coitus without commitment, and who will raise the child? Marriage exists precisely because a man and a woman can become one flesh in a unique and powerful way, sex and babies are linked, and again, who will raise the child?

Marriage, Historically

Western culture has, of course, for hundreds of years recoiled from the idea of marrying for anything other than love, specifically "romantic love," and pop music and pulp fiction only fan our uncritical praise of autonomous marriage-for-love. But historically marriage was much less sentimental and much more practical. Recognizing without resentment the link between sex and children, our forebears found arranged marriages (which should not be confused with forced marriages) intuitive. The courtship of a man and a woman in the context of the extended family and the community; the wooing and deliberation and eventual consent; the public formation of the bonds of matrimony before God and man; the coming together to form a mated pair and, Lord willing, to produce specific children that will be legally and recognizably theirs; the establishment of a household and the fulfillment of a vital function in the community—all of this, as might be expected, is obscured by a culture that shrugs and laughs, "Hey, love is love," as if this somehow proves that any grouping of any number of consenting adults for any reason at all can be a "marriage."

Not every loving relationship is entitled to be a marriage—not even a deeply affectionate, peacefully cohabiting, child-raising, and life-long relationship. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert loved each other deeply, adopted and raised Anne together, and even lived together until their dying days—but they were not married nor even entitled to marry, at least not to marry each other. As siblings, their mutual esteem and tenderness for one another were not at all sexual. And this brings us back to the distinctive feature of marriage, which is not love.

What kind of "love" entitles anyone to marry? Though a Nicholas Sparks novel would suggest otherwise, romantic love (amor,or a crude version of eros) is hardly the sine qua non of marriage. Nor is self-giving or even God-like love (agape or caritas) the distinctive feature that makes marriage different from every other relationship. The love of friends (amicitia or philia) is certainly not marriage's essential element, nor is the love of slippers (storge), nor is benevolent kindness (philanthropia), nor brotherly love (philadelphia), nor the love that comes through seeing (lubovatsia), nor even the love of selective preference and judgment (dilectio), nor any other kind of love.

Marriage is not just an amplified version of a loving relationship, but an altogether different kind of loving relationship grounded in the biological fact of human sexual complementarity. True, a husband and wife share a common life that is not only physical but also financial, emotional, moral, intellectual, spiritual, and loving. But the comprehensiveness of this sharing is distinct from other kinds of relationships in its unique suitability for the begetting and rearing of children.

Different in Kind

The fabulous, symbolic, synthetic sterility of sodomy—it is not at all the same thing as the coming together of a man and a woman to form a mated pair. The natural fitness and potential fruitfulness of sexual intercourse is an altogether different kind of thing from the jest, the imitation, that is anal sex. The latter is all engine. Though the motion of the moving parts might lead to orgasm, anatomy cries out against it. When two identical straight edges come together, like a pair of scissors, they cannot create, only cut. Yet it is precisely because human sexuality is creative that marriage came into being in the first place. Again, the distinctive feature of marriage is not love but sex.

Don't get me wrong—I am not suggesting that sex ought to be severed from affection. Not at all. In fact, when a culture such as ours makes sex the prerequisite for love, rather than love being the condition for bodily union, sex paradoxically leaves men and women isolated from one another, and C. S. Lewis reminds us that isolation is the principle on which "the whole philosophy of hell rests." Our culture obsesses over sex, but, to quote Lewis again, "when natural things look most divine, the demonic is just around the corner." Short-order sex, consumer sex, sex for the sake of sex—sex without love is dehumanizing. "Coitus without coexistence is a demonic affair," Karl Barth has said. In Harvey Cox's phrasing, it reduces the beloved to a "playboy accessory." Marriage is absolutely a comprehensive union of love, but again—if the couple cannot become one flesh, is their union comprehensive?

Love and sexual complementarity are not coordinate: they do not belong to the same order. The fact of sexual polarity clings more tenaciously to marriage than the feeling of "love." Love is the lifeblood of a marriage, granted, but love is not enough to make a marriage. The sine qua non of marriage, the thing that makes it recognizably different, not just in degree but in kind, from every other relationship, is sexual complementarity. No matter how sincerely people who identify as gay might love each other, if they are not able to perform the act that fulfills the behavioral conditions of procreation, they are simply unable to marry one another. Nor should they have any need to marry one another: a homosexual relationship, by definition, has nothing to do with generativity and childbirth, domestication and rearing, concern for lineage, and the terrible and irrevocable plighting of troth "till death do us part."

Marriage-for-Love, R.I.P.

When the most basic value of autonomous marriage is that we should marry for love, specifically romantic love, is it any surprise that the meaning of marriage would be reduced to "Love is love"? In gay marriage, this blinkered vision of marriage finds its furthest and most extreme expression. Gay marriage has stretched the definition of marriage to the breaking point. So ruined, a wedding is now little more than a celebration of love.

But is "love" a trustworthy guide to marriage? As young lovers eventually discover, if they're listening, sexual desire and romantic love do not guarantee that you will love wisely or well. Love is love, but Augustine reminds us that our loves can be disordered. It is possible to love the wrong things well and to love the right things badly. Love sins, and marriage is difficult. Despite its comforts and joys, marriage remains fundamentally restricting, burdensome, sexually limiting, serious, and not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly. As the years add up, the real question facing married couples is: Can love survive marriage?

"Let us hope," we read in the opening scenes of writer-director Ali Selim's felicitous movie debut Sweet Land, a provocative conversation-starter about the meaning of marriage, "that we are all preceded in this world by a love story." Love story or not, the fact remains that all of us are preceded by one man and one woman, hopefully in the bonds of wedlock. The inalienable right to marry rests not in love stories but in sexual complementarity and will, in the simple fact that one man and one woman will to be married.

No kind of love entitles anyone to marry, but there is a loveappropriate to marriage. More than a feeling, it is an act of the will. It is the love that cannot be "earned," and there is nothing anyone can do to lose it. Though it desires union and togetherness—desires to become one with the beloved—it seeks less to be loved than to love. It desires not only that the beloved "feel good," but also that things truly go well for her. It is the love that continues God's universal approval of creation, the love that says, "It is good that you exist!" It is the love St. Paul speaks of when he exhorts wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives as Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the Church.

Submission and sacrifice—these are the twin ironies by which great marriages are made, and the agonizing pincer-jaws of heaven. It is the love that wills to be married, the love willing to submit and to sacrifice, a total self-gift unto death. This is the love appropriate for wedding the two halves of the human race, male and female, in matrimony, the love most suitable for begetting and rearing children, the love that dares to join the Creator in creating even more human beings, life, another life! It is a high and impossible calling, but it is expressed in ordinary, daily graces—cleaning the toilet, cooking dinner, taking out the trash, forgiving, listening, remembering tiny details, saying a kind word. Such a love is the basis of civilization, and there is nothing romantic about it.

Still the Foundation

Today's man, already distracted by self-consciousness, lonely, insulated from reality by his abstract thoughts, and constantly on the cliff's edge of his fantastic desires, must also reckon with the institutionalization of marital confusion. Teens and young adults, especially those raised by divorced parents, overburdened by pornography and sappy romantic imitations of love, handed condoms and pills and ample free time, distrustful of marriage and afraid to marry, cohabiting yet longing to settle down and start a family someday, are hardly equipped to appreciate the permanent and irreducible truths about men, women, and marriage. Are gender-neutral individualism and gay theory capable of disciplining erotic desire in the direction of marriage? Who will show them a still more excellent way?

The "new insights" that make gay marriage appear harmless, even good, also make human history appear harmful and bad. So obviously the story of generations, human history remains the story of the coming together of a man and a woman to form a mated pair, socially recognized in the bonds of matrimony, forming as a family the very foundation of civilization. This is our shared heritage. Marriage—the conjugal union of one man and one woman for life—remains an honorable estate. In the end, no matter how catchy the slogan, no matter how coercive the law, marriage wins. •


more on marriage from the online archives

22.4—May 2009

Take & Give

on Two Words That Describe the Workings of Love by Bruce Brander

29.1—Jan/Feb 2016

Wilberforce for Good

on Marriage, Moral Corruption & the Christian Duty of Witness by Regis Nicoll

21.1—January/February 2008

One Flesh of Purest Gold

John Chrysostom’s Discovery of the Blessings & Mysteries of Marriage by Mike Aquilina

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more from the online archives

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