Marriage in a Cubicle

“So what if two men are allowed to marry?” we hear many a pew-warming Catholic say. “What effect can that have on marriage? I won’t love my wife any the less.”
True; perhaps the damage has already been done. If that sounds harsh, consider that married life in our world is a diminished thing. Husbands and wives are thought to be indistinguishable. There are no particularly paternal or maternal duties to fulfill. There is nothing left in sex to profane, fornication having sunk below the status of a sin of passion to a hobby or a part of a weekly exercise regimen. It requires an act of historical imagination — and, for us Catholics, obedient humility — to see the fullness of what marriage ought to be.
I recall reading in a magazine about a Coast Guard ship patrolling the stormy waters of Lake Superior. The male crew, five or six in all, were captained by a woman. “It makes no difference whether the captain is a woman,” she said. But how could she know that? She was in no position to see how the men were, to hear how they talked, and to note how they felt when she was not there. I wonder whether she really wanted to know. She needed to use her imagination, bolstered by the stories of old sailors, or by humble and close observation of men.
More to the point, she did not consider how much of that ancient male fellowship in peril, that blood-brotherhood, had already been compromised. If being a captain of a ship is but to give the most efficient commands, then perhaps a robot would do, too. But then, perhaps being a captain of men is far more than we remember, or more than we care to admit.
We are in that captain’s position. Yes, I love my wife. But the world I live in does not believe that it is renewed whenever members from those two warring parties, men and women, celebrate their differences and unite in marriage. It does not believe that marriage spans the generations, linking those who came before us to those who, if God pleases, will be the fruits of our love. It has constricted the affair to something private. It smiles upon the feelings of a John and Mary, and no more. It has no use for their love, socially.
John and Mary are not called upon to be a father and mother beyond the walls of their house. If they like, they may divorce, and that too is a private affair, unless it involves the annoying complication of children. In such a world it becomes conceivable that two men may claim the right to marry, because we have severed the sexes from nature (including human nature), and from their calling to be mothers and fathers of their own children, and exemplars of motherhood and fatherhood for their neighbors and countrymen. We are detached from the passage of the generations. We are, except as individuals, cordoned off from the duties of our villages and cities. All is a matter of personal choice, and therefore all is arbitrary, and alienated.
It is marriage confined to a cubicle. Now the cubicle may be well lit and ventilated, with plenty of fresh food and drink. But the full expression of our natural fatherhood and motherhood is truncated. If my wife and I lived in a concrete box, I would love her; yet it is hard to claim that the box would make no difference. It would curtail a thousand ordinary opportunities for love. I could not love her as a mother to the neighborhood. She could not love me as a father at the city gates. Imagine that the cubicle is limited temporally, too. We could then love one another for a time, but without any soul-expanding sense that we were carrying on a duty from generations past. The seed may be good, but the soil is thin. The painter may be skilled, but if he has only gray on the palette, great works in gray are the best we will get.
Imagine the converse. When the poet Edmund Spenser wrote his Epithalamion, he meant it not only as a wedding present to his bride, but as a joyful meditation upon what marriage, especially Christian marriage, is all about. In that poem he summons the whole world to be present at the great feast — the nymphs of the Irish forests, the rivers stocked with fish, the dashing young men of the village, the young maidens awaiting their own day to come, boys setting bonfires and running up and down the street, the sun and moon and stars and the very angels above and the communion of saints in heaven. And why not, since on that night, when he has dismissed all the partakers of the feast, and he and his bride are alone at last, they are not really alone either. They pray to God that their act of love, private as it is, will take its part too in the providential march of time, raising a large posterity to swell the number of the blessed saints.
That was good soil. That was a rich palette. No difference whether two men may marry? If you ask that, you have already reduced male and female from mysterious creations of God to insignificant varieties of the human body, that attract according to taste. And if you have done that, or if your culture has done that whether you like it or not, then no, you do not love your husband or your wife in the same way, and with the same robust fullness of expression, as you would have done otherwise. You cannot seize an opportunity that does not exist. Let us hope at least that you can draw near to your spouse within the four walls of your private feelings. The Lord who raised the dead can visit a cubicle, too. But that does not mean we ought to build them.

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Anthony Esolen is the author or translator of 28 books, most recently In the Beginning Was the Word: An Annotated Reading of the Prologue of John (Angelico Press), No Apologies: How Civilization Depends upon the Strength of Men (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord, a book-length poem made up of 100 poems centered on the life of Christ. He has also begun a web magazine called Word and Song, on classic hymns, poetry, language, and film. He is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts.

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