Mormon Parenting: The conjugal and revisionist views of marriage

Published: Friday, April 19 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

There are two basic alternative ways in which to view marriage, and the two are essentially at war in today’s world.

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We wrote two weeks ago about the “four strikes” against traditional marriage — divorce, cohabitation, chosen singleness and same-sex marriage. Today, let us make an additional point and clarification:

There are two basic alternative ways in which to view marriage, and the two are essentially at war in today’s world.

1. Marriage can be viewed, as it has since history began, as an exclusive commitment between a man and a woman, which forms a physical and an emotional and a spiritual bond distinguished by its comprehensiveness and its fidelity. This is often called the conjugal view, or traditional marriage.

2. Marriage can be viewed simply as a loving emotional bond distinguished by its intensity — a bond in which fidelity is subject to one’s own desires — a bond which one leaves when emotional fulfillment is no longer found. This is often called the revisionist view.

While the second view includes same-sex marriage, it is a much broader category, which also includes revisionist heterosexual marriage. Professor Robert George of Princeton University, who spoke in Salt Lake City last week, used the following example from an article in the New York Times quoted in his book “What Is Marriage?”:

John Partilla, an Upper West Side advertising executive, meets Carol Anne Riddell, a local news anchor. Like-minded and both brimming with energy, they hit it off; within five years they are exchanging vows. But when the New York Times gives feature coverage to their wedding, it sparks a blaze of controversy.

Partilla and Riddell were married to others when they met — at their children’s pre-kindergarten class. In fact, their families had become friends and even vacationed together. But rather than “deny their feelings and live dishonestly,” they chose to abandon their spouses and children: “All they had were their feelings, which Ms. Riddell described as ‘unconditional and all encompassing. … It was a gift … but I had to earn it. Were we brave enough to hold hands and jump?’ ”

Now think about that for a minute. This is the most famous newspaper in the world, the New York Times, in its popular and highly read Style section, not condemning Partilla and Riddell for deserting their families and children but featuring them positively because, instead of “denying their feelings and living dishonestly,” they had the courage to be “brave enough to hold hands and jump.”

So, infidelity and abandoning spouses and children are labeled as “honest” and “brave” just as when married men who acknowledge that they are gay decide to finally be “true to themselves” and come out of the closet and leave their families to live with their same-sex partner. Those who don’t give “tolerance” to this view are called bigots or homophobes or old-fashioned dinosaurs.

The problem with the revisionist marriage view is that it calls evil good and calls good evil. Since it is based only on emotional and sexual attraction, it dissolves quickly when those things ebb. It is so caught up in individual “rights” and preserving individual “options” and “freedom” that it forgets about things like commitment and responsibility.

It is based entirely on selfishness.

Traditional marriage, on the other hand, is all about what is best for children and for society. Again in the words of Professor George, conjugal marriage “joins spouses in mind as well as in bodily union by which new life is made … and calls for that broad sharing of domestic life uniquely fit for family life. Uniting spouses in these all-encompassing ways, it also objectively calls for all-encompassing commitment: permanent and exclusive. Comprehensive union is valuable in itself, but its link to children’s welfare makes marriage a public good that the state should recognize and support.”

Those interested in the welfare of all children and in the society that their own children will live need to find their own ways to fight against the upstart revisionist view and for the old-as-time conjugal view of marriage.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."

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