In What Is Marriage, we opposed a “consent-based” view of marriage that saw marriage as being primarily about companionship, establishing a companionate relationship with what one scholar called “your number one person.” We argued that a faulty understanding of marriage actually makes it harder for people to find happiness, both inside and outside of marriage. That a vision of marriage that sees it as just about whatever ordinary friendships and relationships have, but taken to the nth degree—that marriage is simply the best, most important of whatever makes human sociality good to begin with—gets marriage wrong in ways that can harm both married and unmarried people.
For married people it can make them presume that their marriage is to be their primary means of fulfillment in all the areas of their life, that they should be able to say of their spouse “you fulfill me.” But no one human being and relationship totally fulfills any of us. And no one should seek total fulfillment from their spouses or their marriage.
For unmarried people, it can make them feel—and the rest of society view them—as not only lacking one aspect of fulfillment, marriage itself, but as lacking the pinnacle of human fulfillment, and thus as not flourishing at all. A vision of marriage that sees the relationship between spouses as the peak of human sociality in turn renders the unmarried as second-class flourishers.
Instead, we should view marriage correctly, as a distinctive good with a distinctive nature: a conjugal union of husband and wife ordered to, and thus normatively shaped by its unique aptness for, the bearing and rearing of children. Doing so not only allows us to see family as involving much more than just the spouses themselves—to include extended family and friends grafted into the family—but also allows us to appreciate the unique and irreducible goodness of non-marital forms of human sociality.
A sound vision of marriage thus offers wide vistas of human fulfillment to people who may never marry, for whatever reason. It offers hope of meaningful non-sexual relationships to people who experience same-sex attraction in a way that makes forming a truly marital partnership impossible.
More deeply understanding the truth about marriage and human sexuality will help all of us flourish. And that, of course, is what a pastor like Pope Francis desires. We can understand—indeed we share—the frustration of our fellow Catholics with the ways in which the Holy Father conducts interviews and the ways in which the media distorts them, but we must not do anything to undermine the truth that sets us free.
Read it all.