The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution. For ages, in every culture, human beings have understood that marriage is critical to the well-being of families. And because families pass along values and shape character, marriage is also critical to the health of society. Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure.You know what word I don’t see there anywhere? Love. And one of the interesting things about its absence is that marriage, between a man and a woman, for a very long time didn’t have a lot to do with love. In fact, in some cultures, it still doesn’t. One of the most remarkable things about our culture is that we have the freedom to marry for love, to forge lifelong bonds based not on class or race or religion or the number of goats our dads can spare, but on a feeling so beautiful that poets have spent lifetimes trying to lay it on a page, that artists have endeavored to capture in one still but enduring moment. Operas and books and films and pop songs, so heartbreakingly lovely that they can steal one’s breath, if just for a moment, have been written by people in the thralls of love, or the searing pain of its loss. Monuments have been built, wars have been fought, and some of the greatest happiness ever experienced by humankind has been born because of love.
We are blessed with the luxury of love, and, make no mistake, it is a luxury. Marriage at its best is an expression of love. When it's simply an institution to facilitate the continued existence of a society through the birth of new generations, it is a splendid functional legal contract and nothing more. When it's a sign of commitment forged out of love, it is something ever so much grander. It is the stuff of legend.
Aristophanes said, in Plato’s Symposium, that humankind, “judging by their neglect of it, have never, as I think, at all understood the power of Love. For if they had understood it they would surely have built noble temples and altars, and offered solemn sacrifices in its honor.” He then laid out the most beautiful explanation of the origin of love I have ever read, just a piece of which I will excerpt here:
[T]he original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost… In the second place, the primeval human was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.The gods were scared of humans in this powerful state, and Zeus conspired to diminish their strength by striking each of them in two with a lightning bolt.
He spoke and cut men in two, like a sorb-apple which is halved for pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a hair; and as he cut them one after another, he bade Apollo give the face and the half of the neck a turn in order that the man might contemplate the section of himself: he would thus learn a lesson of humility… After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they were on the point of dying from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them, being the sections of entire men or women, and clung to that. They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.That isn’t about marriage. It’s not just about heterosexuals, either. It’s about feeling such a desperate need to be close to another person that you are certain the two of you were once torn asunder. It’s about love. And that is neither the sole province of unions between one man and one woman, nor a luxury we should ever take for granted. It is a luxury so precious that denying of some people any and every expression of its unique and awesome qualities, treating their love as different, as less, is an affront to the tremendous gift we have been given in our capacity to feel love. If we really understood love, we would not just build in its honor noble temples and altars, and offer solemn sacrifices, but would believe without reservation that to deny its existence in every human heart is to reject our humanity.