Marriage forms families and families make a civilization. Many of us fail to live up to the high ideal of marriage, but the solution is not to declare our failures variations of the ideal and move on.
Marriage has been between one man and one woman for all of American history: our romantic ideal. Every part of this definition is under assault as some Americans try to define away immorality.
Hard tasks do not get easier when we change our goals so as to never achieve them. They remain merely an elusive ideal that we try to forget. The romantic ideal is loving someone forever, giving oneself to them until death, and attempting to create life and family that endures for eternity.
That is marriage and will remain marriage however we debase the word.
Advocates of “open marriage” refuse the ideal or attack it. They point the failures of some to achieve it as an excuse to ignore the perfect.
An open marriage is merely consensual adultery. Open marriage claims to remove the “cheating” from adultery, because an open marriage starts with the consent of both parties. Of course, American marriages have overwhelmingly included a third party: God. He makes the union sacred, but then He is not likely to consent.
An open marriage cheats one partner to a marriage: God.
But perhaps marriage for some is merely “secular” and not “sacred.” Sex will be redefined as an activity not reserved for marriage. What then will be reserved for marriage? Conversation? Intimacy? What sort of intimacy? What is the outer sign of an inner reality?
What is that inner reality? If it is mere feeling, what will carry a man or woman through the rocky times in any relationship when feelings are not there?
There are certainly many important aspects to marriage that are not sexual, but what are those reserved exclusively for marriage? Is marriage merely a business partnership that might include some sex?
What of children? If open marriage moved beyond boutique status amongst those already wealth and well educated (by a traditional society) would it produce stable extended families?
You can be sure advocates of open marriage will urge the rest of us to put the culture’s future in their hands with the promise that they will answer any questions as they go. If redefining our societal standards and goals bring long term harm, they are not worried about it enough avoid the risk to their own pleasure.
What once was called decadence can now be called progress.
Whatever open marriage works out to be it has nothing to do with the Western romantic ideal from Shakespeare to Austen. Every “Twilight” fan longs for something more. Couldn’t they just leave us our word, marriage, and find another term?
Our culture will have to decide the answers to those questions. To get good answers, we will need thoughtful leaders to defend both points of view, including traditional marriage. One historian and politician making a career of defending marriage is Newt Gingrich.
He rightly attacked Bill Clinton for using power and privilege to enable a life as a cad and roué. Gingrich admits he was a hypocrite, but every high standard invited failure. His hypocrisy undermines his character, not the standard.
But now Gingrich is accused of going further, of abandoning the standard and asking for an open marriage. Voters have no way of knowing if his denials are true. We know Mr. Gingrich lies about sex and marriage, but we don’t know if he is lying now.
If Gingrich is telling the truth about himself, he was a roué. He is right to say all have fallen short of standards and ask for forgiveness. All Christians give it him, especially those of us particularly in need of it in this area.
Gingrich admits that for decades he was a roué and a hypocrite and demands the White House as his penance. That seems a bit much. He calls himself a man of “grandiose ideas” and such men are apt to stumble again near power. Those who love him should keep him from it, the way an alcoholic is kept from the bottle.
Let us judge Newt Gingrich by his own professed beliefs.
If he is telling the truth, Newt Gingrich is unfit for public office.
Gingrich might, of course, be lying. His performance last night was not comforting. After answering questions about his marriage calmly all day, he raged against them in the debate. Immediately after the debate, he was backslapping with the “disgusting” questioners at CNN.
Advocates of open marriage should be comforted, however. If his second wife is telling the truth, Gingrich was asking for polygamy, not open marriage. He was asking for consent to be a roué, not engaging in social experimentation.
In any case, Gingrich himself rightly said that lying to the public, even about sex, is disqualifying.
If he is lying, Newt Gingrich is unfit for public office.
Newt Gingrich was disciplined and removed from his high office by conservatives for his grandiose personality. He was a political roué, unable to control his political urges or ideas. He was sent packing to the political morgue, but now the roué returns from the morgue to murder marriage.
Only a grandiose man who believes words are more important than deeds could think he would get away with that in the long term. His party is left defending him when it should be examining better people: the political roué does not care.
Perhaps marriage should be redefined or perhaps, as Pope Benedict claims, this will end civilization. In any case, the grandiose man is the last man we need leading the discussion.
Newt Gingrich is unfit for public office.
John Mark Reynolds is an On Faith panelist and professor of philosophy for Biola University.