The common definition of traditional marriage given today, even by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his June 26, 2013, Supreme Court decision invalidating DOMA, is that marriage is “a union of a man and a woman.” This definition merely expresses the material content of a marriage, that is, which persons can enter into it. It fails to express the formal content, which entails the purpose of the contract, and thereby, fails to distinguish true marriage from its false imitators. Every contract expresses, not only who enters into its terms, but also the purpose of the contract. For example, two people agree to the sale of a house. The contract does not merely name the two people involved, but its terms must also define the nature of the sale. Since marriage is a contract between two persons, it also has a purpose, which has always been either expressed or assumed by those entering into it.
The Rev. Heribert Jone in his Moral Theology (Newman: Westminster, 1945, p. 483.) offers the definition of marriage that has been recognized for thousands of years: “The marriage contract is a contract by which two competent persons of the opposite sex give to each other the exclusive and irrevocable right over their bodies (ius in corpus) for the procreation and education of children.” That is, the couple gives to each other the right to those acts which are suitable to the procreation of children. From this, flows the responsibility and right of that couple to provide for the care and education of children conceived by their marital union. That is also why adultery has always been considered such a moral outrage to those who are married: it is a sex act that directly attacks the natural purpose of marriage itself.
A New Definition
The new definition being sold today in the media, and even the Supreme Court, is a twisted and shortened version, based on a simple substitution of the traditional purpose of the marital union with the mere material naming of those who enter into that union, thereby losing sight of the essential purpose of the marital contract – and allowing people to redefine it as something like a union of mutual love and commitment between any two people, even of the same sex.
This new definition ignores the vital national interest of true marriage as the only natural way for society to replace its members, or else, to die out. Only males and females can naturally reproduce, and every human being is the natural product of just such a sexual union.
That is the reason why society has always honored true marriage with special protection in law – not because people have an inalienable right to marry (which they do), not because it serves some selfish interest of the people involved, not because it is a religious sacrament, but primarily because true marriage, by its very nature, alone serves the vital national interest of replacing the population that dies off.
Matrimony is taken from the Latin, “mater,” meaning “mother,” and “monium,” meaning “a state or condition,” thus defining the purpose of marriage as man taking a wife to have children. In ancient Rome, this was understood as the purpose of marriage, the production of new citizens for the Roman state.
Marriage and the Constitution
Traditional marriage already has a legitimate foundation in the U.S. Constitution, where the Preamble refers to securing “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
In so saying, the Preamble establishes the “legislative intent” that judges look to in determining the meaning of a law. “Equal protection” clauses are cited in both state and federal claims that homosexuals have the same right to marry as heterosexuals. But equality claims are illicit unless litigants are similarly situated before the law. Since heterosexual marriage as a general institution can, at least potentially, further the purposes of the Constitution by securing “blessings…to…our posterity” insofar as traditional marriage is the only institution that is naturally able to produce society’s posterity – and since homosexual unions cannot produce any “posterity” by themselves, the potential litigants are not similarly situated. Thus the Preamble’s wording establishes a distinct and special basis for traditional marriage, but not for homosexual unions. And this role of traditional marriage in assuring society’s posterity is consistent with the classical meaning of marriage, even as understood by the pagan Romans.