Wednesday, September 24, 2014

To Thyself Be True: The Get-out-of-Marriage-Free Card?

My wife recently came across an article which she passed my way on Facebook.  Being that she's married to a man with same-sex attractions, the article tells the story of my wife's worst fear:  The author--whom we're taking at her word strictly for the sake of argument, and if she's misrepresenting her spouse then the words that follow may not apply to him in particular--writes that her husband, after years of marriage and having fathered several children, decided to be "true to himself," and leave her for a man.  Having embraced an identity as "gay," he threw away everything he had built with his family in order to pursue that identity, an identity that we are told in our current cultural chaos must be fulfilled at all costs.  In his case, the cost was borne largely by the little ones and the wife, who weren't permitted any real say in this shattering of their family.   He was gay, and that was that.  According to the author, this same man fought for primary custody of the children, presumably won it, and forced the children to be part of his gay "wedding" even against their own reluctance to celebrate an event that, y'know, formalized the tearing apart of their family.

What do we make our children do next?
Tea parties in honor of the car that hit and killed a beloved pet?

The thing that was even sadder, however, is that a man like this husband often receives accolades and sympathy in our culture.  Keep in mind, I'm not saying that it's bad that people have sympathy for people who do wrong things.  But he's not merely receiving sympathy.  People like this man often are actively encouraged to break their vows in so permanent a way.  "It's okay," our society consoles them, "You have to be who you are!"  Actually, it's almost as insulting to people who are attracted to the same gender as it is to this man's wife:  Evidently, we are not real adults.  We don't have to be held to our promises.  When we make vows, we are evidently too stupid, or too scared, or too spineless to really know what we're getting ourselves into.  So then, when one day we want to leave our spouses to "be true" to ourselves, it's okay, because when we made the vows we just didn't "know any better."  Gee, thanks, culture.  I feel so supported.

Where did we go so terribly wrong?  The answer, sadly, is older than the gay marriage debate by decades.  We as a society began to accept the notion of no-fault divorce.  Not only did we legalize it, we began to condone it.  We began to accept that "Sometimes, it just doesn't work."  Sometimes, we argued, it was okay to break a solemn, lifelong vow for no other reason than just being unhappy with the arrangement.

What, though, is a vow even good for, if it's okay to break it at your own discretion?  The marriage vows generally contain some variation of "til death do us part," AND "for better or worse."  Those two sentiments have huge implications.  It means, when you marry someone, you are making a promise that not only will you remain spouses until one of  you dies, but also that you'll live up to this no matter how bad it gets.  Otherwise, it wouldn't be a variation on "for better or worse" but would be something more like "as long as times are good or I consider the hard times worth it."

A vow so touching it deserves its own Valentines Day card!

People have stopped thinking before they enter into marriage.  When a man (and all this would be true in the gender opposite scenario too) decides to leave his spouse, no matter how she wants to keep the marriage together, and his reasons are anything short of fear for his life and safety at the hands of real abuse,* then I see only three possibilities:

1.  He was lying about those vows, even as he made them.  This is despicable, and I don't need to say anything more about it.
2.  He hadn't really thought things through about what the vows meant before he made them.  The meaning of the vows are pretty obvious, though, so if he hadn't thought hard enough to grasp the meaning of "for better or worse," he had no business making the vows in the first place.
3.  He has "changed his mind."  This is about as despicable as the first one, because a vow means nothing if it's okay to just "change your mind" at a later point in time.

In all of these cases, the vow isn't being taken seriously.  The first man wasn't taking the vows seriously in the present.  The second man wasn't taking the future implications of the vows seriously.  And the third man isn't taking seriously a vow made in the past.  In all three cases, this is an enormous problem.  Vows, by definition, have to be taken seriously in all tenses:  Past, present and future.   And yet our no-fault divorce culture winks at a person who failed to take them seriously in any one of those tenses, or even all three.

If a woman can easily be excused for leaving her husband because "the feeling of love isn't there anymore," or a man can be excused for leaving his wife because he wasn't attracted to her anymore, then it was inevitable that eventually a man or woman could leave a spouse for someone of the same gender, and our culture would smile upon it as "doing what's necessary for your own happiness."

Yet the man or woman who breaks a marriage to enter a gay relationship is being praised with a deeper and more sinister irony than his heterosexual counterparts:  More so than any other person who leaves his or her spouse, the gay man who breaks faith with his wife is praised for being "honest," reportedly with himself and his spouse.  Let's get this straight (no pun intended):  A person who made vows that he either never took seriously or has ceased to take seriously, is praised for being "honest" for that very same fact.  Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?  The ultimate act of dishonesty--throwing a vow casually to the wind and no longer even trying to live up to it--is now called an act of honesty?!

You might wanna sit down while you
try to figure that one out.

If that's the sort of grace and mercy our culture has for men in my shoes, then I'll pass.  I don't need that brand of "love" or "tolerance."  It's insulting.  If the best way to be compassionate and loving to me is to teach me that my responsibilities aren't binding, and that the best way for me to be "honest" is by being profoundly dishonest about a solemn promise, then I want no part of that.  Besides, if that love and compassion are as unpredictable as society says my wedding vows are allowed to be, I'm not missing out on much anyway.

*Note:  I'm not being inconsistent at this point in the post.  As a Catholic, I really do think a marriage vow covers "no matter how bad it gets" even including abuse, but that is one of the few scenarios where a person can be understood for physically separating and maybe even get a "civil divorce" for his or her own safety or that of the children; but even then the vow underlying the marriage still exists, if it was taken seriously:  Yes, that does mean that vowing "for better or worse" is so serious it borders on scary.  If you vow "for better or worse" or "to death do us part" or "forever" or "for life" or any other such thing and don't think it has such scary implications, or you think these plain and obvious words have some sort of hidden "escape" clause, then you haven't thought it through enough to be making the vow.

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