(Reprinted from my personal blog, put here so people who don't read that can read or comment.)
Reading David Blankenhorn’s article in the New York Times, I think I have come to understand what went wrong in attempts to preserve “marriage”.
As people have observed, marriage is the primary (and probably best) way in which our societies have provided for children. The problem is the assumption that this is then the definition of marriage. It’s not. The soul of marriage is creating family bonds.
Now, marriage is certainly a good thing if you want to raise kids; they benefit from having a family. But that is not the only thing it is for. Marriage can unite families, by creating a bond of kinship between them. But even without children or other family members in the picture, marriage has value; as God observes, "It is not good that the man should be alone." Marriage is the way for people to acquire families.
When you realize that it is the creation of family which is the soul of the thing, all the other objections and concerns disintegrate. Marriage need not be specifically about providing a stable family for kids; it can be about providing a stable family for anyone. Whether the goal is to provide a family bond for two individuals, or two families, or two people and their kids, or whatever else, does not matter. Each of these goals is sufficient; no one of them is necessary.
This explains why marriages among people far too old to have children still occur and provide value. It explains why gays continue to desire marriage, even if they do not plan to have kids. It even explains various marriages between rich merchants, royalty, and feuding clans, where the people getting married had a surfeit of family and no particular affinity for each other. Marriage ended wars and feuds. It bound, not just the direct participants, but also their families and friends.
Think about the oft-repeated phrase “a union of one man and one woman.” Is it a committed union? That doesn’t matter. Is it a union which endures adversity? That doesn’t matter. Is it a union which binds the families of the participants, not just the people involved? That doesn’t matter. All the things which made marriage so powerful and influential have been systematically denied as irrelevant, because the sole value of marriage these people are willing to talk about is “it’s not gay”.
Marriage is a powerful and vital institution for society, and does deserve protection and support. The recent attempts to redefine marriage as being entirely about two people of different sexes, without any reference to stability or commitment, have been an active assault on the fundamental social institution of creating family bonds. In short, the people who value the institution and were genuinely concerned about it being undermined have done more undermining than everyone else put together. They have attacked the notion that creating family bonds has value in and of itself, by denigrating all family bonds which do not produce biological children. They have turned marriage from a sacred institution which has held society together into an animal husbandry permit, and I do not know that the institution will ever recover.