The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 21, 2020 - 9:18:35

Two Thoughts on “One Flesh”

Michael Healy, Mar 05, 2012

According to recent polls the pro-life cause seems to be winning its argument with the younger generation; yet, the defense of traditional marriage seems to be losing ground.  Why is this?  I’m sure there are many reasons, but one may be that the pro-life argument is basically simple and strait forward (it’s a human being, quite obviously, in the womb) while the “pro-choice” argument has to get extremely convoluted to try to justify itself.  On the other hand, the “homosexual marriage” argument is simple (if people want to marry, let them), while the traditional marriage argument gets complicated (technical definitions of marriage involved, intimate physical details required, objections about parallels to infertile couples, etc.).  This just goes to show that the simple argument is not always right—it is with abortion, it is not with homosexual marriage. 

So my question is, how can those defending traditional marriage present their argument is a more strait forward, less technical way?  I had two thoughts on the matter.  We’ll see if they help—or also get too complicated.  Furthermore, my second point on the legal situation is made in the full knowledge that I am not a lawyer, so I can’t fully evaluate its applicability.  Nonetheless, I’ll plunge ahead…. 

First, although the courts seem to be going in the direction of allowing marriage to be defined however the couple wishes, is this truly reasonable?  Is there no essence to what “one flesh” means?  For instance, if I entangle my body with someone else’s, e.g. in a wrestling match, does that make us one flesh?  It would seem not.  Or, even if I penetrate part of your body, or you mine, e.g. if I stick my tongue in your ear or you put your finger in my mouth, does that make us one flesh?  It would seem not. 

Even if we willed it so or made vows about it, would that make us one flesh?  Why?  Suppose we make an agreement that if we take vows and suck each other’s toes, then we are married.  Does that make it so?  No.  Here the Church teaching that what makes “one flesh” is the union of male and female in the marital act, wherein the two different sexual systems meaningfully unite and make sense of one another, appears in all its reasonableness.  The sexual systems in the human body are the only ones that are “incomplete” in isolation.  Every other system—skeleton, nerves, circulatory, skin, etc.—makes sense all by itself, but the sexual system in man makes no sense by itself and the sexual system in a woman makes no sense by itself.  Only together in the traditional marital act do they make sense.

So even if a more intimate part of my body is revealed, used, or penetrated by another, why should that make us actually “one flesh” or united in marriage if it is not a uniting of male and female sexual organs?  Here, though somewhat technical, we have access to an understandable core of the act required for the consummation of marriage.  Thus president Clinton was not exactly wrong when he said, concerning Monica Lewinsky, “I did not have sex with that woman”—he did not have a complete marital act.  It is not just any kind of intimacy that makes two people one, but only the full marital act.

Furthermore, considered legally, is there any way this might be defended in the modern court system?  I submit that one place might be in the definition of annulment.  Here there might be a chance to get even a “liberal” judge to acknowledge a physical requirement of a traditional marital act.  For example, let’s take a wild hypothetical— such imaginative situations are sometimes used in ethics and moral theology.  Suppose two people get married and then on the first night the bride finds out that the husband has married her only for her money.  He brags about this and about having tricked her into it.  Now she’s stuck, he claims, because even with a (“no-fault”) divorce, he’ll get half of all she owns as well as of future earnings!  But suppose they have not consummated the marriage.  Then, of course, she could go to court and ask not for a (“no fault”) divorce, but for an annulment—leaving the shyster con-man with nothing.  If he claimed they were married just because they had said vows, but she claimed they were not because they never had a full marital act together (regardless of what other intimacies they had had), what judge would ever award the fellow half the property?  Is there a possible legal argument here for a full, traditional marital act as a requirement for a legal marriage?