In light of the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court on gay marriage, I’ve been thinking a lot about politics and religion and where the two - for me, anyway - should meet. I’ve struggled for a long time wondering whether legislating against gay marriage was the most “Christian” thing to do, or if something else ought to be done first (such as, I don’t know, dialogue?). By now, it seems inevitable that gay marriage will be legal somewhere in the U.S., even if it never is in the great state of Utah. We have effectively lost marriage.

I realize it doesn’t always help to look back and ask “what could have been done?” In fact, I for one am more in favor of asking “what can be done now?” And yet, there are times when asking one question implies the other. This might be one of those cases.

For a long time now, marriage has been considered a means more than an end. Historically, marriage has served any number of purposes, ranging from political - binding kingdoms - to social - saving women the embarrassment of out-of-wedlock children. Presently, among Mormons, marriage serves as a means to salvation (as well as sex, but as much as that factors into the gay marriage quandary, let’s save it for another day). But among the ends to which marriage has become a means, there is one in particular that seems to have done us the greatest disservice: happiness.

By calling marriage a means to individual (or collective, for that matter) happiness, we as a society have put marriage in a tight spot. Social scientists are adamant that marriage provides people with better health, better finances, better sex, and an overall better life. To deny these things to any person would be like subjecting that person to slavery. After all, the pursuit of happiness is one of our inalienable rights. So denying marriage to gays is like denying them the right to be happy, healthy, and wealthy, or at least to deny them their full potential. If marriage is indeed a means to happiness, then we as a country have an obligation to provide access to people to marry whomever they wish if we are to uphold those cherished Constitutional values. It’s no wonder gays want more than just civil unions; wouldn’t you?

So what could we have done if we really wanted to defend marriage? My solution: we should have considered it an end of itself. We should have taken seriously “for better and for worse” and shown the world that marriage wasn’t about happiness, it was about marriage, and marriages can be both happy and sad, rich and poor, healthy and sick, and can still be good marriages. If marriage had been an end, you would have seen fewer divorces and more “unhappy” marriages, and then marriage itself wouldn’t have been so darn appealing. And with less appeal, there would have been fewer voices clamoring for the “right” to be married.

If I’m right, then perhaps we ought to learn something from what we could have done. After all, we still think of marriage as a means, especially in the church (I think the implied “for better or for worse” in our sealing ceremony is lost on many couples). Doing so damages the sanctity of marriage even among the “faithful” and teaches us (although implicitly) that marriage when it is difficult is not marriage. Perhaps now that the “definition” of marriage is lost to us, we ought to start thinking ahead and considering how to defend the “sanctity” of marriage. One first step might just be to give marriage the status of “end.”

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