The Meaning, and Essential Ingredients, of Marriage

Across the Western world today the entire concept of marriage has become so diluted that it is now almost meaningless.

‘Family’ has become the preferred term to describe ‘relationships’, with marriage being just one form of ‘family’ and, moreover, one of no special significance. So marriage is no different to any other kind of relationship, however casual or temporary it may be.

Furthermore, the drive to grant the status of marriage to same-sex relationships has gained an unstoppable momentum in most Western countries. Even in previously staunchly Catholic countries in Europe, like Spain and France, same-sex couples can get married. The same is now the case in Britain.

So it is not surprising that many feel that the institution of marriage is on the brink of disintegration. And that raises the question of what exactly does constitute marriage, and does that set it aside from other kinds of relationships.

I should emphasize, however, that what follows is not intended to denigrate other kinds of relationships. People should be free to choose what type of relationships they wish to enter, and with whom. But they should not be free to seek to denigrate and destroy what other people hold dear in the process.

Definition of Marriage

The most common definition of marriage is that it is a union between a man and a woman. But that doesn’t really tell us anything. Calling marriage a union between two people, even restricting it to a man and a woman, is really just a statement that marriage is a joint venture. But a joint venture requires an objective, or purpose. It is rather pointless to say that the purpose of a joint venture is a joint venture.

So it is precisely the purpose of marriage that the debate should be focused on. Because identifying the purpose gives us the content.

And to identify the purpose we need only ask: what is the natural consequence of a man and a woman joining together in a physical act? And the answer is the creation of a new human life.

But each human life is in itself unique, exclusive and special.

It is unique in that it has its own unique DNA which is a fusion of the DNA of the man, and the DNA of the woman, who engaged in the physical act which gave life to that individual. It is simply a biological fact.

Each individual is also exclusive to the man and the woman who engaged in the physical act that created that unique human being, because it’s DNA is exclusive to the DNA of the parents.

That each human being is special should stand to reason. Each human being is special because every human being deserves respect for the very reason that it is a human life. But each human life is also special in the sense that it is unique in itself, it is unique to the two individuals who created it, and that it is exclusive to the man and the woman who engaged in the physical act which gave that human being life.

Now, given that what could otherwise be regarded as a crude physical act produces a unique, exclusive and special human life, the question must necessarily arise as to whether any obligations should attach to the two human beings who engage in the act which creates that life.

There are probably very few, if any, sane people who would seriously claim that absolutely no obligations should attach to the two individuals who create a human life. So given that we all recognise that obligations attach to the creation of a human life, we have to ask why those obligations should not be determined by the nature of the life the physical act creates. Most of us recognise that the quality of outcome in any other human endeavour is entirely dependent on the quality of the people and process involved. Yet, when it comes to the most profound of all human endeavours, the creation of human life, we think we can have a quality outcome without observing the basic principles.

So if we apply the simple logic that obligations which attach to an action should reflect the nature of the consequences of that action, we come up with these obligations in respect of the creation of human life.

Since every human being is a ‘unique, exclusive, and special individual’, every human being deserves to be conceived in a ‘unique, exclusive and special act’, and raised in a ‘unique, exclusive and special relationship’.

If we then put that simple logic into the context of marriage, we come up with a definition of marriage as being a commitment by a man and a woman to join together for life in a unique, exclusive and special relationship, for the purpose of creating a unique, exclusive and special human being, in a unique, exclusive and special act.

Anything less must necessarily be a betrayal of the human being two free people bring into this world by their own voluntary act.

At this stage, liberals would argue that such a definition of marriage, if we leave out the ‘for life’ part, makes it no different to reproduction in slugs, rats or apes, because they also share their parents’ DNA. And that would not be a surprising response from liberals who like scratching around in zoology textbooks to justify primitive carnal behaviour in humans by citing similar behaviour in animals. The liberal ‘mind’ specialises in ‘reasoning’ itself back into our primitive ‘ancestral’ past – and resents the thought that perhaps human beings can elevate otherwise primitive animal instincts into higher, more noble, and more civilized behaviour.

Kant astutely noted this tendency in the mentally challenged to apply ‘reason’ to justify their own primitive behaviour by citing similar behaviour in animals: ‘But [man] is not so completely an animal as to be indifferent to what reason says on its own account, and use it merely as an instrument for the satisfaction of his wants as a sensible [sensual] being. For the possession of reason would not raise his worth above that of the brutes, if it is to serve him only for the same purpose that instinct serves in them.’

The simple fact, and even writing this piece is evidence of that fact, is that human beings, or at least some human beings, do have the ability to classify behaviour in such a way as to identify the beneficial elements of that behaviour, and promoting those elements, while also identifying the destructive elements of that same behaviour, and discouraging them. Call it a ‘knowledge of good and evil’, if you like – that anathema to the liberal ‘mind’!

It is a sad reflection of the state of the human condition today that so many look back into our primitive ancestral past to justify what is in essence primitive animal-like behaviour, rather than recognising that human beings can, and must, transform otherwise instinctive animal behaviour into something more noble and sacred. That is what gives the human species some ‘worth above that of the brutes’.

Obligations attaching to Marriage

Now that definition of marriage gives rise to a multitude of obligations on the parties who enter into it. Among those are fundamentally important pre-conditions, or obligations, that each party must fulfil. And the most important pre-condition is the obligation to abstain from sex before marriage, even sexual acts short of intercourse – the sort of things the likes of Bill Clinton claimed do not amount to ‘sexual relations’, like mutual masturbation and oral sex.

Apart from those committed to one or other faith that prohibits or discourages pre-marital sex, there are very few today who have the intelligence to recognise the importance of sexual abstinence before marriage, and the courage to resist the temptations and pressures to indulge their primitive carnal urges before marriage. Nietzsche once predicted that a time would come when ‘a woman who had turned out well – and such women are always prudent [virgins] – would have to be thoroughly ashamed.’ Regrettably, that time came several decades ago, so women today who have ‘turned out well’ are made to feel ‘thoroughly ashamed’ through scorn and ridicule. But those who resist and hold to their convictions are to be utterly admired, and held in the highest esteem.

So apart from those few, the general consensus today, and few question it, is that pre-marital sex is somehow an important ingredient necessary for a stable and secure marriage.

Arguments for Pre-Marital Sex

The arguments for this view are not seriously sustainable. They are really just feeble excuses to avoid the obligations that attach to those who create new human life, and a ‘license’ for people to indulge their primitive carnal instincts.

These arguments fall into two broad categories.

First, there are those who suggest that pre-marital sex, as long as it is limited to the intended marriage partner, is important to ensure sexual compatibility in the marriage. That is fallacious on several counts. First, it puts sexual gratification at the centre of the marriage. That relegates children to a sort of by-product of sexual gratification. It also implies that if one or both parties feel sexually ‘unfulfilled’, they can look elsewhere for a more sexually ‘compatible’ partner. They then end up with the more promiscuous version of pre-marital sex. This version of the argument also puts ‘self-fulfilment’ of the parents as the purpose and object of marriage, not children.

The second argument is that pre-marital sexual ‘experimentation’ with several partners brings sexual ‘experience’ to a marriage which, in this view, acts as a sort of ‘bonding agent’ increasing the chances of a sexually ‘fulfilling’ and stable marriage. This argument is flawed on too many counts to enumerate, so I shall identify only a few of the more common ones.

First, those who have ‘experimented’ with sex with other partners prior to marriage bring expectations and demands to the relationship based on previous sexual encounters. And they are impatient for instant gratification of the sort experienced in their previous sexual encounters. They expect the other party to the marriage to be a kind of surrogate for previous partners.

They also bring to the relationship assumptions as to the expectations of the other party to the relationship. They impute the sexual preferences of one or more previous partners into all other members of the same sex. That is, a woman, for example, may assume that what gave one or more of her previous male partners pleasure and enjoyment, must necessarily give all men the same pleasure and enjoyment, including the other party to the marriage.

Even more destructive to a relationship is one of the parties feeling compelled to describe how previous partners gave them sexual gratification, and implicitly, or even expressly, suggesting that the other party to the marriage re-enact such previous experiences. Rather than ‘motivating’ the other party to adopt the same sexual practices, it is more likely, or even guaranteed, that the other party will avoid similar practices for the obvious reason that he, or she, will feel that they are simply being used as an animated mannequin to re-live sexual experiences with  previous partners. It causes resentment, frustration, and even anger.

Further, once sex has been ‘experienced’, and ‘experimented with’, prior to marriage, it leaves nothing between the parties which can be used to build a special relationship of which sex is an integral element.

One of the more ridiculous implications of the argument for promiscuous pre-marital sex  is that sexual ‘experimentation’ somehow can’t take place with the other party to a marriage, within the marriage, whereas that is precisely what is required for a stable, secure, loving and special relationship to develop.

And these objections don’t even touch on the more obvious objections to pre-marital sex. There is always the danger that one of the partners has unknowingly contracted a sexually transmitted disease from a previous partner which infects the other party to the marriage, or a child. There is also the hideous possibility of a child to a marriage not being the biological child of the ‘father’. With the advent of DNA testing, this is being revealed as far more common than was imagined. The fact that one party to a marriage could so callously deceive the other party, and her own child, is a product of the casual attitude to sex that accompanies sexual promiscuity.

But before men start banging on the table about the immorality of women today, they should remember that such children are not the result of ‘immaculate conception.’ For every child born into a marriage who is not the biological offspring of the man to that marriage, another man was complicit in that deception – often a good ‘friend’, neighbour or work colleague of the family. And often such men are themselves married with children who they in turn have deceived. It is a sordid business, and too common to be comfortable.

So it should be patently obvious that previous ‘sexual experience’ is most likely to undermine, if not doom, a marriage from the start. To save a marriage inflicted with such a disability requires herculean effort that few can muster, because all their sexual energies, and most even of their other energies,  have been exhausted in their quest for ‘sexual experience’ – in the delusional belief that previous sexual ‘experience’ can be some kind of blueprint for a sexually ‘fulfilling’ marriage.

It is simply a fact of human nature that each human being feels, or at least would like to feel, that they are special, and not just an inadequate stand-in, or substitute, for someone else. Therefore, if for that reason alone, each party to a marriage has an obligation to make the other party feel special, especially in respect to their sexual relationship. And that requires that the sexual relationship in a marriage must be unique and exclusive to the parties to the marriage. That is an essential element for a stable and secure relationship into which they bring a new human life. Previous sexual encounters and relationships are entirely incompatible with that obligation.

But this is not a question of personal preferences or choices. It is a fundamental part of human nature which manifests itself in just about every other aspect of life. People want their own home, a refuge from the world – somewhere exclusive to them, and special. They want to have their own reserve of money, if they can, which is exclusively theirs. It gives them a sense of security. Human beings need a core sanctuary where they feel special, which is unique, and exclusively theirs. And there is nothing that can fill that need better than a unique, exclusive and special relationship with another human being. Bricks, mortar and money are a pale substitute for a special relationship with another human being. And a relationship is simply incapable of being special when at its core is a sexual relationship which is nothing more than a ‘recreational’ activity shared with a multitude of previous sexual partners.

But there are two caveats to the obligation of sexual abstinence before marriage.

First, it does not mean that the parties to a marriage should not derive any enjoyment from their sexual relationship. On the contrary, each party has an obligation to make every effort to ensure that the other party derives maximum enjoyment from their physical relationship, because that creates a more contented and harmonious environment for the life they create.

Secondly, it cannot preclude the use of contraception during marriage. The reason is simple. The parties have an important obligation to the life they create to provide it with a secure home, and financial stability. If they need to delay creating a life to do so, contraception is a sensible way to achieve that. The same applies if they want to delay the creation of a life to establish a more sexually enjoyable and secure relationship before the child is born. Likewise, there can be no objection to the use of contraception during marriage where the parents consider that further children would put pressure on the resources of the marriage, which would be detrimental to already existing children. Such matters are entirely for the parties to the marriage.

However, those with liberal inclinations claim that there is a way round all this – liberals always have some hair-brain scheme which they think can act as a kind of anti-gravity device to neutralise the law of cause and effect. They advocate a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy to get around the effects of promiscuous sexual behaviour before marriage. But, of course, it is of no effect. It simply amounts to pretending that none of these things is going on under the surface. But, more often than not, actions speak louder than words, and sexual actions more than most. So it is inevitable that actions will speak for themselves, and the result will be the same. Essentially, it simply advocates living a lie. Not the best way to start any kind of venture.

Another liberal argument is that children themselves make a marriage ‘special’. That is a grotesque argument, because it shifts the obligation to make a marriage special from the parents onto the children. The children become sacrificial lambs for the sins of the parents. Furthermore, a child cannot, in any way whatsoever, transform what is in reality just another in a series of routine sexual relationships into a unique, exclusive and special relationship.

But there is another utterly unfathomable stupidity in the argument that children themselves make a marriage ‘special’.  Any woman can give a man children, and any man can give a woman children. So why bother spending any time finding the ‘right’ person if children have this magical formula for making marriage special? But the facts fly in the face of such nonsense. If children did have some magical power to make marriage ‘special’, why is there such a high divorce rate? I suppose we should blame the children? The fact is the divorce rate is so high because of the casual, recreational attitude to sex which infests Western society. People sleep around, then decide to ‘settle down’ and have children, expecting children to create some blissful ‘marriage’. Instead they discover that they have nothing with which to build anything even remotely special, and the whole sorry mess ends in utter disaster. And the children are left to pay the price.

And this casual, recreational attitude to sex is a product of the liberal/feminist movement who have for far too long peddled the ridiculous fiction that ‘men prefer sexually experienced women’. As Nietzsche said, ‘there is a stupidity in this movement, an almost masculine stupidity,’ which would suggest that even if a man could afford it, he would prefer a used, second-hand car, to a new, unused car. Only a clown would rather risk a used, second-hand car which is likely to break down and cause untold problems, to a new car with a guarantee. If that is true for such an insignificant, inanimate machine whose only purpose is getting us from A to B, why should it not apply to another human being who is going to bear your children, and share your life, home and finances? There are plenty of men, however, who will happily exploit such female stupidity by feigning support for such nonsense, and of course most women are happy to be deceived by such men. As the Preacher said, ‘vanity of vanity, all is vanity’.

All these arguments also reveal a fundamental displacement of the purpose and obligations of marriage. They put the ‘self-fulfilment’ of the parents at the centre of the marriage, with the primary obligation of the parents being the satisfaction of their own wants and ‘needs’. In short, children are perceived as being there to serve the parents, not the other way round. And so children grow up with the perception that their only ‘obligation’ in life is also to serve their own wants and ‘needs’, irrespective of the effect on others. We see this mentality underlying the economic crisis, political and financial corruption and scandals, and the fact that today deception, betrayal and dishonesty are worn as ‘badges of honour’, not symbols of shame.

But the most compelling evidence of the destructive effect pre-marital sex has on marriage is to be seen all around us – children living without fathers, juvenile delinquency and crime, drug abuse, casual violence, the high divorce rate, and the rise of what someone once called ‘blended families’.

The Marriage Ceremony (Wedding)

Before concluding, it would be instructive to consider the nature of the marriage ceremony itself.

The ceremony should be a public statement that the two parties satisfy the conditions that attach to the union of a man and a woman who join together for the purpose of creating a new human life. Those conditions include the important pre-condition that neither party has had sexual relations with any other person, or each other, before making the commitment. It is also a public statement that they will meet the other obligations which attach to the creation of human life. And those obligations relate to both the life they intend to create together, and to the other party to the union. It is also a statement that each party has and will make such sacrifices that such a commitment requires.

It is also a public statement that each party is satisfied that the other party meets the essential conditions and obligations such a commitment demands. And that relates to the pre-marriage relationship between the parties. The reason that pre-marital sex is not conducive to a unique, exclusive and special relationship is that the parties to the intended union have an obligation to satisfy themselves that the other party is someone who understands the obligations such a union requires, and that they have and will make the sacrifices necessary to make the relationship unique, exclusive and special. All this requires time for the parties to fully get to know each other without being diverted by sexual passions. If both parties are satisfied that they are compatible in every other respect, and share the same vision of a future together, the sexual aspects of the relationship will fall into place. Most importantly, it ensures that love is not confused with sexual gratification.

Now what is curious is that the vast majority of weddings do display elements of precisely such public statements, but are mostly a sad charade. Apart from a few ‘celebrities’ seeking publicity for themselves, most women insist on wearing white for their weddings, even if they have had previous sexual relationships with other people. Of course, everyone knows that white signifies purity, meaning virginity. So one wonders who exactly such women are trying to deceive. As often as not, there will even be previous sexual partners among the guests – known or unbeknown to the other party. Then there is the symbolism of the ring, and the honeymoon which should signify the start of the couple’s sexual relationship – the final element of the union between the parties. In short, such ridiculous charades are used as rather pathetic substitutes for the obligations the parties are unable to fulfil. They are a ritual pretence that the parties are something other than what they actually are. The parties delude themselves that the symbolism of the union being unique, exclusive and special can somehow make up for the fact that it is just another in a series of casual, routine and recreational sexual relationships that is as far from a unique, exclusive and special relationship as is possible to get. And it cannot bode well for any type of enterprise that it starts with a deception, even if it is a self-deception – because, most likely, everyone witnessing the charade will know better.

And since most of these charades are played out in a church, it is worthwhile considering one very important aspect of the Christian religion precisely in respect to the creation of life – and it matters not whether the events are understood literally or figuratively. It relates to the Virgin Mary.

The Scriptures portray God as being all knowing and all powerful. However, even with such reputed power to render clean that which is unclean, He still required a virgin to conceive and carry His son Jesus. If that is not a powerful statement of the importance of purity for the creation of human life, then I don’t what is.

Then there is also the birth of Jesus. Like the wedding charade being used as a device to give a marriage something it does not have, we find the same with the birth of a child. The parents want the best new clothes, cots and prams they can possibly afford for their new arrival. No second-hand sheets and pillows. The parents will even spend vast sums of money making baby’s new room ‘special’. But is it not odd that where baby is going to sleep once born has to be so ‘special’, whereas where baby is conceived is unimportant? Again, it is simply another rather pathetic indulgence in self-delusion.

Contrast that to the Biblical account of the conception and birth of Jesus. Where Jesus was conceived was of the utmost importance, it had to be a virgin. But a trough (manger) for a bed was fine once He was born. The symbolism is that a woman’s womb is the ‘Temple of God’, and the ‘Cradle of Life’. Because, as the great Jewish philosopher, Philo Judaeus, said, ‘The nature of one’s parents appears to be something on the confines between immortal and mortal essences. Of mortal essence, on account of their relationship to men and also to other animals, and likewise of the perishable nature of the body. And of immortal essence, by reason of the similarity of the act of generation to God the Father of the universe.’

It is irrelevant whether one believes in a God or not. The fact is, when a man a woman join together in a physical act the natural consequence of which is the creation of a new life, they are acting in a god-like capacity. They create a new unique human being. And in that sense they are acting in an ‘immortal’ capacity by perpetuating human life – human life, moreover, that is in their own image.

And there is another rather ugly element to those marriage ceremonies that take place in Christian churches where the parties are faking ‘purity’. A majority want a reading from I Corinthians 13. So they distort and abuse those exhortations about love not being ‘jealous’; that it ‘suffereth long’, and ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things’ and, of course, ‘thinketh no evil’. It is like a sort of statement of intention by one of the parties to the marriage that the other party is going to be deceived, but that they should not get ‘jealous’, and should simply ‘believe’ everything they are told and ‘hope’ it is true, ‘endure’ and ‘suffer long’ any and all indiscretions, and ‘think no evil’ is going on’. In short, ‘trust me and don’t ask too many questions about what I’ve been up to’. And, of course, all this believing and trusting stuff should apply retrospectively.

So the marriage ceremony itself should be a reflection of the conditions and sacrifices necessary to make a marriage unique, exclusive and special. It should be what it is held out to be, and not a ridiculous charade pandering to the vanity of those taking part in it.


Until the true meaning, and essential ingredients, of marriage are recognised and promoted, we should not expect any change to the relentless disintegration of society, with the attendant social and financial consequences.

Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope out there. Some judges in a few states of America have started linking marriage to ‘procreation’. That is a welcome development. If state legislatures followed suite, that would be a further positive development. But there should be a note of caution here: government should not seek to oversee the minutia of human relationships. A change in the way marriage is perceived has to come from a reflective awakening among people themselves. As a strong advocate of individual freedom, I believe that human beings are also free to make a mess of their lives by modelling their behaviour on the primitive carnal behaviour of ‘brutes’ – but that freedom does not extend to demanding that someone else pay to clean up the mess.

As a final note, I should make clear that I do not write this as one committed to one or other of the faiths which prohibit pre-marital sex. Neither do I write as one who had the intelligence to recognise the fundamental importance of sexual abstinence before marriage, or the courage to resist the temptations and pressures of primitive instincts. I write it in regret. You could say – ‘not everyone who writes about virtue is virtuous; some of us write about virtue because we have not been virtuous.’

Joseph BH McMillan

Copyright © Joseph BH McMillan All Rights Reserved

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