Today we continue to eavesdrop on a conversation about marriage, begun on Monday.
Socrates: So Bob, when last we spoke, we were talking about whether it’s important for children to be raised by both a mother and a father.
Bob: Yes, that’s right. And I pointed out that parenting skills are not the issue when it comes to what children need; obviously two men or two women can have great parenting skills.
Socrates:That’s true, I think. Would you say that fathering and mothering is primarily about certain qualities or skills, or rather about a relationship?
Bob: What do you mean?
Socrates: A mom and a dad can both change a diaper equally well, for example—that’s a skill, and, come to think of it, a babysitter can do that just as well as a parent. But if fathering and mothering are about a relationship, then it’s not so much that a father does different things than a mother does, but rather that moms and dads do similar or even identical things differently.
Bob: Oh, okay. I would say the relationship then, if you put it that way. A father relates to his child in a different way than a mother does, and vice versa—even if they share certain skills.
Socrates: Do you think that’s a good thing?
Bob: Yes, I do.
Socrates: So you would agree, then, that speaking about fathers and mothers always implies unique relationships within the family: father to mother, father to child, mother to child, father to mother to child?
Bob: That makes sense, but I don’t understand how this relates to the question about marriage.
Socrates: You agree that the father-child relationship and the mother-child relationship are different, right?
Socrates: And that having both a mother and a father is the best thing for a child?
Bob: Sure, I would say that.
Socrates: Okay, then I would just point out that your definition of marriage doesn’t show that.
Bob: You mean that if marriage is, as I said, about “two adults in a sexual relationship who commit to live together and have a family together,” then the father-mother-child relationship doesn’t necessarily figure into the discussion, because the emphasis is on adults?
Socrates:That does seem to follow. But if marriage is and can only be a union of a man and a woman, and the child comes from that union, then the father-mother-child relationship would be really important to the discussion.
Bob: Are you saying that when people talk about marriage today, they may be talking about a different thing?
Socrates: Yes, you can put it that way. The meaning of marriage matters, and many times that meaning is presumed but not examined.
Bob: How so?
Socrates: If marriage is the permanent, faithful, and fruitful union of a man and a woman, it is the only reality that truly unites for life a man and a woman and any children conceived of their union as a family. If, on the other hand, marriage is simply about adults and about validating their own commitments, attachments, and desires—however well intended they may be—this is a different understanding.
Bob: But don’t most people agree that marriage is mostly about adults loving each other?
Socrates: That’s not clear, since many people are not asking the right question; they ask why certain couples can’t get married instead of asking what marriage is. We all should be concerned about asking the right question and arriving at the correct answer. Because, as you agreed, every child has a mother and a father, it would seem to follow that promoting the correct understanding of marriage, not censoring it, is really important for children and for all of us.
Bob: Interesting. I’ll get back to you.
FAQ: What is Marriage?