Sunday, March 04, 2012

Samesex marriage: analogy, metaphor or oxymoron?

If you accept the ancient, archetypal, classical, dominant and (until ten minutes ago) commonsense definition of marriage as the union of male and female, then two males or two females "marrying" must be, if taken literally, an oxymoron.

Yet in our culture, marriage without children is not thought of as a tragedy and is sometimes the choice of the couple, a choice that the medical technology of contraception has given them. And where people do have children, especially among the culture-directing classes, they have very few of them. Consequently, being a mother or a father to one or two is not as identity-transforming as raising five or seven. And divorce, while messy, expensive and grim, and life-destroying, is easy to get.

So "marriage" does not mean the same thing to our contemporaries that it meant generations ago. (Discounting certain kinds of upper classes and the Latin cultures).

Consequently, seeing two men --or two women, more often-- who have a personal domestic partnership does not seem so un-marriage-like these days.

(On an archetypal level, IMHO, it does not fit, but that is a perspective too rarefied to have any impact).

I was wondering this morning if samesex marriage might be seen as a metaphor or as an analogue. In the Thomist tradition about religious language, this is an important distinction between two kinds of likeness. It is most easily explained by example.

To say that God is my Rock is a metaphor. Why? Because such a statement, while true in a poetic sense, is untrue in the literal sense. It may be both affirmed and denied without contradiction. But to say that God is good is an analogy. Any human language applied to God is imperfect, but this kind of God-talk can only be true, no matter what the sense. You cannot say God is good and God is not good without contradiction. Metaphors are true in a "yes-and-no" way. Analogues are true in a "yes, but" way.

Now marriage is a human thing, not God. So the rules are not isomorphic. Two men can have a close, intimate and lifelong connection that is emotional and physical, understanding each other as life-partners, a dyadic bond unlike any other in their lives and sharing some important aspects with marriage. Is their relationship metaphoric marriage or analogical marriage?

Or does it remain, despite the linguistics, an oxymoron?

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