We often hear arguments for and against the idea that redefinition would weaken marriage and threaten religious freedom. But it is a point lost on both sides of this debate that the social prevalence of the revisionist view would make things harder on single people: As marriage is defined simply as the most valuable or only kind of deep communion, it becomes harder to find emotional and spiritual intimacy in nonmarital friendships.
Consider in this connection Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates’s admission that he had until recently never considered the possibility of deep nonromantic friendship. Reading about historical examples of it “actually opened up some portion of my own imagination—the possibility of feeling passionate, but not sexual, about someone who I wasn’t related to,” he confessed. “‘Passion’ isn’t a word that often enters into the description [of] friendships these days. And yet [it’sj present in the writings of previous generations”—when people recognized marriage as the paradigm of one type of intimacy among others, and did not simply equate intimacy with marriage.
But the revisionist view tends to do just that. Revisionists cannot define marriage in terms of real bodily union or family life, so they tend to define it instead by its degree or intensity. Marriage is simply your closest relationship, offering the most of the one basic currency of intimacy: shared emotion and experience. As a federal judge recently put it in a case striking down California’s conjugal marriage law, “‘marriage’ is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults.”
The more we absorb this assumption, the less we value deep friendship in its own right. Self-disclosure, unembarrassed reliance, self-forgetfulness, extravagant expressions of affection, and other features of companionship come to seem gauche—or even feel like unwelcome impositions—outside romance and marriage. We come to see friendships as mere rest stops on the way hack to family life. It becomes harder to share experiences with our friend that we could just as well have shared with our spouse, without seeming to detract from our marriage.
The conjugal [i.e. traditional] view, by contrast, gives marriage a definite shape, as ordered to true bodily union and thus to family life. If the revisionist view sees single people as just settling for less, the conjugal view leaves room for different forms of communion, each with its own distinctive scale and form of companionship and support. It keeps from making marriage totalizing: it clarifies what we owe our spouses in marital love; what we owe it to them not to share with others; and what we could share now with them, now with others, without any compromise of our marriage.
The conjugal view’s restoration could thus help us recover the companionate value of friendship: that bond which King David called “more wonderful to me than the love of women,” which Augustine described as “two souls in one body”; a bond all the sweeter for being chosen, but no less demanding for those who know its depths.
Quoted from Girgis, S., Anderson, R. T., & George, R. P. (2012). What is marriage?: Man and woman : a defense. New York: Encounter Books, pp. 65-66. Emphasis added.