"A couple could just decide not to stay in a marriage anymore when the temperament or taste that motivated them in the first place is no longer there."
Since the beginning of human history, men and women have lived in families, despite the changes in cultural and societal realities. Simply put, marriage exists to bring together for life a man and a woman to be father and mother to any children that their union produces. This is a fact that is true across cultures, religions and time.
This anthropological truth about marriage has evolved into the generally accepted norms of marriage – exclusivity and permanence. For this reason, society recognizes marriage as a way of encouraging men and women to take responsibility for the well-being of children. As a result, it becomes incumbent on the State to recognize, protect and promote marriage in order to strengthen society.
Therefore, for the State to disregard the exclusivity and permanence of conjugal life would effectively redefine the nature of marriage, and distance marriage from the needs of society.
These questions are at the heart of the debate about the introduction of divorce in the Philippines – what is marriage, and why does marriage matter for public policy.
It must be underscored that primitive human societies have evolved from the growth of families. Marriage has served as the fundamental building block of human civilization. Since, marriage as a natural institution predates organized governments, its intrinsic nature and ends cannot be arbitrarily altered by simple legislation. In fact, the State recognizes but it does not create marriage. The act of the government to regulate the civil nature of marriage is rooted in the need to ensure that children – and therefore society – will be raised by their parents in one family, where both parents are committed to each other and to their children for life.
Upholding the nature of marriage does not in any way limit the rights of adults to make choices about their relationships. However, while everyone has the freedom to live as they choose, this does not include the right to redefine marriage for everyone else.
What has muddled the issue about marriage is the growing revisionist view that puts greater importance on the desires and emotions of adults rather than the needs of the children. What people fail to understand is that this reduces marriage to a mere system to recognize emotional bonds or to accord legal privileges devoid of its complementary responsibilities.
Introducing divorce would consequently introduce a “way out” of the permanence of marriage, therefore replacing one of its essential requisites with simple emotional intensity. Without permanence, it would difficult to guarantee the stability of family life, and would allow, as a matter of policy, for parents to evade the supposed lifetime conjugal responsibilities of parenthood. Delinking marriage from family life would force the State to intervene more often than needed, thus subjecting marriage to whatever emotional bond the State defines it to be.
Permanence, however, is far from being a mere accident of marriage. The marital act between a man and a woman also allows for the procreation of new life, so marriage itself calls for a permanent and exclusive commitment.
If marriage was just a matter of intense emotional regard, the norms surrounding it would make no sense. If marriage was all about the emotional relationship of a man and woman, then there would be no need to make it permanent – or even make it exclusive to two persons. If human taste and temperament would be the measure of a marriage, then would there be a need to link it with family life, or to shape it with the demands of parenthood. In fact, if marriage were all about the intense emotions of two persons, then there might be no need for the State to recognize and regulate marriage at all.
But why is there a need for the State to recognize marriage? Because there is no other institution that benefits society in the same way that marriage does. While human procreation may not be limited to a marital relationship, there is no path for children to physical, moral, and cultural maturity – no path to personal responsibility – without the delicate and stable process of ongoing care and supervision brought about by marriage and family life. Marriage therefore is not simply a question of a relationship between two persons, but is defined to a greater extent by the public purpose that it serves. The State has an interest in marriage and the norms surrounding it only because they serve the public good.
The permanence of marriage ensures that children will at least be cared for by their mother and father until they reach maturity. It also provides kinship structure for interaction across generations as elderly parents are cared for by their adult children and as grandparents help to care for their grandchildren.
Proponents of divorce assert that it should be provided for those who wish to avail of it, and for those who disagree, not to. But that statement simply misses the point. If the law attempts to distort the true nature of marriage, it would make it harder for people to live out the demands of marriage because without the norms surrounding it, marriage would be reduced to just being an intense emotional feeling. The undeniable sad consequence is that introducing divorce will only make terminating marriages easier and more convenient, without regard for the demands of family life. This means a couple could just decide not to stay in a marriage anymore when the temperament, or taste that motivated them in the first place is no longer there, or that there is no more reason of principle to demand that the married couple continue to do so.
Insofar as society weakens the rational foundation for marriage, fewer people would live them out, and fewer people would reap the benefits of marriage as an institution. This would affect not only spouses, but also the well-being of their children and as a whole, the future of society and our nation.