Marriage is dead. Long live Marriage!

It’s over in Ireland. The Irish people, by something close to a 60 – 40 majority popular vote have redefined marriage out of existence in their State Constitution and have replaced it with a shallow charade which they will now call marriage.

Marriage however, that primeval bond between a male and a female, still exists – and will exist so long as a man and a woman come together, as did Adam and Eve, to beget children. Long live marriage.

But the reality now is that the future of natural marriage, the conjugal union of man and woman, in the story of mankind will be even more fraught with difficulty than it has been in the past. It has never had an easy passage – either because of the folly and selfishness of individuals or the pandering of their public representatives to that same folly and selfishness. The first big compromise on the part of the latter was divorce. Now we have this. Ireland’s story is just one piece of a global jigsaw – symbolic for all sorts of reasons, but still just a piece. The New York Times now triumphantly declares that Ireland has advanced to the vanguard of this deconstructive process.

Ireland’s electorate has now robbed natural marriage of its constitutional protection in the Irish State. The laws relating to family, children, and all those things which the State’s endorsement of marriage framed and supported are essentially cut adrift in a sea which will be stormy, treacherous and at times destructive of society’s common good and the well-being of individuals. Because of this foolish action, which they thought was just a matter of changing a name, broadening a definition to include something else, they are complicit in an act which is an attempt to change human nature itself. As one opponent of the decision described it, “grotesque nonsense

Watch this space.

How did this all happen? We know the short-term story well. For an American and global perspective read After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the ’90s. This was a book published in 1989 by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen which argues that after the gay liberation phase of the 1970s and 1980s, gay rights groups should adopt more professional public relations techniques to convey their message. This they did with a success which all marvel at. The blueprint was then applied to Ireland

For the Irish story, read how Atlantic Philanthropies promoted and funded the infiltration of Ireland’s state and charitable agencies to achieve yesterday’s referendum victory.

But the origin of this social crisis – John Waters, Irish newspaper columnist of the first rank, described it as a social catastrophe – goes back centuries, indeed almost a millennium. Essentially it all began when sentiment and human emotions began to gain the upper hand over human reason.

In The Allegory of Love, C. S. Lewis would have us believe, very convincingly, that a radical shift in human consciousness and culture began with the sudden appearance of what we call “courtly love” in 11th century Languedoc. Lewis explored this theme and thesis in this book, one of his masterworks, perhaps his greatest.

The dominant sentiment he explores is love. But it is love of a highly specialised sort, “whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love.” This all began with the love poetry specific to that time and that place, the love poetry of the Troubadours. The characteristics of this sentiment, Lewis tells us, and its systematic coherence throughout this poetry as a whole, “are so striking that they easily lead to a fatal misunderstanding. We are tempted to treat ‘courtly love’ as a mere episode in literary history – an episode that we have finished with…”

But we have not finished with it. He sees an unmistakable continuity connecting these love songs with the love poetry of the later Middle Ages, and thence, through Petrarch and many others, with that of the present day. If the thing at first escapes our notice, this is because we are so familiar with the erotic tradition of modern Europe that we mistake it for something natural and universal and therefore do not inquire into its origins. As Lewis says, it seems to us natural that love should be the commonest theme of serious imaginative literature. He looks back at literature preceding this southern French explosion, from the earlier Middle Ages back into antiquity, and finds that “what we took for ‘nature’ is really a special state of affairs, which will probably have an end, and which certainly had a beginning in eleventh-century Provence.” He continues:

It seems – or it seemed to us till lately – a natural thing that love (under certain conditions) should be regarded as a noble and ennobling passion: it is only if we imagine ourselves trying to explain this doctrine to Aristotle, Virgil, St. Paul, or the author of Beowulf, that we become aware how far from natural it is…

French poets, in the eleventh century, discovered or invented, or were the first to express, that

romantic species of passion which English poets were still writing about in the nineteenth. They effected a change which has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched…

Compared with this revolution the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature. There can be no mistake about the novelty of romantic love: our only difficulty is to imagine in all its bareness the mental world that existed before its coming – to wipe out of our minds, for a moment, nearly all that makes the food both of modern sentimentality and modern cynicism.

The death of marriage, as we knew it in our language and our laws, came late in the evolution of our culture, infected as it was, slowly but surely by this creeping dominance of sentimentality over reason. First came the advance of divorce. Then a sizeable proportion of couples abandoned marriage in the name of love – which was all that mattered to them. Cohabitation became a new norm. Then came the demand for social acceptance of homosexual love. Its lobby demanded that marriage be redefined to provide them with society’s badge of acceptance – even while society’s concept of what marriage really is was already in its death throes as a result of earlier and successive redefinitions.

To come to grips with and understand this long revolutionary process, Lewis tells us that we need to

conceive a world emptied of that ideal of ‘happiness’ – a happiness grounded on successful romantic love – which still supplies the motive of our popular fiction. In ancient literature love seldom rises above the levels of merry sensuality or domestic comfort, except to be treated as a tragic madness, an ἄτη which plunges otherwise sane people (usually women) into crime and disgrace. Such is the love of Medea, of Phaedra, of Dido; and such the love from which maidens pray that the gods may protect them.

At the other end of the scale we find the comfort and utility of a good wife acknowledged:

Odysseus loves Penelope as he loves the rest of his home and possessions, and Aristotle rather grudgingly admits that the conjugal relation may now and then rise to the same level as the virtuous friendship between good men. But this has plainly very little to do with ‘love’ in the modern or medieval sense; and if we turn to ancient love-poetry proper, we shall be even more disappointed.

Plato will not be reckoned an exception by those who have read him with care… Those who call themselves Platonists at the Renaissance may imagine a love which reaches the divine without abandoning the human and becomes spiritual while remaining also carnal; but they do not find this in Plato. If they read it into him, this is because they are living, like ourselves, in the tradition which began in the eleventh century.

So what has all this to do with the Irish referendum? This: the Irish “Yes to Equality” rode home to victory on the on the shoulders of this very same “love” which emanated from the songs of the Troubadours of the 11th century. It wasn’t that the young and old who voted Yes to “love and equality” had been reading courtly love poetry. No, they had been fed on the artefacts of 18th and 19th century romanticism, morphing in the 20th and 21st century into a voraciously consumed diet of pop culture expressed through sentimental Hollywood movies and ultra-sentimental pop songs – not to mention soap-operas and the chic lit of Maeve Binchy, Cecelia Aherne et al.

The current West End production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is moving to Dublin for a very short season next month. I watched some clips of the 1950s Hollywood version the night before the referendum. I love the show. But while watching it I had premonitions of what was going to happen the next day. How could any generation, I thought, fed on this and much inferior sentimental material do otherwise that vote for “love” over all the other values at stake.

The helplessly smitten Julie (Shirley Jones) sang:

Common sense may tell you

That the ending will be sad

And now’s the time to break and run away

But what’s the use of wond’rin’

If the ending will be sad

He’s your fella and you love him

There’s nothing more to say.

There is nothing more to say, for the moment. This excepted: the crown is in the hands of a usurper but the King lives, and always will, albeit in the shadows. The marriage of man and woman is as indestructible as is human nature itself. No tyranny, not even a democratic one, can destroy it.

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