Other Purposes of Marriage
Posted November 9, 2003
While I certainly agree that procreation and child-rearing are very important reasons for the institution of marriage (See The Purpose of Marriage, by Arjunanatha das), I do not believe that they are the only purposes served. Marriage is a crucial means of sense control for those who cannot practice complete celibacy, and it also engages the underlying human need for intimate relations and companionship.
While marriage may not be relevant for sterile, intersex, or same-sex couples in terms of procreation, it is still highly relevant for them in terms of sense control (committing to a single partner), human intimacy and companionship, and in some instances child-rearing (through adoption). For these reasons, I strongly feel that all people should be encouraged to marry when they cannot follow strict celibacy.
We have seen the disastrous consequences of coerced celibacy and artificial renunciation in our movement. During the normal course of life, the householder stage is almost always required, especially in this age. Srila Prabhupada states:
This practice [celibacy] is very essential for the student's advancement in spiritual life, but at the moment such brahmacari (unmarried celibate) life is not at all possible. The social construction of the world has changed so much that there is no possibility of one's practicing celibacy from the beginning of student life. (BG 8.11, purport)
This statement is just as true for sterile, intersex or homosexual people as it is for others. We should always encourage celibacy, but for those who cannot maintain this esteemed platform, the next best thing will obviously be marriage, a practice that must also be encouraged. We should always promote sense control whenever possible and to whatever extent the person is able to achieve. There is no question that faithfully committing to a single partner in marriage is far better socially, morally and spiritually than reckless sexual abandon.
No devotee should ever be faced with the ultimatum of "celibacy...or nothing!" Such an extreme policy is sure to produce bad results on many different levels. For instance, within modern society the consequence of not promoting monogamy and marriage among the gay community is that such people become promiscuous and spread dangerous, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Just imagine how promiscuous heterosexual people would be if they were not encouraged or even allowed to marry. In ISKCON, gay devotees who cannot follow celibacy are generally left out in the cold, with no practical guidance or community support in terms of doing the next best thing--finding a Krsna conscious partner and getting married.
As far as I know, ISKCON has no policy barring sterile or middle-aged couples from marrying, even though they will definitely not be bearing children. Where I live there were recently two marriages of non-procreative, middle-aged couples, one from ISKCON and the other disciples of Srila Narayana Maharaja, who were blessed by him personally. The devotees of both groups seemed to understand that even though these couples would not be bearing children, it would nevertheless be more beneficial for their spiritual lives to be in a married situation rather than "out on their own."
Why this same compassion and human understanding cannot be extended to intersex or same-sex couples is beyond me, but I suspect that it is due to a lack of familiarity with gays and lesbians as real people--human beings who share the same basic emotional need for marriage and companionship.
Sterile, intersex and homosexual people make up less than 10 per cent of any given population, so there is no basis for the fear (phobia) that allowing them to marry will "ruin" or detrimentally affect normal procreative marriage in any way. If anything, it will strengthen the institution by encouraging it equally across the board.
There are always exceptions to the general rule, and we see that even in Vedic times there were many different varieties and levels of marriages including religious ("brahma-vivaha"), secular ("gandharva-vivaha") and even barbaric ("asura-vivaha"). I don't see any reason why sterile, intersex or homosexual couples should be prevented from marrying, especially at the secular level. (Remember--we are talking about civil marriage laws, not religious ones). We should not be so rigid or inflexible in our definition of marriage that we withdraw its benefits from those who vary from the norm or do not meet our ideal standards and beliefs.
For many different types of people, marriage is an important step
toward sense control, morality and spiritual life. This is true whether
they are Eastern or Western, religious or agnostic, black or white, gay or
straight, intersexed or anatomically normal, and so on. Marriage and other
means of sense control should be encouraged and promoted on every possible
level, and this will ultimately be conducive for progression on the path to