Marriage, according to one 1st century rabbi with radical views on the subject (Jesus of Nazareth), is a new creation forged between a man and a woman that only God can “separate” with the death of one party. When asked if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” the answer was that God, who from the beginning made humans in two genders, male and female, established that, when they “joined” one another – presumably in common life as well as sexual intimacy – “the two shall become one flesh….Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Such a statement begs all sorts of questions. For example: why can’t we divorce?
The answer is painful and simple: because “from the beginning it was not so.” Jesus makes an exception for sexual immorality but, the bottom line is, “whoever divorces his wife… and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
Even the disciples wonder aloud if maybe it isn’t better not to get married. The likelihood of being caught in a difficult situation with no escape hatch is, well, according to current divorce statistics in the US, about 41% for a first marriage. Those are painful odds.
But that’s Jesus’ position on the subject and it is also the position that the Catholic Church maintains, at least doctrinally. In practice, maybe, not so much. As Jesus notes, we sheep have hard hearts.
Not that any of us hard-hearted people really care but it is interesting to see if there’s anyone in the current crop of 2016 presidential candidates who sides with Jesus on this. What do Trump, Cruz, Clinton, and Sanders believe about divorce, remarriage, and same-sex “marriage,” which are topics de jour?
This examination must make a distinction between personal life and public philosophy. In their personal lives, Bernie Sanders has divorced one wife, fathered a child out of wedlock with a second woman, and is married to a third. Donald Trump is on wife number three and has openly boasted of enjoying a robust extramarital life. Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton, by contrast, appear to have been faithful to their respective spouses. There are lots of rumors about those marriages but, in the end, who knows?
As for campaign positions, divorce is a non-issue. No one is talking about it, at all.
Same-sex “marriage,” on the other hand, has received a good bit of discussion. The two Democrats, Sanders and Clinton, understand it to be a right; the two Republicans, Trump and Cruz, say they would work to challenge the Supreme Court decision.
Cruz approaches the issue like a lawyer, framing it in relation to the law. At a 2015 “Rally for Religious Liberty”, Cruz said the issue of same-sex marriage is “not the law of the land. It’s not the Constitution. It’s not legitimate, and we will stand and fight.” He has also said that he thinks the definition of marriage should be “left to the states and left to the people.”[i]
Trump eschews nuance and simply retorts: “I think I’m evolving, and I think I’m a very fair person, but I have been for traditional marriage. I am for traditional marriage, I am for a marriage between a man and a woman.”[ii] He has also pointed out, on occasion, that Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have not always been the paragons of conservatism they might have been expected to be. Fair enough.
So, is there a candidate who reflects Jesus’ views about marriage? There are certainly a couple who don’t. And, as Donald Trump points out, those who do claim to have a spotty history.
Perhaps the politics of the issue are just so difficult to navigate that Jesus himself couldn’t steer the United States from its “hard-hearted” stance.