The erosion of a coherent and shared vision for marriage in America continues. Nationally, the decision of the President to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), constitutes a shift in the position of the Federal Government. Locally in the Washington DC area, (already enduring a City-Council imposed redefinition of marriage), the Maryland legislature is debating a proposal to redefine marriage to include Gay Unions.
We have previously discussed on this blog the long road that has gotten us here. (eg: HERE). The fact is, the traditional and biblical understanding of marriage has been eroding for over fifty years in this nation. Most people, even Church going Christians, do not have a vigorous understanding of Marriage that is either biblical or rooted in Natural Law.
Because of this, advocates of so-called “gay marriage” have been able to successfully shift the conversation to a question of civil rights and bigotry. The President, in his order to the Justice Department to stand down from defending DOMA, stated that he thinks DOMA is an impermissible form of sexual orientation discrimination. Never mind that such a judgment is not his to make, that he is neither the judicial nor the legislative branch of Government. The point here is that the concept of “gay marriage” as a civil right has won the day with the President, and frankly with many Americans. In so acting the President more than suggests that supporters of traditional marriage are guilty of supporting unjust discrimination. To this the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Conference has this to say:
This decision represents an abdication of the responsibility of the Executive Branch to carry out its constitutional obligation to ensure that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed. It is also a grave affront to the millions of Americans who both reject unjust discrimination and affirm the unique and inestimable value of marriage as between one man and one woman. Support for actual marriage is not bigotry, but instead an eminently reasonable, common judgment affirming the foundational institution of civil society. Any suggestion by the government that such a judgment represents “discrimination” is a serious threat to the religious liberty of marriage supporters nationwide.  .
The statement is well worded and forceful. And yet it remains true that It is clearly an uphill battle for the Church to reassert a vision for traditional marriage. Seeing the issue as a matter of civil rights, and not about the nature and purpose of marriage, is increasingly common in the public discussion and explains why even many Church-going Catholics support so called “gay marriage.”
Finding our way back – Part of the essential work we must do in re-establishing a coherent vision for marriage rooted in tradition, Natural Law and, for believers, Scripture, is to restore a proper reference point so that all the pieces of the discussion make sense.
And what is this proper reference point? Simply this, Marriage is about children and what is best for them. It is not essentially about civil rights. It is not merely about two adults being happy and fulfilled. It is essentially about children and what is best for them. If we use this as our starting point a lot of other things begin to fall in place:
1. That Marriage should be a stable and lasting union – Children require 18-20 years to come to maturity. A stable environment is obviously best for them. The modern scenario, in too many cases, is that children are shifted back and forth between parents who are often divorced or never married in the first place. One weekend here, another weekend there, summers here, summers there. The instability is terrible for children. Parents should seek, above all to resolve their differences and stay married.
Stable homes, even though imperfect (and all homes ARE imperfect) are an important way that children learn virtues and values such as trust, commitment, forgiveness, toleration, generosity, conflict resolution, love, loyalty, and integrity. A stable home, even if imperfect, inculcates in children a sense of true marriage and family, knits together important family ties at a multigenerational level, and sets them up to also form stronger families themselves. They also learn proper dynamics between men and women, how to treat and regard a member of the opposite sex, and so forth
Those who simply dismiss the traditional and stable family as no better or worse than other arrangements are ignoring what long experience has taught the human family in this regard. Scripture affirms the value of a stable family when it speaks of a husband clinging to his wife (Gen 2:24 Matt 19:1ff inter alia) and when Jesus forbids divorce (Matt 5, Matt 19, Mark 10 inter al). Marriage is about what is best for children. And stability, as a general rule, is what is best.
2. That Marriage should be heterosexual – Though, obviously heterosexuality is necessary for the actual procreation of children, this is not the main point here, for many Gays argue that they can adopt. The central point here is not the mere pro-creation of children, but what is best in raising them.
And the fact is, that children are best raised with a father and mother present. In terms of simple human formation, children are best raised with male and female influence. There are things that a father has to say and model for his children that only a father can properly and best do. There are things that a mother has to say and model for her children that only a mother can properly and best do. This is what nature herself provides in linking pro-creation, necessarily, to a father and a mother. Two fathers, or two mothers, or just one parent present, are not ideal situations for children. As a general rule it will always be best for children to be raised in a traditional family setting.
There are times were death or illnesses intervene. There are exceptional circumstances where a certain father or mother is unfit. But the general and common rule is that a traditional heterosexual marriage is ideal for children. Again, it is what nature herself has set forth, and for believers, it is also what God has set forth. In the rarer cases where a parent is missing from the family, it is essential for the remaining parent to provide opportunities for children to interact in a proper way with mentors of the missing sex. This can be accomplished most frequently with aunts, uncles, grandparents and the like.
But the bottom line is that traditional heterosexual marriage is optimal for children and their human formation. All other arrangements are less than optimal and to the degree possible children should always be raised in the optimal setting that Nature, and Nature’s God has set forth.
In adoption situations, married heterosexual couples should enjoy priority over single parent settings and homosexual couples. This is what is best for children. In terms of infant adoptions there is a usually a waiting list and these infants are thus best placed in the homes of qualified, married, heterosexual couples. This is not bigotry. This is what is best for children. As for older children, there is the sad reality that it is harder to find couples to adopt. But here too, married heterosexual couples should generally speaking be favored by that fact.
Again, the question is, what is best for the child. Not, how and whether certain adults may be offended by perceived bigotry, or whether the approach is politically correct or not. In the end we want what is best for children.
3. That traditional, heterosexual marriage should enjoy the favor of law and recognition – One of the great battle lines in the marriage debate has been that married couples do enjoy certain favors under law such as tax credits, inheritance scenarios, hospital visitation etc. Most fair minded people see room for some give on these sorts of things. On a case by case basis, it may make some sense to allow, under civil law, a greater capacity for Americans to legally enact a wider variety of arrangements for power of attorney, inheritance, tax issues and the like.
However, if what is best for children remains our starting point, then it also follows that traditional, heterosexual marriage should enjoy some legitimate favors. Strengthening traditional marriage is a worthwhile goal for public policy. It may be of value that some tax breaks that make it easier to form and keep traditional families. Granted, the degree of such proactive policies is debatable. Even among supporters of traditional marriage there are many who have a more libertarian preference when it comes to ANY government involvement.
But in the end, whether it is through tax breaks, or other laws, or simply through special recognition, a strong support and advocacy of traditional marriage is proper and good. For, whatever strengthens the traditional family is good for children. Whatever we can do as a society to uphold traditional marriage, insist on fidelity, limit divorce and give special recognition and honor to these families is good for children.
And this also is why simply calling other unions “marriage” is problematic. To use the same term “marriage” for traditional marriages and also for gay unions implies an equality and identical reality which is not true. Gay unions are not on the same footing with traditional marriage since they are not what is best for children. Traditional marriage is what is best for children and it should enjoy an elevated and special status on account of this. Using the same word for the two blurs all this and traditional marriage loses the favor it should have and the recognition is it should receive.
Enough said for now. But note again the fundamental point: Marriage is about children and what is best for them. When children and what is best for them is our starting point, traditional marriage is clearly a best and proper. This starting point not only challenges advocates of “gay marriage” but also challenges advocates of traditional (actual) marriage. For, it sometimes happens that those in traditional marriage do not always have what is best for children in mind either. Too often couples do not work at their marriage and overcome difficulties. Too quickly many rush to divorces courts. What is best for children too often takes a back seat throughout our culture.