One of the most common and quickest traps and which most of us fall in the marriage debate about recognizing same-sex couples is that we allow the conversation to center around the couple themselves, that is, to center on the adults. But intrinsically marriage as an institution is not fundamentally about adults, it is about children.
William May recently wrote a short book on this matter: Getting the Marriage Question Right: a guide for effective dialogue. I want to summarize one of the key points he makes.
Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other, and any children born from the union. Marriage takes its fundamental structure and moral imperatives based on what is just and right for children. Hence, marriage must be heterosexual, in order that children may be conceived and born. Marriage must also be a stable and lasting union between those parents because this is what is right and just for children, namely that they have a right to be raised, formed, and influenced by their father and a mother.
But the problem with most understandings of marriage today is that they are adult-centric. That is to say, they focus only on the rights and happiness of the adults involved. Most people have little concept of marriage today as anything other than two adults being happy for as long as they please. And if they do have any children it isn’t because that is what marriage is about, it’s only because that makes the adults happy. Or so the thinking goes. And thus, because adults have a right to be happy, they have a right to get married, and if they are unhappy, they have a right to divorce. Basically, the modern concept of marriage is that it’s all about the adults.
Now, to be clear, this “all about the adults” mentality has been a problem in the heterosexual community long before the homosexual community stepped forward to demand recognition of their unions, as a “marriage.” And that is why it is so hard for heterosexuals to answer the demands of the homosexual community, and why so many heterosexuals are themselves confused. After all, what, really, is one to say to the homosexual community if all that marriage is, is two adults being happy for as long as they please?
And that is why we have to get the marriage conversation right.
The central point must remain this, that marriage, its structure, and how we understand it, must be seen from the standpoint of was is fundamentally just and and right for children. Any divergence from this central insight, leads us down dead ends and endless arguments about the rights and feelings of adults, and their need for recognition.
Actions which served to deprive children of their right to live in a married, stable, two parent family, with their own father and mother, are acts of injustice. Fornication which places children in danger of being killed by abortion, or of being raised in single-parent settings is a potential act of injustice toward children, and actual injustice if they are conceived. Adultery which violates and endangers the sacred bond of marriage and weakens it, is also an injustice toward children as well as adults. Divorce which intentionally destroys the marriage bond, also deprives children of what they justly deserve, a father and a mother who have made commitments, stick to those commitments, and work out their differences.
Other philosophies and lifestyles which weaken the institution of marriage are also injustices toward children, philosophies such as cohabitation, no-fault divorce, and giving legal recognition to same-sex unions. These philosophies and practices, because they weaken the institution of marriage, or to lose its meaning, are harmful to children, and an injustice toward them.
Children are not served by being born into a society where marriage is anything adults say it should be. A fundamental and intrinsic meaning of marriage is the raising of children and what is best for them.
We must do everything in our culture to regain this starting point when we consider marriage. To fail to do this at any level remains an ongoing social injustice, as well as personal injustice to children.
How is it unjust, you may ask? Because not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many social ills.
The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
71% of poor families are not married.
Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
2 times more likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
33% more likely to drop out of school,
3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
And twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves. [*]
The subject a child to these odds is a social injustice, whether intentionally as some proudly do by having children outside of marriage on purpose, or unintentionally through unchaste behavior committed in weakness.
Further it is clear that heterosexual complementarity is what nature provides and what we should justly provide our children for their psychological and sociological development. A father and mother have unique and essential things to supply to the rearing of their children that a single parent or same sex parents cannot give. To intentionally deprive children of this is unjust. To weaken traditional marriage by the “anything is marriage or family” mentality is also an injustice since it makes our future children more likely to be raised in irregular situation.
In the marriage conversation, stay on message! Do not be drawn into long discussions about the rights of adults, or long discussions about homosexual activity. When it comes to marriage, marriage is about children. It takes a structure and its obligations based on what is just and proper for children.
Staying focused on this aspect of marriage, which gives it its fundamental structure and purpose, is intrinsic meaning, also makes it plain that this understanding binds heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
We all have a lot to answer for with the kind of terrible situations the majority of our children are being raised in today. And even if someone wants to argue that a certain situation isn’t so bad, it still remains an injustice to deprive a child of his or her right to live in a stable married family with father and mother. Anything short of this or anything which weakens the institution of marriage must be seen for the social and personal injustice that it is.
Get the marriage conversation right, stay focused on children, and what is just and right for them.
I remember being at a Yolanda Adams concert, and before she sang this song she warned the audience to shun illicit sexual union and to remember how it hurts children, along with many other bad things we adults do.