Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.

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.

80 Replies to “Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.”

  1. “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.”

    This portion needs some adjustment.

    Some of us who got married were simply unable to conceive and bear children. I don’t think that absolved us from the sacramental responsibility to make our marriage *generative* in other ways: service to the parish and the Church, a witness of good citizenship in our neighborhood, being a loving aunt and uncle to our siblings’ children, and the children of friends, and eventually as we discerned, adopting a special needs child. We felt it important not to “create” a baby from IVF or surrogacy–it was never even a shadow in our minds. But we felt it was important to adopt children already born. We looked at 31 kids singly or in family groups before the state social workers felt we were the best parents for a particular four-year-old.

    I don’t object to this summary as a partial truth. But I think for it to be fully pro-life, it must include a cultural responsibility to care for children whose parents have died, or who abused their children and were found unfit to carry out the mission of raising and forming them.

    500,000 American children are in foster care. I think a larger number have single mothers, perhaps not unlike the experience a century or more ago when adult mortality was high, and many children lost one or both parents before reaching adulthood.

    To know what those half-million children endure to have no permanency in their lives, and to do nothing … One Catholic couple certainly cannot adopt more than one to a few. But tens of millions of Catholic couples and families not adopting–this is a shirking of our charitable responsibilities on a large scale.

    If you want to focus on the children, that’s great. But let’s keep our eye on the goal, by all means, and not get caught up in what gays and lesbians are doing. I’d say our plate is full enough.

      1. In addition, I must note that nowhere in this summary is the notion of sacramentality. It might be assumed, but I think it needs to be explicit, especially in any marriage formation. Sacramentality involves two important elements I’m sure you will agree are missing from many expressions of marriage: sacrifice and the real presence of Christ. Children do not always come to a marriage, but any valid union will possess two people who have set aside many things: families of origin, ego, independence, certain life options. Especially if the marriage is blessed with children. A Christian marriage should reveal something of Christ to the couple, but also to the world through the faith witness of the domestic Church. That manifests in faith formation of children, but also evangelization, participation in other sacraments, the graces of the spiritual life.

        I’d encourage Mr May to set the bar a little higher. We married couples can take it.

        1. Yes, though May is here teaching how we as Catholics need to address an unbelieving world where scripture is not authoritative and sacramentality is an unknown concept.

          1. Understood, but non-believers by the millions have successful marriages and raise children fruitfully. Our commonality is that they also sacrifice for the spouse and offspring, and that there is some ineffable part of the relationship that is greater than the sum of parts. Mr May shouldn’t shy away from this point of evangelization. Seekers in excellent marriages can be held a mirror to reveal God at the center of their love and commitment. But essentially, yes, I would agree that we need to be judicious in how the Gospel is presented to people outside the Church.

            This is also why I think the Church needs to pull back from criticizing civil unions of any kind. With our own rates of divorce and abuse, we don’t look very much better than the culture at large, and many observers will reject out-of-hand anything that appears petty and discriminatory. By all means, we can continue to urge believers to live lives of chastity and commitment outside of sacramental marriage. But we place unnecessary obstacles when we don’t utilize our own material resources in ways that support families.

            Instead of spending, say, $1 million on lobbying a ballot measure you (and maybe I) dislike, why not pay 10,000 child sitters to allow 10,000 couples in troubled marriages to do a Retrovaille weekend? Let’s put our resources to work directly to save troubled marriages and strengthen existing marriages. Let’s attend to couples at potential breaking points: when finances are tough, when the nest has just emptied, when the “marriage odometer” hits 50,000 miles, when temptations lurk. Take it from a person in a 17-year marriage: the bishops’ gay thing isn’t helping us one darn bit. Get the sacramental experts–the successful couples–into the picture to help.

            I want to ask Archbishop Lori or Nienstadt, “Fine. Your political effort lost. But what marriage have you helped save today?” Their work doesn’t end at the final blessing of the Nuptial Mass.

          2. These are all good points.

            Not all families with have children.

            But all of mankind and civilization needs marriage, building block of society.

            This book raises a good point. More must be done to express the notion of marriage connected to procreation. But that in itself is not a sufficient argument for all; including the childless.

            We can not fail to address all arguments which point to the irrationality of the concept of “same sex marriage.” Saying it all comes down to one argument, in a world of diverse people, is a mistake.

          3. Furthermore, in reading the Amazon summary page to which Msgr links to the book seeks to defend, “traditional marriage.”

            In an argument about “getting the conversation right” this seems specious…I think so many are not trying to defend “traditional marriage” (which only baits the opposition) but marriage (of which there is only one kind) itself.

          4. I agree–the term “traditional marriage” is a most unfortunate choice. Many people regard “tradition” as “merely conventional,” i.e. a construct that can be altered and reconstructed at will. This error is a major contributor to the problem, and the use of it only makes things worse.

            But “marriage” alone doesn’t suffice either, because people will interpret it the way they want to (knowingly of course). Once the misinterpretation of the term itself is let into the conversation, reasoning becomes all the more difficult, if not impossible. A better term–precisely because marriage is intrinsically perfected in the children of the complementary sexual union of one man and one woman–is “natural marriage.”

            Conversely, it is a mistake to allow the political and legal battle to be characterized as about “gay marriage.” What so-called proponents of “gay marriage” are really proposing is UNISEX marriage. They do not seek a new legal category of “gay marriage” (this is what “civil unions” amounts to). What they seek is to change the existing universal category–to remove from it the aspect of complementary the complementary and naturally fertile sexual difference between man and woman. They seek to rob MY marriage, and everyone else’s too, of this essential element; that is, they seek, quite literally, to denature marriage. Properly speaking, it’s not a “minority issue” at all; it is absolutely universal.

            For rational people, “denatured marriage” is therefore a perfectly appropriate term to describe the thing that is being proposed (and opposed). But it is obvious, I think, that this will be a hindrance rather than a help to educating people; still mistaking the matter as a “minority issue,” they will interpret it as a slur born of hatred rather than the sober statement of fact which it is. A more suitable term, then, is “unisex marriage.” This both a) puts the focus where it belongs, on the single institution which pertains to every marriage and to the whole of society, not on the concern of some minority; and b) communicates the unnaturalness of the proposal with a term that, far from being “charged,” is extraordinarily bland–a so, in those capable of it, promotes rational consideration instead of reflexive outrage.

          5. Mr.Flowers

            Was with you through most of your thread until your condemnation of ballot measures.

            With charity intended, you appear to be think that our bishops are wrong to oppose the attempts to redefine marriage and that this witness bears no fruit in promoting the value of marriage to those of us already married and to others in society.

            You are wrong on both counts. Sadly, your criticism reminds me of some of the opposition by some Catholics in Minnesota against the One man one woman marriage amendment (“Another Catholic voicing no”). They too think their bishops are wrong.

            Again, with charity, suggest that you might want to reflect on obedience and humility. I say this, for these are two virtues that I so often lack…and result in futile thoughts on my part.

            You have so very much to offer the world with your faithful witness and beautiful commitment to adopt! Don’t get deceived into opposing our bishops.

            Your friend in Christ.


  2. I think you are absolutely right. We have to be on point when talking about marriage and its intrinsic relationship to children. This recognizes the basic, foundational and right argument for a day-to-day defense of marriage.

    I have not read the book you suggest but I’d like to recommend an article published by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George and Ryan T. Anderson; named: What is Marriage? The article is available here:

    In this article, Mr. George and company give a comprehensive explanation of marriage in less than 50 pages (and is available for free). I believe this is a must read for every Catholic who is willing to engage in dialogue.

    Finally, while having the right message is crucial. Engaging others and communicating the message constantly is as important. Living in Minneapolis, MN I can tell you that a lesson we need to learn for our defeat is, I think, very simple: we were not as vocal as the opposition. Whether it was fear or respect, we didn’t let people know the talking points.

  3. “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.”

    But the divergence of which you speak has happened and irreversible. Most people, Catholic, Christian, or otherwise, do not view marriage mainly or only as a union for children; it is for the adults too. The Catholic Church has zero chance of changing this widespread and deeply-felt view of marriage. Let’s deal with the reality in front of us – that the Catholic view of marriage is one among many. We are in a post-Christian country and society.

    1. We will soon enough be a post-American Church. Oh, I know — America will last forever; just like the Roman Empire was going to. The might of America will never be eclipsed; just like the sun would never set on the British Empire. America will never fall; just like Constantinople.

      The fact is that when Christ returns, the Catholic Church will still be here, the Jews will still be here, and lots of other people will be here too. There is no particular reason to believe that this country (or the EU, if that’s where you put your hope) will endure, let alone the fads of this decade. There is in fact no reason to believe that the fads of today will last until mid-century.

      How did Prohibition fare? Eh, not so good. It was so much the rage that it led to an amendment to the Constitution — a proper amendment, not a court ruling, or a law, or an executive order. Its tattered fragments remain in a few dry counties, but the life has long since left that body. The same fate, sooner or later, awaits all systems of thought that massively misconstrue human nature.

  4. Monsignor,

    This is an excellent article that refocuses us who discuss such issues online, onto the primary and essential heart of this controversy.

    I would appreciate your advice, though. Studies are coming out increasingly that indicate that children of homosexual parents are no worse off than their heterosexual peers. (The UT Austin study finding contrary results seems to be somewhat flawed). How do we address such findings, if our argument rests on the welfare of the children?

    1. The Austin study you referenced was not flawed. It was immediately attacked (as well as its author) because it went counter to what the homosexuals in academia want to preach. This was the first valid study of its kind. Most previous studies had insignificant sample sizes (40 people), compared same sex couples to single mothers (both have issues) or asked the “opinions” of homosexuals or their children.

      Having same sex parents is very detrimental to thier children. Paper can be found here:

      [1] Mark Regnerus, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” Social Science Research Vol 41, Issue 4 (July 2012), pp. 752-770; online at:

      Another paper here:
      Loren Marks, “Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American Psychological Association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting,” Social Science Research Vol 41, Issue 4 (July 2012), pp. 735-751; online at:

  5. I’m glad Todd commented as he did–I agree it may be a dangerous “bent stick remedy” to focus exclusively on marriage as being about children. In light of Crowhill’s recent post, allow me to be devil’s advocate and advance some popular counter arguments:
    While children and fertility are undeniably related to marriage, there is also a legitimate discussion to be had about marriage also as fundamentally about adults. Genesis 2 makes clear that sexuality is about companionship, and no mention is made in that story about it being procreative. Song of Songs also speaks at length in very sensual language about a mutual loving relationship about adults without an emphasis on offspring. These references to the very real aspect of marriage as a mutual relationship of love, tenderness, and affection prefigure the love of Christ and the Church (which certainly doesn’t exclude fruitfulness of many kinds).
    So while fertility and children are certainly indelibly connected to our sexuality, and therefore to marriage as a rule, there is also a fundamental aspect of marriage which is about two people committing in love to one another, even if no children result (as Todd as related). In light of this, two 90-year-olds can licitly enter into a sacramental marriage even when there is no realistic hope of children, or even any reasonable desire to have them at that stage in life, because their love can be a sacrament of Christ’s love for the Church which can bear fruit in other ways.
    I know you said May’s argument was directed at a world which doesn’t accept Scripture as normative, but I think switching into a purely abstract philosophical mode does not in fact make the argument stronger. I think the world also doesn’t accept abstract concepts as normative, but rather places great emphasis on lived experience, feelings, interpersonal relationships (perhaps closer to the Hebrew worldview prior to the Hellenization of Christianity).
    Many today ask “If two married people can reflect God’s love without having children (as Todd has shared, or in the example of people who are older), doesn’t that mean that there are exceptions to the “children” rule already? Then why can’t two people of the same sex show the same love?”
    Another point people have made is that there is some statistical evidence to show that children of same sex couples seem as healthy and well adjusted as other children, and that it may be preferable for a child to have 2 same sex parents rather than only one parent, or to be an orphan. If concern for children is primary, some will argue that more couples who want to adopt and care for these children will actually improve the lot of these kids. People in our culture don’t see children and marriage as abstract concepts, but as lived and messy realities.
    In your opinion, how should we answer these questions?

    1. Who said it is exclusive, I said integral. Marriage takes its basic structure (heterosexual and fruitful and stable) from the fact that it is related to children and what is just for them. That other qualities exist is fine, but children are integral and give marriage its form. If it’s just two adults hanging out, whateever…. but that is not marriage. And if a couple excludes children, they cannot contract a valid Catholic marriage – integral is not exclusive but it is integral .

      1. I’m not totally at ease with these distinctions.

        I think generativity, be it biological or relational or spiritual, and optimally a combination of some or all of this, is integral. Not children per se. I worry about too much emphasis on children and not enough on Christ. We cannot have the richest theology of marriage without including the liturgical and sacramental aspects of it.

        “And if a couple excludes children, they cannot contract a valid Catholic marriage – integral is not exclusive but it is integral.”

        As you word it, you eliminate older couples. Unless they adopt. I like adoption as a pro-life witness (untried as it might be among Catholic families) but I’m not convinced that urging elderly couples into it is at all an effective witness. I do understand the “exception” the Church makes, but to many people who lack theological knowledge, the reasoning seems too tricky, and ultimately unconvincing.

        I also think that a young couple might “lie” about an intent to procreate, but many such couples experience a metanoia and do so later with joy. I think less fundamentalism on that point would be a better pastoral approach and more effective sacramental practice in the end.

        It is important for every marriage to be generative and life-giving to others. But it is an impossible task to expect two flawed human beings to be generative and life-giving 24/7, let alone for every sexual act. Human intercourse has a spiritual and biological component apart from procreation. It is part of our natural make-up–how God made us. It is a blind spot within Natural Law that should be acknowledged and corrected.

        1. The purpose of arguments is not to put you totally at ease. You seem to be stuck on the concept of integral meaning. That the procreation and bearing of children is integral to marriage and why it has the form it does does not mean that couples who for some reason cannot bear a child are excluded. It only means that they cannot purposefully, or intentionally exclude that meaning upon entering into a marriage. One may foresee that conception will be unlikely, or impossible, (e.g. due to age or to a cancerous womb having been removed, etc). A younger couple who enters marriage must not wholly exclude the good of children, either by having themselves sterilized or by persistent recourse to the mutual masturbation of contraceptive sex. If for some reason beyond their control they are sterile they may adopt or not. But what is required is that a couple not do violence to the institution and meaning of marriage by intentionally setting aside part or all of its integral meaning. Obviously to intend something requires that one have control over the situation. Old age couples cannot control what God has done and hence they can still sacramentally image Christ and his Church and enjoy the unitive dimension. They cannot exclude the procreative dimension since it is now beyond the realm of what is likely or possible. Yet they can potentially remain open to it if God were to work miraculously.

          Bottom line, it is about intentionally excluding or preventing an integral meaning of marriage.

          1. Well, I think your definitions–I know they are the Church’s–are awkward. My unease is not personal. It is directed at the situation in which an overwhelming majority of Catholic couples reject what they perceive as a rather awkward and convenient (for clergy) explanation for older couples.

            As a minister, I’m far more concerned with the sacramental and spiritual life of the laity. I’d like to help the Church work through 44 years of impasse. It’s not good for the Body. It’s clear that the hierarchy have no answer other than repeat the same reasons.

            It’s difficult to work through that when one order (the clergy) assume that all or most of another group (married lay people) are out for selfish and personal interest.

          2. My approach is to be married to one woman, to love our adopted child, and to observe the precepts of the Church. I know other good, faithful Catholics who do not, despite the preaching of orthodoxy. That’s a problem, wouldn’t you say?

          3. It is, but the solution is not yours. Now you have said quite enough here Todd and it becomes evident that you are just going to argue everything. So we’re done here.

          4. Mr. Flowerday you bear the fruit of knowledge offered Eve in the garden of Eden. You minister fallen angels.

  6. This, of course, is just my opinion. I think the unitive value marriage is equal to the procreative value of marriage.–really, I think they reinforce each other. There are landmines now that couples in the past didn’t need to concern themselves with as much such as pornography and artificial birth control. When St. Paul talks about marriage, he, if I recall, usually focuses on how married people should behave toward each other. I think the idea is that if married people are behaving toward each other correctly that is the best assurance that the children are being raised correctly.

    Of course, there is this part of it:

    “From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e., the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved.”–Karol Wojtyla (AKA, Blessed John Paul II), Ignatious paperback edition, page 272

    Maybe married men not taking the above words of Blessed John Paul II to heart is the reason the current President got such a large percentage of the vote of women.

    1. Equal, maybe, but it is Children that give marriage its form and explain why it must be a lasting union and also heterosexual. Also If the unitive had total equality with procreative there would be little reason for parents to stick it out or work things out for the sake of the kids. Children have greater needs and vulnerabilities and in justice parents also have greater obligations toward their children in view of this.

      1. A man and a woman is what gives marriage its form; the addition of children are what give a family its form. I think using children to explain why marriage must be heterosexual is using the less obvious to explain the more obvious, although I agree that children help explain why marriage must be long lasting. Another reason to stick with a marriage is that it is just a more beautiful way to live.

      2. See, I view permanence as a requirement for the spouses’ self-gift to be truly total. If there is no permanence, the gift is lacking. Then, if the spouses really love each other as they ought, the result *will* be what is best for the children, but that will be more like a side-effect, whereas the primary purpose of the permanence is to make the self-gift total.

        It’s like the reason why contraception is wrong – it isn’t wrong because it doesn’t generate children per se (or NFP would also be wrong) or because it excludes children 100% (it doesn’t!) but because it intentionally withholds an essential part of the person, thus preventing the self-gift from being total.

  7. Msgr. Great post! As we get the marriage conversation right we as Catholics will have to really soul search and have some honest discussion about annulments. In my own marriage I have suffered and on many occasions by multiple priests and a Catholic counselor was told that “I might not be validly married.” I was told that God did not want me miserable and it would be OK if I left the marriage because I had tried and my spouse wasn’t trying and didn’t seem that he would change. Each time I would remind Father or the counselor that a cross does not make a marriage invalid and that I wanted my family intact and I was confident that Jesus wanted our family together. Things were not great but I did not see how breaking apart our family would help me or my husband grow in holiness and virtue.

    My point is that even in our Church we have fallen pray to the idea that marriages are supposed to be good and happy. But marriage is not about that. It is about procreating and then through all the trails and suffering still fighting and holding on and maintaining a stable unified family to raise these children in. Like all suffering, suffering in a marriage brings meaning to the relationship.

    We have been too quick to declare a marriage invalid and then move on. If children are involved and a family has broken apart and the marriage has been deemed to be invalid and without grace, then shouldn’t the Church work at that point to find a way to unite the family and make the marriage valid? Divorce is destructive to a child whether the parents marriage is valid or annulled.

    I will be married 20 years this summer and I praise God that I carried my cross and stayed in my marriage and focused on the children and not whether I was happy or if anything was going to change. And miraculously things have changed and my husband became a very different man and began to truly live his faith. Through the trials, my capacity to love and forgive has grown immensely.

    It is interesting that the struggles and obstacles in my marriage that caused some to believe an annulment may be possible are the very struggles and obstacles that show me that my marriage is a demonstration of God’s faithful and enduring love regardless of how many times we turn away. We Catholic need to make sure that we are not redefining marriage by our actions and our rejection of crosses in our own marriages.

    1. Kristen, what you said is absolutely true:
      “We have been too quick to declare a marriage invalid and then move on. If children are involved and a family has broken apart and the marriage has been deemed to be invalid and without grace, then shouldn’t the Church work at that point to find a way to unite the family and make the marriage valid? Divorce is destructive to a child whether the parents marriage is valid or annulled.”

      My father got an annulment from the Church, after he and my mother had three children! Imagine how that made ‘us children’ feel. I remember one of my friends asking, “Does that make you bastards?” The truth is, we didn’t know. Sad for children to feel that way. My mother had had affairs; that is why he divorced her. Was it better for the children? I can say with all authority, in this case, absolutely not!

      When parents divorce the very foundation of the family is destroyed, leaving the children in the rubble. When parents are together, they can focus on the children. In a divorce, the parents have a different focus, themselves. If divorced parents then date, the children are left with so much guilt if they like this new person. Divorce is a train wreck for children, period. For me, it is thirty-six years later and we are still paying! Every holiday must be split, going to one house or the other or spending a few hours at this house, before we go to that house. I think the Church must try to fix ALL marriages, if it is possible. I understand that there are cases, such as abuse, where it might not be possible or safe for the marriage to remain intact but for most others, parents have to try, for the children.

      I agree with Father; if it is just about sex of fun, then there is nothing lasting to bind any two people together. In my case,, only when I realized this was I able to stop looking at all the negatives and work on what I needed to do, to make things better.

      Another point- I had a friend in college from Ireland. Her parents had a wonderful marriage. Her mother told me that it wasn’t always that way but because there was no divorce where they came from, you learned to work things out. I think there’s something to be said for that.

      A last point- for people that don’t believe in the religious meaning of marriage, there is a problem. If there is no God and no Laws, then all you have is Natural Law and in Natural Law homosexual marriage cannot exist, because it cannot reproduce, thereby continue the species.

      Thank you Monseignor for blogs like this! It is exactly what the laity need, in order for us (Catholics) to be able to articulate our beliefs to others.

  8. The above commentary about getting the marriage conversation right is excellent but needs to be associated with a warning.

    It is beyond a doubt true that children raised in single parent homes do much worse than those raised in two parent families, as the statistics mentioned above indicate ( bottomline you are 4x as likely to be in poverty compared to if you live in a two parent family) It is of course intuitive and almost self evident that one would do best with a mother and a father as parents. The debased culture however will argue that children raised by stable gay parents are likely to do as well as those raised by homosexual couples. In fact they argue this now. We unfortunately are not likely to have objective data to refute this because any social scientist who attempts to investigate this will have their career ended. A paper by sociologist Mark Regenerus suggested the possibility that children who grow up in gay parented households have higher rates of things like drug use and arrest vs children in standard households perhaps related to the instability of the gay unions. This plausible theory was met with the typical vindictiveness of the left and he was vigorously investigated for academic “fraud” by the University of Texas at Austin. He was cleared but I think others so inclined to pursue investigation along the same lines as Regenerus got the message. Otherwise what is left is nothing to refute
    the small number of biased, flawed studies that suggest gay parenting is fine. Recently the
    Ninth Circuit court said ““Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful, and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology.”

    How to deal with this I do not know. We are in very deep trouble.

  9. Msgr., with all respect to Dr. May and as someone that has followed his thinking on this topic for some years, I believe that his analysis is incomplete. While we must not fail to make marriage about children, we must also proclaim the sinfulness of homosexual activity and homosexual marriage.

    Because morals legislation has become ever more difficult due to decisions like Romer and Lawrence, and because it is difficult and uncomfortable to proclaim the sinfulness of homosexual behavior in our tolerant and accepting society, there is a temptation to avoid this proclamation. However, if we make marriage solely about children, then, the debate will shift entirely to utilitarian considerations. It is already happening. For example, just the other day I read an article saying that children of lesbian parents do better in school.

    That marriage must be good for children is an argument that, by itself, cannot prevail in the attempt to preserve marriage in the long run. How good must good be? Is a hetero marriage where the children are abused better than their being in a homo marriage? What about if the children wouldn’t have a family at all except for a willing homo couple being available? And so on.

    The idea that homosexual marriage is intrinsically harmful to children will be evaluated by empirical results. What do you mean by harmful? Is that effect that you claim is harmful, truly harmful? And so on.

    These are the arguments that will continue to be adduced in order to show that on the whole, the results for children in homosexual marriages is better than nothing, or acceptable enough so that we cannot deny a right to homosexuals to marry.

    But stating that it is sinful will make the categorical basis of our opposition clear. We will not be persuaded or moved by ostensible empirical results which support the legitimacy of homosexual marriage. Of course, we should also explain what we mean by sin, but we must never fail to proclaim homosexual behavior is sin in the context of explaining why we oppose the redefinition of marriage.

    The bottom line is still the unshakable truth that homosexual behavior is a mortal sin and so it should not receive the approbation of the state as an alternative and acceptable permanent relationship. It is the various aspects of the sinfulness of the act from which all the deleterious consequences to children subject to that environment flow. If we fail to proclaim that firmly, we will not only be proclaiming less than the gospel truth, but we will lose the argument to the utilitarians.

    The result of this clear proclamation will no doubt be a renewed direct assault upon our religious beliefs. That will mean a good opportunity for evangelism and instruction.

    1. Well, “Sin” is our religious category, I agree with you. But remember, May is speaking to the pagan world and using reason and justice is an understandable tactic.

      Your concern about empirical data once again puts Gay adults and their rights over children. It also subjects children to the thing of experimentation. It does not require lots of study to understand that the best situation is for a child to have his or her mother, a male and female parent, there are some things that are just obvious. I think some data could be found, but to insist on it would mean that we are guilty of injustice toward children, since we would have to subject them what is unjust to get the data. We have duties toward them to provide them what justice demands they have: their father and mother.

      1. Msgr., you say that it does not require a lot of study to understand what the best situation for a child is, and that some things are just obvious. Msgr., I think that in that respect you are very much behind the mindset of these times. Many, many people, an increasing number, even otherwise very intelligent and even ‘conservative’ people [take Theodore Olsen for example], cannot see the detriment to the child in being placed in a homosexual family. Simply asserting that it is detrimental to do so is not going to convince people, when there are empirical studies allegedly showing them that the child is not harmed, or not sufficiently harmed to warrant the prevention of homosexual marriage. They have to be able to see the harm for us to win the debate. People think your reasoning without evidence is just a thin mask hiding bigotry.

        We are talking about how best to convince people. If people need data, then considering the importance of this debate, we are morally obliged to do our part to supply that data. Most people are not going to use a priori reasoning about the metaphysical nature of the family to come to the conclusion that we cannot allow homosexual marriage. If you want to say, ‘oh well, if they don’t want to accept my reasoning, they can’t insist that I provide data,’ then you are saying you only want to debate on terms acceptable to you. I was surprised to read that you wrote that. But we are not trying to convince ourselves; we are trying to convince those that disagree with us. It doesn’t matter if you think that they are asking too much of us in asking us to provide data.

        Showing that we are concerned for the child’s welfare is important to show our heart to the adversaries. This philosophy of Dr. May is fine insofar as it goes, but if we cannot also show that we have a rational basis for advocating for our policy, we will lose the debate.

        Religious belief is one of the rational bases we have in order to advocate for our policy. Our beliefs are reasonable, and it is not so hard to explain why God tells us that homosexual activity is a mortal sin. Even pagans can understand that peg A does not fit into slot B. They can understand the idea that certain things are not designed to go together. But that isn’t enough, because in life sometimes it is ok to use a hammer to do the job of a screwdriver. However, if something is a sin, then even a pagan can understand why we would want to keep children away from an environment of sin.

        In contrast, Dr. May would confine our message primarily to the idea that man and woman ‘go together.’ That is positive but it doesn’t address the issue of why it isn’t also ok for man and man, or woman and woman, to ‘go together.’ ‘Oh it may not be optimal, but what’s so WRONG with it?’

        In sum, I think that in addition to what Dr. May says, we have to make them understand that we oppose the redefinition of marriage because homosexual acts are sin, and then we have to explain to them why sin is bad. If they can’t see the bad, then they will not have a reason to oppose the redefinition of marriage.

        You say justice demands children have a mother and father. Of course I agree, but Justice demands many things of parents in relation to their children; nevertheless we don’t always use the law to make sure that children get that justice. So you have to answer those who say, ‘why in the case of gays do you demand that the law enforce the justice you say children deserve, especially when it is so obvious that your remedy of preventing homosexuals from marrying is discriminatory against homosexual people? Yet you don’t demand the same of others?’

        Along with Dr. May’s answer, we must also say: ‘because homosexual behavior is a mortal sin, contrary to natural law, and can never be made into something good in itself. The law must prevent the normalization of such behavior for the sake of all who would potentially engage in it, most importantly vulnerable children who will be influenced to think that it is acceptable.’

        1. Wow Yan, I wish you were right. But the very concept “sin” is a non starter for a lot of non-believers. I really don’t dispute what you are saying and Dr. May’s argument may seem limited to a believer. I have used the sin argument plenty with cultural radicals and articulated that we stand against this activity in principle due to what our Lord teaches. But in the end I only get sneers about our God also commanding genocide etc. The argument really goes nowhere, unfortunately because of the sneering hostility of many toward faith and believers. At any rate this is one attempt to root the discussion in the language of justice. Take it or leave it. But no argument can or should necessary cover all the bases as your suggest it must.

          1. Hi Msgr.,

            Like you, I also have experienced derision; in fact I just got a small dose of that this morning in front of an abortion clinic. But I don’t always get that. We can expect to get sneers from some; others will understand but reject the message; others will think it over; and others will eventually join us.

            In any event I don’t think it is a question of covering all bases of an argument, but rather a question of including an essential part, as determined by logic, of the argument. Dr. May’s strategy is to say: ‘X is optimal; Y is precluded by X,’ on the basis of mere assertion, not logical or empirical offer of proof. That is neither good logic nor good strategy.

            This style of ‘argument’ didn’t fare well in front of the 9th circuit either. I watched the oral argument. The judges were practically begging the defenders of proposition 8 in CA to give them a reason why marriage cannot also include people of the same sex. To the obvious and expressed frustration of the judges, the lawyers kept using variations of Dr. May’s strategy, failing to answer what was, from the standpoint both of reason and law, this most pertinent and burning question.

            As you know they lost, upholding the district judge’s basic reasoning that there is no rational basis for keeping marriage from people of the same sex. If we don’t do better in front of the SCOTUS [assuming they take the case] then it will be up to ‘conservative’ justices to do the job of advocating for the advocates and coming up with rational bases for keeping marriage between man and woman only, assuming they are so inclined.

          2. Yan, based on this conversation, I think you are a bit too argumentative. So fine I and Dr. May are all wrong, and you are totally right – feel better? As for me I’d rather live in a world that appreciates varying approaches to the problem. But as for you, go out there and change the world if you alone have the silver bullet.

    2. Homosexuals who insist on parenting do this by perpetuating a false imitation of family structure that cruelly re-enforces the degradation of human dignity of either sex.

      How exactly does a man say to a child he has fathered that the mother of the child is a stranger and was reduced to a rented womb, a tool to be used and discarded as unimportant to the father. A tool who has no place in relation to that child.

      How is this not harmful to any child with this warped instruction as to the entire value of each sex?

      Women who fail to attract and keep a mate or insist on the same delusional imitation with another woman do the same.

      How does a mother explain to her child that Daddy was an anonymous donor selected from a catalog and that this Daddy has no valuable place in this child’s life.

      Male children would shudder at this reduction of value and female children would have the same reaction. The consequence is to be confused and feel a deep anxiety growing up as devalued and betrayed in the very facts of their birth.

      Children will always seek their parents…both of them. It is natural.

      By these actions we confirm to oncoming generations our own instability and our dangerous hypocrisy.

      1. How exactly does a man say to a child he has fathered that the mother of the child is a stranger and was reduced to a rented womb, a tool to be used and discarded as unimportant to the father. A tool who has no place in relation to that child.

        Well said. I’m so sorry that women do not resist becoming objects, being farmed. It undermines the dignity of women. And feminists turn and look the other way.

  10. Very good point Kristen, keep up the good work. Love to be authentic always involves sacrifice.

  11. Excellent article. Wished you had included a statement to counter the argument: that if marriage is about children then why does the Church marry those who cannot have children because of defect or beyond the years of child bearing?

    1. Because they don’t intentionally exclude the good of children and thereby redefine marriage. They are still within what God and nature set forth. By the way however, if an older couple is incapable of the marriage act they cannot marry.

      1. Msgr., I did not know this. Could you elaborate on this a little? This means that a couple of octogenarians who could not perform, or had no interest in performing, the marriage act could not marry for mutual support and comfort? That is very interesting. I am having trouble understanding why, however, given that the Church does not forbid a married couple to live together as brother and sister if they mutually agree to do so. Or maybe I’m wrong about that, too. If you have time, a longer explanation would be welcome! Thanks.

        1. Well, again, it is only if one is incapable of the marriage act. It is an impediment. Of course the couple must be morally certain they are incapable. In some cases a little viagra ( 🙂 ) is all that is needed to render a couple capable, at least on occasion .

          1. Oh, ok. 🙂 I was wondering if use of Viagra would be considered “cheating….”

    1. Yes. It’s the elephant in the room. The acceptance of contraception and the rejection of same-sex marriage are inconsistent. Many Christians will be left unable to understand this key factor in society’s rejection of the classical understanding of marriage, and ultimately the person.

  12. I am clear in my argument that there are many violations of marriage today and very few have clean hands. But as for you, you are once again focused only on the adults and unjustly ignore the needs of children.

  13. This is not a civil law blog. We do not take our norms here from civil law but seek to have civil law reflect what is right and just. Children are unjustly harmed by current adult behaviors.

  14. No just don’t have all the time in the world. Your objections are answered in the article and other parts of the thread. No need to keep repeating what I have already said. Cowards generally avoid the truth. But I walk with the Lord who is the way, the truth and the life. Call me a sinner any day but coward doesn’t apply I’m out here every day you hide under acronyms and pen names, but God knows you well enough and time will prove where wisdom is. Long after your trifling philosophy has come and gone the Church will still be here, she buries all her undertakers.

  15. This brings up a question for me can I get Married before Christ without being married legally by the state? Or will the Church only administer the Mystery of marriage if I have a gov. Contract?

  16. If it’s just two adults hanging out, whateever…. but that is not marriage.

    I hope you have some sense of how extremely hurtful this remark is. I still cannot quite believe that you, a priest, can say that about the innumerable couples you do not know. My marriage to my wife is not just “hanging out”. My being with her through several years of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses is not “hanging out”. Her comforting me through the death of my parents is not “hanging out”. Our spending our lives together, going to church together, supporting each other through good times and bad is not “hanging out”. My relationship with my wife is one of deep, deep love, that I know comes from and has the blessing of God. It is not for you or for anyone else to blithely and dismissively say that we are just “hanging out”.

    1. Stop being so thin skinned. That you are hurt does not be I hurt you. The remark obviously does not describe your marriage. It is a remark directed against a false notion marriage, the point being that marriage is and has to be more than just two adults hanging out. Please be more careful in reading. I mean you no offense and that you personally take offense at this remark either indicates you misread it or are just thin-skinned.

  17. This post makes many good points that need to be brought out forcefully in the public discussion of strengthening marriage.

    But for proponents (i.e. people like cmnica) of changing the LAW to give equal status to cohabitating homosexuals which we have formally given to a man and a woman who make a permanent commitment that includes the possible raising of children, I think a different approach is needed. They want to change the law, therefore the burden rests on them to prove what benefit there would be to society to give this relationship any special status. So far I have not heard ONE SINGLE argument that addresses this from those who propose it.

  18. I think we also need to emphasize another critical point with this issue: Why does marriage exist in the first place? Why do people from all ages and all cultures understand marriage as a union of a man and a woman who pledge life-long fidelity to one-another that is sacramentally and legally binding? When you think about it, this is rather drastic! Yet we don’t think twice about it. And the obvious answer is the couple’s potential for procreation. So yes, marriage exists because of children and the decades long time involved in raising them thereby making life-long fidelity a necessity.
    So when you take this further and look at the current push to re-define marriage, it becomes rather absurd because of the missing procreatve component the notion of life-long fidelity has no basis anymore.

    1. The marriage contract historically serves the purpose of binding two clans (families) through the marriage of the couple to perpetuate through progeny the clan(s) and to expand the tribe (collection of intermarried clans). This provides stability for the nation (a collection of co-operative tribes). This stabilization allowed for the transfer of property to heirs peacefully.

      It has always had a religious component.
      It has always promoted the family structure and has always been centered on heirs.

      Until the 20th century marriage was always promoted by the governing state to stabilize society and provide children.

  19. We dance around the truth here. The truth is we cannot change the beliefs of others regardless of how the discussion is framed. If the discussion is framed on the focus of marriage for the betterment of the children, gay couples retort that they can raise well balanced children just as we’ll as a heterosexual couple. If the discussion is framed on marriage as a sacrament between the couple and God, the atheist Gay couple says, who cares about that. The truth of the issue is that faithful Catholics need the support of the Priests, Bishops, etc and enforce our beliefs in excommunication for those that profess to be katholic but deny the teachings of the faith at every turn. The Katholic gay couples receive no repercussion or truthful guidance regarding the damage the are doing towards their eternal salvation. Instead they go to gay masses and receive the blessed sacrament with no remarks from those that have the authority to guide them in their actions. The sheep have been left to be eaten by the wolves because the shepherds abandoned their flock.

  20. With the redefinition of marriage, we may see new kinds of married couples and families that we don’t currently anticipate. For example, two single mothers who are not lesbians, only best friends, may marry for the legal benefits marriage confers: one woman could earn the living, while the other raises the children. Perhaps a series of temporary boyfriends would drift through the household, putting the children at risk. We could end up with a type of “dolphin society,” where women live in households, and men have none of the stabilizing benefits of domesticity. People react with shock, and say that people would not engage in these types of unions, but once you redefine marriage you have opened a Pandora’s box. The only way to shut the box again is to return to the concept of complementarity.

    1. Exactly! In light of all these new laws, I see no reason why Mormons who want multiple wives or husbands are not demanding their rights. This opens up a whole Pandora’s box…

      1. Some Muslims sects have plural marriages as well.

        Mormons were forced to change their plural marriage practice because the law of the land preceded the plural marriage and the religion.
        The earlier Mormon doctrine was a form of traditional monogamous marriage. The later development by Smith almost led to schism and later to persecution. All Mormons did was agree to revert to their earlier doctrine and comply with legal precedent.

        Many of the children of illegal Mormon plural marriages are dependent on state welfare.

      2. Yes, there is already starting a push for more than two person unions. Also, there’s no reason why it need be sexual at all. How about a single mom “marrying” her own mother since she is helping raise the grandchild, that way they could all be on the same insurance etc. When a word can mean anything, it means nothing.

  21. Let me clarify my argument above. Society believes love is necessary to enter into marriage. The marital act is the bodily expression of love. Nobody wants the government in our bedrooms to validate that there is some sort of bodily expression of love between two people who intend to marry, or who have just been married. Instead, we accept the proxy of complementarity. If you remove complementarity as a necessary condition for marriage, you allow the possibility of marriage where no love exists from the outset, where the marriage is only used for financial benefit. This perversion of marriage would not be good for society.

  22. Ironically, the push for gay marriage is so that people who love each other can commit to each other. But, without complementarity, I think we will see more and more marriages where “eros” was never a factor in the union. It will be all about the finances and legal protections.

  23. There are already people seeking to overturn incest laws. They say two consenting adults who love each other have a right to marry and overturn bigoted laws based on religion.

    They say what right does religion have to keep them from marrying.

    There are people seeking to overturn couplet marriages so that two men and three women may marry in a polyamorous union.

    They use the homosexual civil argument used by the incestuous lobby.
    These groups will rewrite history and change definitions to support their fallacies just as Homosexuals have done.

    They will eventually get the scientists and lawyers to agree with them.

    This is anarchy.

  24. I think we’re losing on the marriage issue because we lack an adequate understanding of the reasons for being pro-traditional marriage. This is an excellent explanation of one of those reasons.

    But here’s a question that I’m often asked: Does this mean that people who are too old to produce children, or who are sterile, should not get married? Their marriage couldn’t be about children, so they shouldn’t get married. But obviously they should, and we of course approve of such marriages. So why not homosexuals?

    In answer, I often cite the complementarity of the sexes as pointing to the fact that gay marriage would be unnatural, but this doesn’t get me very far, I have to admit.

  25. Msgr.,

    This is another great article among many that those in the Church have put out about traditional marriage and helping the laity get the points right. Theology of the Body is also a great way to help us understand the Church’s teaching on these points. However, utlimately, the debate is a legal one and I am struggling to see how it is legally possible to avoid a redefinition of marriage in the US. Here’s what I mean. The Church has a conjugal definition of marriage. The legal system has a contractual definition of marriage as between one man and one woman both consenting to the marriage. I read through the Prop 8 court opinion and they use this as a way to uphold same-sex marriage and show how the current legal definition is descriminatory to same-sex couples. They also discuss civil unions that provide the same basic rights and benefits to same-sex couples as traditionally married couples. They say that doing setting these up is equivelent to the Jim-Crow, seperate but equal, Laws which are unconsitutional. While we (the Church) may win a moral battle by getting the discussion right, we are ultimately doomed to win the legal battle. Losing the legal battle will have serious consequences to the Church as we are seeing in Canada: Am I missing something? and, if not, why is this not being discussed? Thanks!

  26. Msgr. Pope,

    This is an excellent article, as always!

    Can you please fill us in as to what “norms come ex genere suo” means?

  27. Dear Msgr., I remember my first reaction to this debate was exactly the same as your argument. I felt that same- sex marriage would constitute child abuse. Depriving any child of their right to have both a mother and a father is unjust Imagine the confusion, pain and anger of a child when they realize that by nature they had to have both a mother and a father to even exist! I’ve since realize, as other post’s have noted, the pandora’s box that has been opened. I also agree that religious arguments are futile. It has to be based on natural law. I hope and pray God raises up a modern day Aquinas to come to the aide of our troubled society!

  28. I would be able to accept this line of argument except for the menopause.

    The church blesses the heterosexual marriage of a post-menopausal woman and insists that the union be consummated to be valid. Yet, a post-menopausal heterosexual “marriage” is as intrinsically infertile as a same-sex “marriage”.

    Furthermore, marital intercourse is permitted after the menopause (in a couple who married before the menopause) even though post-menopausal vaginal intercourse is as intrinsically infertile as sodomy.

    For me, the above examples shows the internal contradiction in any natural law argument against same-sex marriage. If post-menopausal marriage can be blessed by the church (despite its intrinsic infertility) then same-sex marriage can also be blessed by the church.

    Have I missed something here? – thanks.

  29. True, we believe that marriage should be between a male and a woman.
    Marriage preparation is helping us to understand the value of a family.

  30. Exactly. Marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman and the unions oneness. Until death do they part.

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