In the United States, the judiciary is taking up the question of “What is marriage?” Same-sex “marriage” is recognized by nine states and the District of Columbia. Two cases before the Supreme Court seek to challenge legislation that upholds marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A lesbian couple is claiming their rights were violated by Proposition 8 in which the voters of California affirmed that marriage is limited to one man and one woman. A second case questions the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to one man and one woman for all federal government tax and benefit purposes.
In spite of the political and cultural momentum favoring this radical new paradigm for marriage, there is still a strong opposition in France that is supported and encouraged by Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders and laity. Hundreds of thousands of French citizens rallied in Paris in January and in March to protest the legal recognition of same-sex couples as married. The protesters included men and women, both youthful and elderly. Neither the numbers nor the diversity of these defenders of marriage seem likely to change the course of the French Parliament and preserve the traditional definition of marriage.
The Catholic Church clergy and laity have been at the forefront opposing this global perversion of the structure of marriage. Newly elected Pope Francis, while the archbishop of Buenos Aires, vigorously opposed President Cristina Kirchner and her government’s move to legally recognize same-sex couples as married. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) spearheads an educational initiative, Marriage: Unique for a Reason, to counter the arguments that marriage is an institution that can include same-sex couples[iv]. On March 26, 2013, thousands of marriage supporters convened on the Mall in Washington, D.C. to oppose any attempt to change the definition of marriage. While it is uncertain how much this organized protest will influence the decisions of the Supreme Court justices, it does serve to give a voice to the real purpose of marriage.
This is critically important. In much of the debate about the inclusion of same-sex couples in the definition of marriage, the emphasis has been on fairness and equality for homosexuals and the underlying purpose of marriage is lost. The March for Marriage in Washington brought the focus back to children as the primary reason for marriage. Numerous banners carried by the estimated 10,000 marchers declared, “Every child deserves a Mom and a Dad!” The authentic institution of marriage is truly about justice for children.
The state has no compelling interest to recognize the mutual affection of adults. The state interest in the legal recognition of marriage has been the acknowledgement of the uniqueness of the union of one man and one woman. Children born of such a union must be protected and the connection to their parents must be preserved. While it is true that not every relationship between a man and a woman will involve children, the union of one man and one woman is the only kind of relationship that can produce children. It is biologically impossible for the union of two men or two women to procreate. While men may have deep feelings and even love for other men and women may have deep feelings and love for other women, their relationships will always be barren unless they go outside the relationship for children. That is one reason it is impossible to equate same-sex relationships with the relationship between one man and one woman.
The quest for marriage by homosexual activists did not spring forth as an isolated movement. Rather, it is a progression of the assault on marriage that has occurred over the last century. When the culture separated procreation and marriage, the door was opened for endless permutations of adult relationships. Once marriage was perceived as merely a vehicle for adult happiness, divorce became the logical result when happiness in a relationship is diminished or absent. Commitment until parted by death has devolved into commitment until it is no longer fun. With the permanence of marriage increasingly absent in our popular culture, is it any wonder that some are foregoing marriage altogether? Currently, over 40% of all births in the United States occur out of wedlock. Nearly 73% of children born to black mothers and 53% of children born to Hispanic mothers are born outside of marriage[v].
Damon Linker argues in the secular publication The Weekthat the acceptance of contraception has irreversibly changed the cultural perception of marriage. He asserts the current legal battles are just trying to catch up with what has already happened and redefining marriage to include same-sex couples is a fait accompli[vi]. His sentiments are echoed by Katherine Jefferts Schori,[vii] the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who claims that in our current culture the primary purpose of marriage is not procreation but faithful adult relationships. Therefore, according to Jefferts Schori, it is only logical that marriage includes same-sex couples. Interestingly, it was the Anglican Communion, to which the Episcopal Church belongs, that led this cultural transformation when in 1930 it became the first mainstream religious denomination to approve the use of contraception within marriage.
Linker is absolutely correct that the path toward acceptance of same-sex marriage began as soon as procreation was ignored or rejected as a primary purpose of marriage. When procreation is viewed as irrelevant to marriage, marriage becomes an institution solely for the benefit of adults. Children are dehumanized and become no more than marital accessories, acquired for the happiness of adults. The current battle over the inclusion of same-sex couples in marriage is made possible by the cultural failure to defend marriage against contraception, abortion, divorce and cohabitation.
The steps down this path, however, are not irreversible if there is a reawakening to the true purpose of marriage. In order for this to become more than wishful thinking, there must be a marriage renaissance. It is time to resist all efforts to mold marriage to popular cultural norms. Those who wish to defend marriage as a unique union between one man and one woman must defend marriage against all constructs of marriage that ignore the raison d'etre of marriage is children[viii]. Failure to do so will remove all justification to limit the gender or even the number of adults who can be joined in a relationship that is legally identified as marriage. Such a redefinition of marriage makes it increasingly difficult if not impossible to defend the intrinsic human dignity of children when their very existence is consigned to the whims of adults. As a matter of justice, the centrality of children to the purpose of marriage must be preserved.
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Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of Human Life International, an international pro-life organization. She writes for HLI's Truth and Charity Forum.