Witnessing the reality of marriage
William May writes that the state has an big stake in protecting traditional marriage . . .
Mozilla’s Brendan Eichs was not the first person to lose his job for supporting marriage, but he was the most senior and most prominent to do so. Attacked for having given $1,000 to support California’s Proposition 8 six years ago, he was forced to resign 10 days after becoming CEO.
With judges redefining marriage across the country and an increasing campaign of intimidation by secularists, how can faithful Catholics witness the truth about marriage without putting themselves in jeopardy? Even more importantly, how can we explain marriage in ways our children can repeat without exposing them to ridicule or attacks by teachers and peers?
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote about dangers related to conflict in the work for justice in society. Conflict not only divides, it causes some to avoid it by becoming silent, and others to become prisoners of it. Neither is acceptable for a witness of faith. Instead, he suggests focusing on processes and meeting conflict head-on while promoting unity and reconciliation. He cautioned not to misinterpret this approach as compromise. The basis for unity, he said, is reality, which has power over ideas. “Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out … realities are greater than ideas” (#231).
Marriage is a reality that we know from revelation, but today many see marriage as an idea that has been worked out and evolved over time. Simply saying “marriage can only be between a man and a woman” is inadequate for someone who thinks marriage is merely an institution for the happiness of loving adults, as is the case with 58% of the public. Our difficulties are compounded when trying to offer rational reasons for our position. Immediately we are on the defense, witnessing a reality we know is true but can’t seem to explain without making comparisons between man/woman relationships and same-sex couples.
More fundamentally, why are we talking about same-sex couples in the defense of marriage anyway? How can that help reveal the reality of marriage? The term same-sex “marriage” was a trap laid by opponents to frame the debate. To support marriage, one must be against the sincere aspirations of same-sex couples. Notice, measures to protect marriage are framed as bans on same-sex “marriage.” That leads judges, legislators and many in the public to think we are simply motivated by prejudice and bigotry against homosexuals. Never use that term.
So how do we express the reality of marriage in non-religious terms? Marriage cannot be defined, only described. How it’s described is critical to how it’s understood. The Catechism describes marriage as “the intimate community of life and love” (#1603). Pope Benedict XVI described it as an icon of the Trinity, and St. John Paul II as a communion of man and woman leading to a communion between parent and child. Many remember the “love” part but have forgotten “life.”
When the reality of God’s plan for creation was recognized by the state, a civil institution was created that specifically united children with their mothers and fathers. This is a fact that doesn’t depend on revelation or belief in God. It simply is. Not all married men and women have children, but every child has a mother and father. When marriage is redefined in law, replacing man and woman with two people, that sole institution is eliminated. This makes promoting the unique value of men and woman marrying before having children an act of discrimination. So the question becomes: Do we need an institution geared to unite children with their moms and dads? If no, why not? How can it be unconstitutional to have such a civil institution?
The attack on Brendan Eichs was so outrageous that people on both sides defended him. Rather than being silent, what if he said, “My concern is not about relationships between same-sex couples, but the fact that redefining marriage eliminates the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads. Our moms and dads are part of our identity. Today, there are too many fatherless children with tragic human consequences. Half of children born to women under 30 are outside marriage — and 71% of high school drop outs, 85% children with behavioral disorders, 63% youth suicides, 71% teen pregnancies, 70% juveniles in state rehab, 90% of homeless and runaway children are all from fatherless homes. How can anyone justify eliminating this institution?”
Obviously these questions are just the beginning of a new discussion. We don’t know if such a response would have saved Eichs’ job, but it would certainly have clarified his motivation and perhaps even started the discussion about the reality of marriage that must take place.
WILLIAM B. MAY is president of Catholics for the Common Good and author of “Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.” He co-authored this article with Margot Kyd, a member of Legatus’ San Diego Chapter and chair of Catholics for the Common Good.