While the majority of Massachusetts’ citizens have chosen to allow same-sex couples to attempt marriage, more than half of the states have passed constitutional amendments that define the bond as being between one man and one woman. And yet, the definition is only part of the deeper crisis about marriage that has been brewing — which is based on how young people choose to live and in what circumstances they bring children into the world.
Whether or not defenders of marriage succeed in their fight to keep marriage defined in traditional terms, the larger problem is that fewer young people are entering into marriages, fewer of those who do see their unions as binding for life, and most young people don’t consider marriage as a requisite for starting families. Thus, while we cannot compromise on what constitutes a marriage, it is also critical to understand anew why marriage is important at all.
Attitudes towards marriage have long been subject to a relentless media campaign that has insisted that sexual intimacy is a private matter between consenting individuals. Most young persons would be astonished to think there could be any meaningful reason to restrict sexual intimacy to marriage, for just as Pope Paul VI predicted, widespread access to contraception has given rise to rampant promiscuity, decoupling it from social taboos, lasting commitments or pregnancy.
This is the atmosphere that blankets our contemporary culture, being reflected in movies, music, the Internet, and the lives of prominent people. Children simply have few other visible models, and the educational system has done its share of censoring any messages that compete with: your life is your own, your body was made for pleasure, and you make your own rules. Of course, it’s not only the mass media that influences children, but their own homes. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, notes that more than 40 percent of children will be part of a cohabitating household for at least a part of their formative years.
What is the harm? Is it possible that old-fashioned ideas were too repressive? That Christians misunderstand marriage or are unfair in trying to “impose” their views on non-believers? That modern life is incompatible with stifling religious dogmas? Each Christian will have to ponder these questions as family situations arise, as schools reformulate the ground rules and as the opportunities to state one’s belief become further constricted in the public square.
There is a wealth of data concerning increasingly disoriented children, the rampant growth of sexually-transmitted diseases, and the unsustainable tax burden of single-parent households. Every honest study shows that chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards benefit both the spouses and their children. But are we a people of faith or of statistics? What is the foundation of our belief concerning marriage?
The Church is clear about marriage — that it is between a man and a woman, that they are to be faithful to each other, that they are to receive children as a gift from God, and that the wider community benefits by being grounded in such stable households. For those who were married in the Church, this is what they attested to when they exchanged vows, and those who benefitted from being born into such homes are themselves a testament to the graces therein.
We can find ourselves tongue-tied when confronted with the superfluous arguments about false conception of human rights, authentic liberty and legitimate authority, but marriage isn’t rocket science. The Triune God loved us into existence and asks us to live accordingly. If the nation is to survive, we must defend the most basic truths about marriage — both with our words and our lives.
[The Anchor 9.30.11]