Are you ready to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman? We need you to promote the institution of marriage in the public square. This debate is urgent, winnable, and well worth the effort. The stakes are high—defending the good of children and future generations, the health of society.
The challenge is to explain the societal need for marriage between a man and a woman as the standard for sexual conduct and the basis for family structures and relationships. Why does the government protect the institution of marriage and accord it special legal status, recognition, and benefits? Because marriage is an indispensable common good—for everyone—not just for religious people and not just for the majority that wants to protect it.
Marriage exists and is protected by the government because of its inherent goodness and importance for children and the stability of society. It’s never entirely private. Rather, its survival is contingent upon its special social and legal status.
“Our civil law has always treated traditional marriage as reflecting objective truths about human sexuality, procreation, and the family,” says Gerard Bradley, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, in National Review (July 28). “Sound civil law protects and promotes all such natural, morally valuable opportunities for human flourishing, keeping them alive, intact, and available for subsequent generations.”
The marital bond between a man and a woman is unique. It’s the only natural union that provides us with children and the ideal environment to rear them. The biological connection between mother, father, and child reaches out like a grapevine to form the broader family structures and future generations that ensure the continuation of our civilization. Certainly, single-parent households do a good job of nurturing children under difficult circumstances, but children thrive in heterosexual, two-parent households.
“In the marital household we find a nexus of interwoven relationships—husband and wife, mother and father, father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, etc.—and all the moral obligations and opportunities these relationships imply,” Bradley notes.
Despite the benefits for children and families, by some accounts, public acceptance of alternatives to traditional marriage is growing. On July 25, the Pew Research Center released the results of a new poll showing a significant decline in public opposition to legalization of gay marriage. According to the poll, only 53 percent of Americans say they oppose gay marriage, while 38 percent support it. By contrast, in 1996 a solid 65 percent were opposed, with only 27 percent in favor. Furthermore, the new poll reveals growing support for legalization among white Roman Catholics.
Contradicting the Pew findings is a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll released on July 28 showing increased opposition to same-sex civil unions, which would give homosexual partners some of the benefits reserved for married couples. According to the poll, 57 percent of Americans are opposed to civil unions, with 40 percent in favor, revealing the most opposition since that question was first asked in 2000. Vermont’s high court already has legalized civil unions.
In a welcome development from the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II on July 31 through the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” that gives a practical reflection for Catholic and non-Catholic politicians and the general public on the importance of defending traditional marriage.
Yet activist plaintiffs’ attorneys are working in courts around the country to dismantle the fragile state Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) laws that affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The DOMA laws are less likely to survive after the recent Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court sodomy ruling, which broadened individual rights and autonomy while weakening the legal framework for marriage. At this writing, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is poised to issue a ruling on same-sex marriage that could further undermine traditional marriage.
Now that the courts have taken sides, the focus turns to the war for public opinion. As columnist Maggie Gallagher writes in National Review Online (July 14), “Losing this battle means losing the idea that children need mothers and fathers. It means losing the marriage debate. It means losing limited government. It means losing American civilization. It means losing, period.”