What’s at stake in the Marriage Debate?

In March, the Supreme Court took up two fundamental cases. The first case addressed the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed with bi-partisan support in 1996. The second case involved Proposition 8 in California, whereby nearly 7 million Californians affirmed marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

To the uneducated reader, it would seem as though changing the marriage laws would have no real consequence. Isn’t marriage, as current President Barrack Obama, previous president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, and countless celebrities have championed, just a matter of allowing individuals to express themselves in a committed way?

In reality, marriage is much more than simply receiving benefits. If marriage is defined by law as anything other than the permanent and exclusive union of a man and a woman, then this will change the way in which we view the meaning of five essential realities and the structure of reality itself.

The Meaning of Love

Those in support of redefining marriage state that those who have feelings for each other should be able to get married. Yet love is much more than a feeling. Love is about pouring yourself out as a sincere gift, and giving yourselves totally to another person. Marriage was designed to reveal love, wherein a man and a woman give to each other themselves freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. This expression of love is not simply about sharing feelings, but about building a life together that brings forth the next generation.

If marriage is defined by anyone who has certain feelings for another person, then when those feelings change, it must mean there never was love in the first place. Furthermore, if multiple people have feelings, then why must we limit marriage to only two people? If marriage is not linked to procreation, “marriage” is then open to any number of possibilities (i.e. same-sex “marriage,” polygamy, etc.).

The Meaning of Marriage

According to Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute, there are many private reasons why people get married, but the public purpose of marriage is to unite men and women to their children and to one another. This is the State’s compelling interest in marriage. Marriage must not be viewed from merely an adult’s perspective, but from also a child’s perspective. Certainly, not every marriage has the gift of children. Every child comes from a father and mother, and they have the right to know and be known by them. To prohibit a child from knowing one or both of his or her biological is a grave injustice.

The Meaning of the Body

Does biology matter? For those in support of revisionist marriage, the body has no fundamental meaning. For us as Christians, the body is essential. If the super-spiritual God has taken on a body, and still has His body, it means the body is fundamentally important. Jesus Christ, God-Incarnate, instructs us that “from the beginning, He made them male and female.” When God speaks about the importance of the creation of two sexes, we should pay attention.

Why does the body matter in marriage? Marriage is to be a reflection of love, which is a total self-offering. A man and woman give not just their heart and mind to their spouse, but their very selves, which includes their bodies. This bodily self-gift does not simply remain within themselves but is to be open to the outpouring of a third – a child – to his or her creation, raising, and education.

Many opponents of marriage often bring up the idea that not every marriage has children, thus anyone should be able to get married. While some marriages have not been blessed with children, every child has a biological father and mother. To deprive them of knowing and being known by their biological parents is a profound injustice. Even if a husband and wife never have a child, having no children through no fault of their own does not invalidate a marriage; it still upholds the norm that men and women, the two great halves of humanity, are called to come together to create something greater than they could individually.

As good as two men can be in raising a child, they can never be a mother. Two women can never be a father. Ask any child you know who grew up without a father and they’ll tell you that even if there was more than one person who raised them, they know their presence can never replace one’s biological dad.

Biology really does matter, as we want to know not just where we come from (as seen with humanity’s interest in ancestry), but to have a real relationship with our origin. And our origin most certainly includes our biological father and mother. And no government has the right to deprive anyone of this.

The Meaning of God

For Christians, we believe we were made male and female to be a living reflection of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Marriage was designed to be a clarion call to reveal a) the very nature of God who is a Divine Family, and b) the love and relationship between God and His people and Jesus Christ and the Church. Who reveals God’s love more than a married husband and wife who are passionate about each other?

When we start tinkering with our understanding of marriage, we start changing the way we understand who God is. Subsequently, we begin changing the way we understand who we are, because we’re made in His image. Instead of having a clear understanding of our great dignity, what remains is an identity crisis. If we’re going to help others to see their great dignity, we need to help them to recognize the beauty and truth about marriage.

The Meaning of Life

Because love has been reduced to a matter of feelings, life has become a pursuit of mere pleasure. We’re being taught that the meaning of life is to pursue pleasure, especially sexual pleasure in any way possible.

The problem is: Mere pleasure doesn’t satisfy. It is fleeting and we’re made for more. We are not designed to fervently pursue sexual pleasure, but to steadfastly to lay down our lives for others. This is the only way we’re going to be satisfied.

If we’re called to marriage, we’re called to make a totally gift of self – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Proclaiming and witnessing to the truth about marriage is among the most important work we can do, for a culture of marriage – one that builds, sustains and celebrates marriage – is a culture of great hope. It reveals the glory of man and woman, where male and female, in light of one another, recognize and uphold the intrinsic worth of humanity. It provides future generations with the security to know and be known by those who are committed to building up the human family – no matter the sacrifice or cost.

The key question is: What kind of future do we want? One where everyone is living for himself? Or do we want to respond to the call of total, self-sacrificial love that unveils the beauty of the two halves of humanity in a way that future generations will be impelled to take up this same great task?

Steve Pokorny is the Associate Director in the Office of Marriage, Family Life & NFP in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Steve is also the founder of Freedom-coaching.net, a one-on-one mentoring program designed to break the power of attraction to pornography. Steve lives with his wife and children in San Antonio. He can be reached at steve@freedom-coaching.net.
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