Re-Orienting the Marriage Conversation

Last week, an important step was taken to moving the national conversation about marriage forward.  It was entitled, “The Ring Makes the Difference”.  The participants in the event were Archbishop Dolan, Pastor Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Community, and the scholars Brad Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquard.  A video of the event is available here, and is well worth watching.  There’s also an excellent article in Catholic New York.

For the most part, the public debate has centered on the battle over the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.  That makes perfect sense, since there is very well-funded, active, organized movement to accomplish that goal.  The Church has been a major opponent of this movement — and a target of their vitriol — and we will continue to do so.

In fact, the same-sex “marriage” movement seems to believe that the only important discussion about marriage is about them.   It’s become difficult to even bring up the subject of marriage without the redefinition advocates interrupting and clamoring for their cause.  And the “Ring Makes the Difference” event was a perfect illustration of this.  They protested outside the theater, and dominated the question/answer session with their personal appeals for the recognition of their unions (apparently they didn’t get the memo that their bill was passed already in New York).

But in a larger sense, the debate has never really been about same-sex couples.  Most reliable surveys show that only about 4% of the overall population self-describes themselves as “gay” or “lesbian”.  In those states where marriage has been re-defined, only a small percentage (an estimated 5%) of that small percentage have entered into “marriages”.  In fact, recent Census reports show that there are only about 130,000 same-sex “marriage” households in the United States.  To put this in context, there are about 60,000,000 households that are founded on real marriages, and another 7,500,000 unmarried opposite-sex couples who are cohabiting.

Let’s do the math.  Based on those Census numbers, same-sex “marriage” couples make up about 0.2% of all households — just two tenths of one percent, or two out of a thousand.

So why is the discussion being dominated by such a tiny population, most of whom don’t even seem to want to be married anyway?  How about if we start talking about the 99.8% of the households who are not in same-sex “marriages”.  Shouldn’t the discussion be about how the redefinition of marriage affects them, and what social policies we can develop that will help them?

That was the point of the Ring Makes a Difference event, and that’s why it’s so important — to focus our attention away from the small special interest group, and towards the vast bulk of the population, and the common good.  In fact, the conversation needs to concentrate on the nature of conjugal love, which is oriented to the union of man and woman, with the procreation and raising of children as an inherent part.  The debate can then appeal to the unchallenged scholarly consensus about the social benefits of marriage — how it is the best place for the emotional, financial and overall good of men, women and children.

To that end, the remarks of Archbishop Dolan were particularly apt.  He made four major points, which in my opinion can serve as a good outline for the discussion as we go forwards:

  1. The defense of marriage is not a religious issue, but is a question that stems from the natural law, and is an expression of responsible American citizenship.
  2. This is not an anti-“gay” issue.
  3. Our concerns about the re-definition of marriage can be seen in the very real threats to religious liberty that are emerging.
  4. The challenge to marriage does not just come from outside, but from inside as well — our own Catholic population has largely lost the proper understanding of true marriage.

The debate about marriage affects the vast majority of the population, and the common good of all.  It is a dis-service to have the conversation focus only on same-sex couples.  We need to re-orient the discussion.

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13 Responses to “Re-Orienting the Marriage Conversation”

  1. Tom says:

    It would be great to move towards strengthening and including all Catholics couples. The definition of marriage has expanded to include everyone, and gays and lesbians are part of “everyone”. It seems like the minority of Right Wing Catholics cannot re-orient themselves. It they did, everyone would welcome it!

  2. Ed Mechmann says:

    If a “definition” is “expanded” until it has become so broad as to include “everyone” or “everything”, then it has ceased to mean anything. Coherent reasoning and conversation becomes impossible.

    Thanks for the comment, though, because it pretty much proves the point of my post.

  3. Tom says:

    You can play semantics all day long, but the fact is that the majority of Catholics accept that the church has been wrong on many issues and don’t care if gays and lesbians get married. Fortunately, as you said, you speak for an ever diminishing minority within the Catholic Church. I totally agree with you that we should reorient the conversation. Let’s move towards tolerance, freedom, acceptance, spirit, hope, change, and let’s support all marriages. It seems like the Christian thing to do.

  4. Ed Mechmann says:

    This is instructive, because it’s an illustration of the post-modern approach in perhaps its purest form. Questions of truth and meaning brushed aside as mere “playing semantics”, on the assumption that words can mean whatever we want, and there is no objective moral standard by which we are to live. Re-defining “Christian” in a way that rejects the historical content of the faith, in favor of subjective notions as “tolerance” and “acceptance” (as if all things can and must be accepted). Attempting to dismiss the teaching of the Church as outmoded or not supported by public opinion, as if the opinions of the public can re-define reality. Asking that the moral law be re-defined down to the level of our own sinfulness.

    Thanks again for confirming the point of the post.

  5. Tom says:

    Thanks very much to the Diocese for providing a forum to discuss these important issues and thank you for calling my approach pure post-modern. That is quite a compliment, and I appreciate it very much! No one ever said that to me before! I will wear that as a badge of honor.

    I am not brushing anything aside, and hardly redefining the definition of Christianity. Jesus talked about accepting and loving thy neighbor. Jesus’ teachings are quite applicable in the post-modern age we live in. What has become outmoded is the continued discrimination against gays and lesbians by the church and their basic unwillingness to include everyone in the Catholic community.

    To face discrimination in a place of worship is an odd oxymoron. As a powerful and important religious institution, the church could effect a change and instead treat moral codes as more important than people who are being killed, beaten, bashed and bullied simply for who they are. This seems terribly out of step with the teaching of Christ.

    The Catholic Church is on the wrong side of this issue and seems to historically be unwilling, until dragged by public opinion, into accepting the laws of the land in which they operate.

    There are Catholic gays and lesbians who could use the support they everyone else takes for granted from the church. To sanctify their marriages and legitimize their lives.

  6. Ed Mechmann says:

    It may be helpful for me to explain how we understand the moral teachings of the Church, and why this particular teaching will never change.

    The moral doctrines of the Church rest on Revelation and natural law. So, we look to see what God has revealed to us in Sacred Scripture, in the Tradition of the Church (i.e., what has always been taught by the Church), in the nature of the human person, and interpreted for us by the teaching office of the Church (i.e., the pope and the bishops who are in communion with him). So, in Sacred Scripture we look to the Ten Commandments, the ethical norms taught in the Old Testament, the preaching of Christ, the letters of Paul, taken as a whole. In Tradition, we look to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church (the great bishops and theologians of the early Church), the Councils, and the bishops throughout history. If a moral norm has been taught to us in this way, we consider it to be the definitive teaching of Christ, and nobody is authorized to change it.

    When it comes to sexual morality, the core teaching of the Church is that the proper setting for sexual activity is only between a man and a woman who are bound to each other in the covenant of marriage. Any sexual act other than that fails to satisfy the proper purpose of human sexuality, is contrary to the nature of the human person and the will of God, and is thus gravely immoral. This norm applies not just to persons of the same sex, but to everyone. This is taught by Sacred Scripture, has been the universal and perpetual teaching of the Tradition of the Catholic Church, and has been reaffirmed repeatedly and authoritatively by the teaching office of the Church. We consider it, to use the technical theological term, “irreformable” (i.e., unchangeable).

    Just to put it in context, by the way, the teaching of the Church also unequivocally condemns acts of violence against innocent persons, and specifically has denounced such acts committed against homosexual persons.

    If you want to understand this more clearly than I have explained it, and also to see what the Church teaches about the support that is offered to persons with same-sex attraction, then I recommend that you read the document from the US Bishops, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination“.

  7. Tom says:

    Thank you very much for taking the time to write. I appreciate the information and can now move on in my life. I have been holding onto a false hope that at some point the Catholic church would come to it’s senses. Well, at least not during my lifetime. It is always about “sexual morality” with you guys, yet there are some of the worst offenders in your ranks. But, I really do not want to digress. Maybe if you all lightened up and supported healthy, normal relations between consenting adults, the world would be a better place. Thanks for the “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination”. I did look through it. It is such a put down and quite frankly repulsive, and like most of the policies of the Catholic Church, terribly repressive. There is no God or Christ in that document. It is full of terrible words.

    I give up with the Catholic Church. I am not living the rest of my life listening to things like this. Life is about love, happiness, caring, and all the other things you say are subjective and life is short. I have been in a caring and loving partnership for 16 years and we are getting married in December in NYC. I cant wait. We will not be coming to the Catholic Church ever again. Tolerance, Acceptance and normal ideas about religion are found elsewhere. You profess and believe sexual repression and hateful repression is the way. It is not. Your church is no longer my church.

  8. Ed Mechmann says:

    I too used to think that many of the teachings of the Church were oppressive, because they told me that the things I liked to do were against God’s will. I wanted the Church to tell me that whatever I wanted to do was okay. And I acted that way. But it didn’t work — I was unhappy, and could tell that there was something broken in me.

    Over time, with the help of prayer, the good example of others, and the grace of the sacraments, I have come to a different point of view.

    Now, I understand that when the Church tells me that my desires and behavior are displeasing to God, it’s not because the Church hates me. It’s because of love, and a desire to tell me the truth so that I may be the person that God created me to be. “Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten” (Rev 3:19).

    I’m still broken, but God has patched me and repaired me over and over again. Someday, maybe, I’ll be fixed.

    I’m sorry that you’ve given up on the Church. Please keep in mind that God will never give up on you.

  9. Mary says:

    I understand Tom giving up on the Church. For walking away. This teaching is hard.

  10. Ed Mechmann says:

    Yes, it is hard. But as the Lord said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Lk 18:27)

  11. Edward says:

    I too have evolved to understand the Church a bit better. Of course, it took me 53 years!

    But the wait was worth it.

  12. Jurek says:

    1.As you point out, the gays make up a small percentage of the population. However, your inference is that because they are small percentage, just maybe they don’t not have rights too?

    2. Why is not more talk about what really is hurting marriage, and hurting children? In my opinion, this is fact that so many Catholic girls and other girls in society have babies and don’t not get married. I was visiting Los Angeles in state of California this summer with wife and I happened to visit the beautiful Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral. There was preparations for baptism to occur shortly. Maybe 150 parents stood in long line with their little ones waiting for baptisms, registering themselves. I took nice photographs of all the happy peoples. Well, I started talking to one of the ladies organizers who was not Mexican like almost all the mothers and children. More than half the children were like 4, 5, 6, 7 years old. Not too many little infants. At first, I think to myself that this is first communion. But no, baptism. The ladies registering tell me that most of the parents were not married, and just look around. Where are the fathers? Of course, there were some, covered with their tattoos and others looking not too much like gangsters in church. But really, shouldn’t our religion have more upset about encouraging the young peoples having sex to get married? This is not a message that the young peoples having sex will listen to bishops in dress talking about. There needs to be really married couples saying that marriage is really good. These young girls with all the kids think like America is what you see on soap operas on television. This is the threat to marriage. This is the hardship for all the little children. No marriage, no fathers. I saw some of the gays there. They were helping to organize the long lines, registerstration the peoples, and sing in the choir. They were not destroying marriage.