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:
- 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.
- This is not an anti-“gay” issue.
- Our concerns about the re-definition of marriage can be seen in the very real threats to religious liberty that are emerging.
- 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.