The Ancient Christian Wisdom on Marriage
Jennifer Roback Morse
Have you ever heard comments like these? "People oppose gay marriage only for religious reasons, because there really aren't any rational non-religious reasons to oppose gay marriage." "You are fighting for a lost cause. Marriage was lost a long time ago." And finally, how about this one, "It is time to throw in the towel, and accept the inevitable."
As a veteran of many marriage battles, I hear comments like these all the time. I honestly believe the answer to this nay-saying is simply "no!" It is the advocates of redefining marriage who hold to an irrational belief system. The ancient Christian teachings on marriage are quite sensible by comparison. The institution of marriage was indeed wounded long ago, but not lost. As a matter of fact, the damage caused by previous attacks on marriage can be part of the solution to bolster our courage to fight the next battle. And there is no "inevitable march of history." This is absolutely no time to raise the white flag and retreat.
There aren't really any non-religious reasons to oppose gay marriage, are there?
Actually, the belief that same sex "marriage" is a good idea or even possible, requires a person to hold at least three patently false beliefs.
First, one has to believe that men and women are interchangeable. Second, a person has to believe that marriage is about adults and their wants, and not about children and their needs. Finally, one has to believe that sex is normally a sterile activity, with reproduction being rare and optional. Everyone is essentially entitled to unlimited sexual activity without a live baby ever showing up.
Do you recognize these three beliefs as common beliefs in our culture?
Once a person has accepted these three things, redefining marriage to call same sex relationships "marriage" seems like a no-brainer. After all, the person has already decided that gender doesn't matter, and marriage doesn't matter, and sex itself doesn't matter. Letting two guys call themselves "married" can't possibly matter. So the advocates of same sex "marriage" wonder why law doesn't catch up with their understanding of marriage. They have already redefined marriage in their minds. They can't see what all the fuss is about.
There is a problem with this "new improved" understanding of marriage: each one of these three statements is false. To believe that men and women are interchangeable is to fly in the face of reality, to falsify one's daily experience. Treating marriage as if it were about adults and their feelings, over and above the needs of children is a form of narcissism. And just because we have the technology to reduce the probability of any given sexual act resulting in a pregnancy does not mean we can act as if sex were a sterile act.
Accepting any one of these three statements will make it almost impossible to have a happy married life. If you enter into married life, expecting your spouse to behave, think and feel as you do, you are setting yourself up for heartache and disappointment. If you believe marriage is about you and your feelings, well, let us just say you are not really very good marriage material. And as for the last belief, you might actually get away with believing that sex is a sterile activity, for yourself, and for a while. But society as a whole cannot conduct itself as if sex is always and everywhere a sterile activity.
All the reversible methods of contraception fail some of the time. If we act as if we have perfectly functioning contraception, we will have sex in situations that cannot sustain a pregnancy. It makes no sense to be surprised at every contraceptive failure. It is perfectly predictable that some failures will occur.
That is why we have so many out of wedlock pregnancies and abortions: those are our back-up plans for contraceptive failure in unsustainable relationships. Forty percent of births now take place out of wedlock. The US has nearly a million abortions a year.
Evidently, we have lots and lots of unsustainable sexual relationships. That is a lot of wishful thinking. You might even call is magical thinking.
Acting on false beliefs makes us unhappy. Any of our natural law predecessors, Catholic or pagan, Aquinas or Aristotle, would have predicted as much.
But this widespread unhappiness is not the only problem with these false beliefs. The state has committed itself to enforcing them in throughout society. For instance, a school district in Rhode Island recently shut down its father daughter dance for fear that it was illegal sexual stereotyping and therefore sexual discrimination. No-fault divorce is a policy that presumes that marriage is about the feelings of adults, and not about the interests of children. And Catholics are well aware that the state is forcing its beliefs about contraception on every employer in America, through the new health care legislation. It takes a lot of time, money, effort and intrusion, to force every person and institution in society to embrace a belief system that is demonstrably false.
Yet somehow, people believe that the sexual revolution has made us "free." Another magical belief.
Enacting same sex "marriage" will commit the state to "doubling down" on all three of these false beliefs. Redefining marriage to remove the gender requirement removes gendered language from the law: no mothers and fathers, husbands or wives. Only generic parents or generic spouses.
Same sex "marriage" benefits a handful of adults, at the expense of children. Society will no longer recognize the obvious facts that children need their own biological mothers and fathers. Nor will the authority structures of society be able to say that children have a legitimate interest in having a relationship with both of their parents.
The whole idea of "marriage equality" is based on the premise that intrinsically sterile relationships are equivalent to potentially fruitful relationships. Society need not take any special notice of the fact that sexual relationships between men and women are potentially fruitful, and therefore, command special attention and concern from society.
Aren't the advocates of "traditional" marriage fighting for a cause that was lost a long time ago?
Seeing all this lost ground can create an overwhelming feeling that traditional beliefs regarding marriage are being crushed in the battle to redefine it. However, I don't think all this lost ground is cause for despair. The bitter fruits of the Sexual Revolution have been predictable from the very beginning, and are increasingly there for everyone to see.
No fault divorce removed the presumption of permanence from marriage. All the cheerful predictions about how children won't be harmed by divorce, how children will be happy as long as their parents are happy, all those predictions turned out to be false.
Paul VI predicted in 1968 in Humanae Vitae that contraception would not live up to its promises. He predicted marital infidelity, pre-marital sex and the objectification of women. The advocates of contraception promised that every child would be a wanted child. Is there any doubt about who made the more accurate prediction?
Removing the gender requirement from marriage is not going to work any better. The ancient Christian teaching regarding marriage – as taught by the Catholic Church and many others -- has proven itself time and again, in defying all the wishful thinking and rose-colored-glasses predictions.
Now is the time to renew our faith in that wisdom.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, which promotes lifelong married love to college students. She was a campaign spokeswoman for Proposition 8 in California in 2008.
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