Getting the Marriage Conversation Right–Responding to objections

Nicole asks some important questions that I thought it might be helpful to respond to in a post.  Here comments are in italics and my comments are interspersed.

So what about the gay or lesbian couple who doesn’t *want* to have kids? Can we deign to let them marry? Maybe have a sticker on their marriage license: “no children were harmed in the making of this marriage.”

DR. GREG:  LOL.  That’s a cute idea in theory.  But do you hear how discriminatory and patronizing that is?  “Yes, yes.  You’re equal–as long as you promise to never have kids.”  Even if you could do this to couples (and you can’t) a couple could change their mind at any time.   How do you hold someone to the promise to never have children? The very idea ends up being too discriminatory and unfair to implement much less reinforce.


I also find it a bit disingenuous to couch this objection as “think of the children!” and insisting that no child raised apart from their biological parents can possibly feel “whole.” There are hundreds of thousands of children happily being raised in loving, supportive, adoptive families who I dearly hope are not exposed to this line of reasoning. Maybe the reason people wind up feeling “less than” is because we keep saying their families aren’t good enough?  As an aside, this feverent insistence on the irreplaceability of birth parents does not support the prolife goal of adoption as a response to unwanted pregnancies.

I don’t know if you are an adoptive parent.  I am. I’ve also been involved in foster and adoptive care for over 30 years.  The fact is, my wife and I are working tirelessly to make sure our child never feels a lack of anything in her life, but the truth is, at some point, no matter how awesome you are as an adoptive parent, you are going have to respond to questions like, “Why didn’t the people who gave birth to me want me?”  Or, “I wonder what the people who gave birth to me were like/look like?”  “I wonder where they are now.”    We all want to know where we’re from.   Our daughter is a very happy, talented, intelligent,  and well-adjusted kid, but my wife and I have also had to prepare ourselves to respond to questions and address a pain that our daughter will have to confront that children raised with their biological parents never have to address.

None of this takes anything away from the beauty of the gift of adoption.   Adopted children are amazing kids and adoptive parents are remarkable people (ahem, if I do say so myself), but if you are an adoptive parent you cannot deny your child’s right to ask questions–and get sensitive answers–about his or her origins even thought you commit yourself to doing everything you can every single day to mitigate the ache those question reveal.


I hope that helps.  I invite other readers to comment, criticize or play devil’s advocate.  I love a challenge.   Incidentally, the new comment system on Patheos requires me to approve all comments.  I actually have a life, so I only check for comments once or twice a day.  If you don’t see your comment  right away don’t assume I deleted it.  People who write to complain that I deleted them before I even read their comment are annoying and will be deleted for the crime of irritating me.   Be thoughtful. Be patient. Or get canned. That is all.

About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit

  • Nicole Resweber

    I appreciate your responding to my comments. I realize you are under no obligation to do so, and it strengthens your argument to address them, especially with your first-hand experience as an adoptive parent.

    I would like to clarify/apologize for the tone of the first comment, about childless gay couples. My sarcasm runneth over. I was fully aware that it sounded patronizing and discriminatory — that was the point I was trying to make. Not that we should EVER tell ANY couple this, but that telling LGBT folks they can’t get married because it is bad for the children is, in itself, patronizing and discriminatory, no matter what your reason.

    It is also important to note that there is a very distinct difference between the civil right to a legal marriage, and the spiritual capacity to enter into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I am 100% in favor, on the basis of this country’s founding principles, of extending the former to all couples, while fully supportive of the Church’s duty to define and discern who may receive the latter. I would no more want the Pope to define the civil marriage laws than I would want the Supreme Court to dictate the form of the Sacraments.

    Thank you. :)

    • TheodoreSeeber

      We fully admit it is patronizing and discriminatory. Truth often hurts.

      But don’t you think all the people *left out of this ruling* because they aren’t gay and can’t have marriage for the reasons society deems are not also discriminated against? I personally see no more reason to grant a marriage to adult homosexuals than to a man and his boy from NAMBLA, but isn’t the very definition of consent equally discriminatory?

      • Nicole Resweber

        An underage child cannot consent to a sexual relationship or marriage. Neither (to head off another ad absurdum argument) can an animal or non-living object.

    • gpopcak

      No need to apologize.
      Regarding your point that there is a difference between civil marriage and holy matrimony, that’s true to a point, but I think it misses something important. Every sacrament requires some naturally occurring THING. Baptism uses water. Communion uses bread and wine. If there was no more water, you couldn’t have baptism. If there is no wheat, or grape wine, you can’t have communion. You need the THING to be intact in order to raise that to a new, sacramental dignity.
      So it is with marriage Matrimony depends upon the existence of the naturally occurring thing that is natural marriage. If natural marriage is redefined, Matrimony suffers as well. This, btw, is why we can’t “just give marriage back to the Church.” Marriage isn’t a church thing any more than water, wine or wheat is a Church invention. The Church just uses those naturally occurring things as the foundation for revealing a new level of reality; the reality in which the natural raises us to the divine. If the natural elements are destroyed, then there is nothing to reveal.

      • Nicole Resweber

        Interesting. This is a line of reasoning I have not considered. An “argument from sacramentality,” if you will.

  • Barbara Fryman

    It seems to me that we as a culture try to mitigate the pains of life with the argument that X is as good as Y. Saying that kids who are adopted or lose a parent through death are just fine is a lie and does those children a huge disservice. You cannot demand a child not grieve a loss because it is nicer for everyone. I applaud you and your wife for assessing your daughter’s need to explore her feelings of loss when the time comes.

    Adult children of divorce suffer so greatly because their identity is tied to their perception of their parent’s marriage. Marriage matters to kids of all ages! When can we start being honest that our decisions matter to society as a whole and it’s not just about whatever makes us happy in the moment?