The Marriage Debate: What NOT to Do (and What TO do instead)

There is really no way to put a smiley face on it.  Yesterday’s SCOTUS decisions dealt a serious blow to the marriage movement.  The decision was not as catastrophic as it could have been.  One scenario had SCOTUS pulling a “Roe” and, by judicial fiat, granting a federal right to gay marriage in all 50 states.  As  I noted on the air yesterday, the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 are the equivalent of having one’s legs cut off instead of one’s head.  Yes, one’s better than the other, but neither is exactly good.  Yes, we fight on, but it’s a little hard to not feel like Monty Python’s Black Knight while we do it.

As of 6/26/13,  thanks to the Supremes, anyone who believes there is something unique about traditional marriage–about a child’s right to have both a mother and a father–has become a bigot and a hate-monger.  There is no way around it.  Gay marriage is now the ideal that people who value progress, justice, and love (or at least the popular understanding of those terms) must support.   In an ironically chilling statement, the President said that he “won’t” force churches to accept the civil redefinition of marriage.   I say it was ironically chilling, because as Deacon Greg noted yesterday, in the President’s half-hearted attempt to reassure those who disagree with the decision, he did not say that he had no power (as the Constitution–for the time being–asserts) to force churches to accept his will  at some point in the future–as he is attempting to do with contraception and the HHS mandate (and BTW, mark my words, if we lose the mandate fight,  gay unions will be the next thing the gov’t tries to force the Church to support).  All he said was that he “won’t” do what he implicitly thinks he ought to be able to do.

In light of all this, it could be difficult for anyone on the side of traditional marriage to avoid getting lost in apocalyptic visions of the coming persecution.   But we really do have to resist this temptation because if we don’t we become the caricature our opponents would like us to be.

DO NOT BE WHAT THEY SAY WE ARE.

We must be careful to NOT become what they say we are.  Yesterday, in their anguish, I saw countless people posting horrible–and frankly, inexcusable–things about homosexuals.  I saw foolish posts on Facebook from prominent, well-known Catholics that featured obscene pictures of homosexual behavior at Gay Pride parades with sarcastic captions like, “Oh, SURE.   They’re JUST like us.”    Comments like this do not help our cause.  They simply turn us into exactly what they say we are.  Haters.  Worse, comments like this obscure the true reason we value traditional marriage.

MARRIAGE:  GETTING THE CONVERSATION RIGHT

I encourage–no, I beg–everyone to immediately get Bill May’s excellent book, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.  The book is only 82 pages long but it will open your eyes about the real reasons traditional marriage is important and help you–as the title says–get the conversation right.

The short version of the book’s thesis is that support for traditional marriage has NOTHING to do with being against homosexuals and EVERYTHING to do with defending the rights of children.   Marriage is the only institution that exists to defend the rights of children to be united to their mom and dad.  When someone confronts you about traditional marriage, the questions you should be asking them are the following…

  • Do we need an institution that unites kids with their moms and dad? Yes or no?
  • Do children have a right to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by their moms and dads?
  • Does anyone have the right to create children with the intention of depriving them of their mother or father or both?
  • Should we have laws and curricula in schools that promote men and women marrying before having children?

OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE:  CHILDREN DO NOT HAVE GUARANTEED RIGHTS TO A MOTHER AND FATHER

Children have a natural right to be united to their mom and dad.  Marriage exists to protect this right.  This means several things.

1.  A child born, for instance, to a co-habiting couple, or a child who suffers divorce of his parents, or is raised in any other context than in a traditional marriage, cannot count on either his right to know where he comes from or his right be provided for by the people who created him.  When a mother and father are married, a child knows where he comes from and who he can expect to provide for him.  Marriage unites a child to his mom and dad.

2. Even now, almost everyone acknowledges that being deprived of either a mother or father is a bad thing.  For example; we feel sad for the child who never had the opportunity to meet his dad.  Or the child who’s mom died in childbirth.  Or the child of divorce who couldn’t count on one or both parents to be there.  Or the kid raised by his grandparents instead of his parents.  We recognize these things as sad because we all know that a child needs, not just “people” to care for him–or even any two people to care for him–but, ideally,  a mother and a father.  Preferably, his own mother and father.  Other people can do a terrific job of raising kids, but unless they are the child’s own mother and father, the child still feels a loss.  Moms and Dads make different contributions to a child’s development.  These contributions go beyond mere cultural constructs.  There is an essential difference between moms and dads that cannot be made up for by someone playing the role of mother or father.    Mothers and fathers interact with children differently.  They give different psychosocial gifts to their child.  A child raised without a mom or dad can be a good kid, a healthy kid, a well-functioning kid.  But he will never feel as whole as the child raised in an intact family with his own mother and father.

3.   Gay marriage cannot be equivalent to marriage because–if the above is true–no matter how much two men or two women  love each other, and no matter how technically skilled they may be at parenting, they cannot give a child a mother and a father.  As I pointed out above, in every other context in which a child is deprived of a mother or father, that is recognized as a tragedy.  Gay marriage is the only context where intentionally denying a child a mother or father is seen as a good thing.  This does serious violence to a child.

For instance, if a child of divorce who doesn’t know his father says he is sad about it, or goes to therapy, he would be allowed to grieve that absence.  But would a child raised by two lesbians be encouraged to tell his moms if he ached to have a dad?  Would he be allowed to grieve never having known his father or to feel frustrated about never being able to have a relationship with the sperm donor who helped his two “moms” conceive him?   Would a therapist be forced–because of so-called marriage “equality”–to tell this child that he has nothing to be sad about because his family was just as good as any other family even though his gut says differently?  In what other context is denying someone’s feelings a good thing?  Saying that gay marriage is equal to traditional marriage effectively says that children raised without a mother or a father have no right to feel the absence of the missing parent.  After all, things are equal, aren’t they?  Anyone who says otherwise is guilty of bigotry–including the child’s own feelings.  People who are shamed for the hurt they feel cannot heal the hurt they feel.  Gay marriage effectively necessitates the shaming of anyone–not just children of gay parents–who feels the absence of a mother or father.

4. If gay marriage is equivalent to marriage, then gay couples must be allowed–and even encouraged–to have access to whatever means they need to acquire the other thing that traditional married couples have; namely, children.  That means an exponential expansion of donor-conceived children, and surrogacy.  Click here to read about the research that describes the unique struggles of donor-conceived children.  Click here to read about the struggles in their own words.

5.  Yes, all of the above logic also applies to the similar abuses heterosexual couples perpetrate against children.  That said, at least with heterosexual couples, there is still a chance that these injustices can be addressed. With gay marriage, all the things that are at least arguably unjust when heterosexuals do them to children (surrogacy, donor-conception, depriving a child of a mother or father through various means) become irrevocably just when homosexuals do them.   When same-sex couples are seen as equivalent to heterosexual couples, the necessity of a father and mother for a child disappears.  There is no reason to solve the problems that come with the absence of a father or mother.  We just close our eyes to the possibility that there could possibly be any problems.

 WE ARE NOT AGAINST “GAY MARRIAGE.”

The upshot is that we are not against gay marriage.   We are for defending the institution that protects the rights of children to be united to their own mom and dad.  We recognize that this isn’t always possible, but we recognize that when it isn’t possible, that is a sad thing that must be dealt with compassionately–not denied as an inconvenient truth.

Homosexual persons have a right to be treated with dignity.  They have the right to be given whatever protections they need to live full, dignified, healthy lives free from persecution and prejudice.  But they do not have the right to pursue these goals by taking away the very few rights children have to be united to their mom and dad and, to the degree that it is possible, to be raised by their own mom and dad.  THAT is the problem with gay marriage.  Nothing else.

So, don’t become the bitter, hateful, homophobic caricature our opponents want us to be.   Get the marriage conversation right.   Please.

The future.  Our future.  Our children’s future depends on it.

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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 www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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