Support for Traditional Marriage Motivated by Love, Not Hate

This used to be the one hot-button political issue I really didn’t care to talk about. My position on the matter could best be summarized with an apathetic shrug. I had liberal friends in college who fought passionately for gay marriage, convinced their cause was the next great civil rights battle. I had members of my family and church who fought passionately against it. I didn’t really care either way. Could we just change the subject, please?

It’s not that I was afraid to offend someone or uninterested in moral debates. Since I was in middle school, I have been willing to debate the pro-life position with anyone, at anytime, unafraid of how unpopular my defense of unborn life might be. I had the power of the Truth, capital T, behind me. I knew abortion was wrong, and I knew it mattered. Innocent lives hung in the balance, and refusing to speak up for the voiceless was something I wouldn’t contemplate.

But as the debate over gay marriage heated up and the tide of public opinion began to coalesce around the idea, my apathy turned to discomfort. As a libertarian-minded conservative, I didn’t like the government telling people what they couldn’t do. It was hard to answer the question of: why can’t a same sex couple marry?

I had several answers to the question of: why can’t a woman abort her child? The logic was easy, not because I was an expert in ethics, but because the fact that an unborn baby is a human life is obvious even to children and has been proven over and over again by science. One could quote scripture or get into the theology of the issue, but to do so was not strictly necessary. But every argument against gay marriage sounded judgmental or hypocritical or hopelessly dated.

I didn’t come around to the importance of the issue until I myself was married with children, until I learned that love is not a feeling but a commitment that requires sacrifice. Even then, it took a few years for me to be able to articulate my stance on the issue. That’s when I realized that the logic was off because the question was wrong. Instead of asking “Why can’t a gay couple marry?” I should have been asking, “What is marriage, and what is its purpose?”

The first phrasing puts all the burden of proof on the traditional marriage side. Gay marriage is good until you can prove it is not. It also sets you up to deny someone something they want. Once you start denying someone something they claim as a right, you put yourself in the camp of the 1950s segregationists who fought to keep blacks and whites from attending the same schools, much less marrying. It is the wrong way to approach the question.

So let’s return to the second phrasing, the one that should be at the heart of any policy debate. What is marriage, and what is its purpose?

Unfortunately, our culture seems to have forgotten the truth about the essence and purpose of marriage. Many today would answer that marriage is just a committed relationship between two people, the purpose of which is simply to make each other happy.

And what is the result of this misconception? People marry and divorce at will. Some have kids, others don’t. Some live together and have children without marrying. They stay together for a few years, until one party leaves or something better comes along. Our culture encourages the relentless pursuit of each individual’s pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment. When my partner no longer meets my needs, I move on to someone who can. The so-called “modern family” is a hodgepodge of people whose lives are thrown together for the time being by a series of circumstances. Fathers are absent and seem unnecessary. Where there is a breakdown in the ability to provide for women and children, the government steps in to pick up the slack.

So, what is marriage really, and what is its purpose? I would offer that marriage is a permanent monogamous commitment between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and raising children. This legal definition is broad enough to encompass members of all the major world religions as well as people who are not religious. According to my faith, marriage is also a sacrament made in the presence of God (and thus, God is present in marriage). The purpose of Christian marriage is also to help the other person grow in Christ’s love in a way that only someone of the opposite sex can.

Traditional marriage respects the fact that men and women are fundamentally different in their natures. This is not to say that one is superior and one is inferior. It is not to return to 1950s stereotypes or deny women career opportunities. It merely acknowledges a biological reality. Men help women learn to nurture and care for others, while women help men learn to protect and provide. Without marriage, neither man nor woman can truly develop these gifts to their fullest. The instincts to nurture and protect lie deep within our DNA, but they need to be awakened or activated. Having a wife and a family inspire men to make sacrifices for their well-being and safety. A married man would go to war to defend his wife and children. He would work long hours of hard labor to ensure they are well-fed and sheltered. That same man, in the absence of a family, might decide to pursue his own well-being and pleasure instead.

holy-family

Now, a few caveats. I mean no disrespect to single people. There are many single men and women who are very nurturing and brave in the absence of marriage. Most of us, however, need a little encouragement if we are to reach our true potential. I was not a particularly nurturing person before I met my husband and had children. I am still independent and strong-willed (and on my bad days selfish and oblivious), but I am now able to recognize and respond to the needs of others in a way that I never was before marriage. Likewise, my husband saw his protective instincts surge after the birth of our sons, and he started working twice as hard.

It used to be obvious that the creation of children required a man and a woman. Modern science has separated sex from procreation in a way that previous generations couldn’t have imagined. A woman can now go to a sperm donor and be inseminated with the DNA of a complete stranger. But even if science has given us the ability to create life outside of the act of love, years of research in the social sciences and numerous studies have failed to deliver a law as well-supported as this: Nothing is better for the long-term mental, emotional, and financial well-being of a child than to be raised by a married mother and father. Here are 30 simple statistics to support this. Also, it is becoming well-documented that growing up without a father is much more harmful to boys than girls. See here and here.

Again for the caveats. There are many couples who struggle with fertility issues and for one reason or another cannot have biological children. Some may choose to adopt, while others may assist in the raising of nieces and nephews. The inability to have children does not make a marriage less valid, as it still serves the first purpose of helping one’s spouse grow in Christ and contributes to society in numerous ways.

To state the basic truth that children do best in households with a married mother and father once again runs the risk of sounding outdated and judgmental. What about all the single moms who are doing their best? President Obama likes to point out that he himself was raised by grandparents and a single mom, and yet he rose to the highest office in the land. Yet he has also acknowledged that he would have liked to have had a father around. What child wouldn’t? Single parents or grandparents raising children are doing admirable work. But they will be the first to admit that there are difficulties in having to be both mom and dad, the nurturer and the provider at once. For a gay couple to make the decision to create a human life outside of the bond of marital love, a child that will never know a mother and/or father, for the purposes of fulfilling their own desires and needs, fundamentally misses the point. The marriage exists to serve the children; the children do not exist to serve the needs of the individuals in the marriage.

So, back to the marriage debate. When people say that a man should be able to marry another man, or a woman marry another woman, they are proposing a radical redefinition of the very understanding of marriage. The burden of proof should be on them to explain how this is even possible. If marriage is understood as a committed monogamous permanent relationship between a man and a woman, then “gay marriage” makes as much sense as a “male girl” or a “married bachelor.” By definition, it isn’t possible. To say so does not reflect “hatred” or “prejudice.”

I decided to finally write my opinion on this for two audiences.

First, for my liberal friends, especially those who are not religious. I do not expect to convince you to support traditional marriage. But you should not look at all traditional marriage supporters as bigots or homophobes. You should not push the Christian religion into the same camp as the KKK. Please respect that our position comes from our deeply held religious beliefs that are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. We will fight the political battle over what our government should recognize as a marriage, but let’s not demonize the other side or impugn their motives. You should be able to eat a Chick-Fil-A sandwich without feeling like you are aiding the enemy.

Second, for my conservative and religious friends. Don’t get stuck in the trap of trying to explain why gay people shouldn’t be able to marry. Instead, steer the conversation to the essence and purpose of marriage. It makes me sad that a friend once felt the need on Facebook to post something along the lines of “I’m a Christian, but I don’t hate gay people.” When you say things like that, it gives credence to the lie that all Christians are hateful and homophobic until otherwise proven. Surely there are some who are, but they are a minority. You can support your gay friends and still defend traditional marriage. Laws can be passed against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and allowing committed gay couples to visit each other in hospital rooms without redefining marriage.

Why does the marriage debate matter? I think most of the “same-sex” or “marriage equality” crowd are committed idealists who believe in what they are fighting for. Some have bought the argument that opposing gay marriage is tantamount to opposing interracial marriage (which is false). Some are themselves homosexual and seeking the affirmation of their peers. But I fear that there are some liberals and secularists who seek to use the gay marriage issue to undermine Christianity. The scary truth is, it’s working. And as Christians, this should concern us. Some have taken Jefferson’s prescription for a “wall of separation between Church and state” to argue that religion has no place in our laws or institutions, something our founders never intended. This misreading would pit the First Amendment against itself, as Christians would have their free speech violated. But the idea of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman is not unique to Christianity. It is as old as society itself and predates civilization.

Love is not a fleeting emotion. It is a commitment; it is a sacrifice. Love helps us grow as individuals and holds us together as a society. Love has both a soft and a hard nature, the nurturing love of a mother and the stern at times but always protecting love of a father. Supporters of traditional marriage must base our defense of the institution in this love, and in God’s love for us—all of us, regardless of sexual orientation. Hatred of any kind has no place in it.

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13 thoughts on “Support for Traditional Marriage Motivated by Love, Not Hate

  1. “We will fight the political battle over what our government should recognize as a marriage” Long ago church gave up the power of marriage to the state otherwise what need to battle the government.

    • Great question! As a Catholic, marriage is a sacrament and thus a religious institution. However, our laws cannot simply ignore it, as it touches so many aspects of society. For example, spouses cannot be made to testify against each other. Marriage has always been part of society, which makes laws that are informed by moral values. In short, it is important for the law to recognize marriage. Redefining marriage could lead to legal action being taken against Christians, as we have already seen. Religion and the law will overlap in places and marriage is one of them.

  2. I like your arguments and I agree. However, it must be recognized that the legal institution of marriage preceded Christianity. The essence of marriage is sexual difference ordered to the good of potential offspring. Even historical polygamy presumed sexual difference. On this level, monotheistic religion is irrelevant.

  3. Lauren, you are such an intelligent and fantastic writer. I could never debate you in person because I need too much time to chew on stuff and think of my retort.

    First, I have never been religious so I can’t really argue the conclusions that you have come to based on your faith. I agree that marriage is a partnership to raise families, support and bring out the best in one another, ultimately leading benefits like a stable society.

    I argue that some of your justification for traditional marriage is in your definition of gender roles. I have known many nurturing fathers and protective, providing mothers within traditional marriages. In many gay relationships there is a nurturer and a protector and who is to say that one member of the relationship might not have both qualities? Why can’t they also bring out the best in one another in a committed marriage?

    When you say that children are at a disadvantage for missing a parent of one gender, I will use personal experience to counter. I was raised without a father. Though I sometimes feel a tinge of sadness that I never had that “daddy’s little girl” experience, it’s just a sentiment and it hasn’t hindered me in life.

    I do appreciate an opportunity to discuss this topic without ragey spewers of ignorance from both sides. Great post!

    • Christie,
      Thanks for your comment. After writing this post, it occurred to me that my religious understanding of marriage is related but somewhat separate from the legal definition of marriage, which should be open to people of all faiths (or lack thereof). That’s what I get for wading into a topic that I previously haven’t done much research on! Beginner’s mistake.
      Yes, some of my arguments are based in gender roles. And my 18 year old self would probably cringe at women being defined as the nurterers and men the protectors. Both genders should develop both abilities, but children seem to do best with one primary protector and one primary nurterer. Having one parent of the same sex provides a model of how to be a man or woman, while having a parent of the opposite sex provides a model of how to treat members of the oppostite sex. Each person’s individual experience will inform their opinion on this. I for one can’t imagine my life without my dad. I am just guessing here, but you probably had a great mom who gave you a great childhood. However, a lot of interesting research has recently shown that women are less negatively affected by the absence of a father than men. So, for a girl to grow up without a dad is something she is able to overcome more easily than a boy. Here’s just one study, couldn’t find the original one. Maybe your school is a little less rough than PH, but I see hundreds (literally) of sad, angry, lost boys wandering around the halls with no clue how to act. In my classes, I don’t observe a gap in the achievment of black and white students. But I do observe a gap in the behavior and academic performance of boys who have fathers in the home and boys who don’t.

      • I think every year Byrd is becoming as rough as PH. I haven’t read the article (I suppose I should go look for it, if I’m going to reference it) but another Hollins girl quoted one recently about the rate of domestic violence tripling in Vinton this year. sigh
        It’s awful.
        I do see sad girls and angry boys. I think they suffer from the problems poverty brings in many single parent situations like substance abuse, and crappy male or female influences who come and go. The article you linked to mentions that boys need fathers to teach them how to become men, but that again falls back onto gender roles. I think it’s the quality of the parenting, coming from love and selflessness, that is missing in these homes.
        I guess I’m discussing two different things. Ultimately, I just feel deep down that two loving and responsible parents of any gender can raise a well-adjusted, happy child who will in turn become a productive and happy adult.

  4. You acknowledge that marriage is still good for (straight) couples and for society, even if said couple cannot or chooses not to reproduce. Can’t the same thing be said for gay couples? For me, marriage means committing to spend your life with another person, supporting them through sickness and health, growing together, encouraging each other to be the best people possible, etc. Why is it not good for the individuals and society as a whole then for gay couples to commit to one another as it is for childless straight couples?

    (What’s more, banning gay marriage won’t end gay parenting – it only makes the children of gay couples worse off.)

    • Elizabeth,
      That’s a good question. I am friends with a few committed gay couples; one is actually raising a daughter together. So, I am sympathetic to their desire to formalize their commitment. However, your definition of marriage could include a good friend. What separates marriage from any other relationship is that it involves a man and a woman who, whether they intend to or not, could produce a child by the fact that they are sexually intimate. Their marriage gives any children they may have the security of a family. While it is possible to imagine certain benefits to society of expanding marriage to include gay couples, this is purely hypothetical. Is there evidence in states that allow gay marriage that society benefits? None that I have seen, which may not be surprising considering that a much smaller percent of gay couples who CAN marry actually CHOOSE to do so (compared to strait couples). It is much easier to imagine negative social consequences of redefining marriage. Here are just a few, some of which I see as being more likely than others: http://www.frc.org/issuebrief/the-top-ten-harms-of-same-sex-marriage

      • Your definition does not fit either, since women passed menopause can still marry. Rather than sneering at her for wanting to marry for ‘selfish’ purposes that do not include procreation, I’m sure most religious folks would wish an older woman well and support her marriage because they recognize it’s the good and decent thing to do and that means that her new spouse (not the government or other family members w their own commitments) have agreed to take care of her as she gets old.

        Gay marriage is not purely hypothetical. It has existed in some states and countries for over a decade. And real goods have been shown (not to mention gay marriage states have lower divorce and poverty rates). Eddie Windsor (the one who filed the Supreme Court case) cared for her sick wife til her death. What do you think would be a better alternative? The government providing that care? Her wife’s mostly dead family who’d mostly disowned her anyway? Did she deserve to suffer and die alone because she was a lesbian and chose to spend her life with a woman instead of a man? Eddie cared for her wife as one would expect any spouse to do, but because their marriage was not legally recognized, Eddie was forced to sell her home to pay for the estate taxes upon her wife’s death. This is just one case out of thousands upon thousands.

        I challenge you to find a non religious source documenting the harms of gay marriage. I’m sorry, but that FRC list is completely bogus – number one reason gay marriage is harmful is because it means other folks would support gay marriages? It’s the definition of tautology and does lend credence to the idea that your opposition to gay marriage is based on religious opposition to gay relationships, not on love.

        Bottom line (and something I think we might be able to agree on) is that marriage establishes familial ties where they didn’t exist biologically. If we both agree that it’s good for straight couples who don’t procreate, what gives for gay couples? The only real reasons I’ve been able to take away from your writing is your religiously based belief that gay relationships are intrinsically disordered.

      • First, people marry for many reasons. I acknowledge that procreation is but one of them. So I wouldn’t label someone selfish for marrying without the primary reason being to procreate. This doesn’t change the fact that a very very important reason for legal recognition of marriage is to protect children. Marriage serves as the foundation of the family. Who most needs the family? Children! The Eddie Windsor case could be dealt with simply by ending the estate tax, a much easier task than redefining marriage, and with far fewer unintended consequences. I am not denying that gay people have the right to be in loving relationships, just that there is a difference between those relationships and marriage. As far as empirical evidence goes, I’m sure you’re not suggesting that gay marriage somehow reduces poverty. Here is a much less biased study than the FRC list that offers some eye-opening revelations about some of the unintended consequences of redefining marriage: https://www.spuc.org.uk/campaigns/ssmsub20130301
        As with most really bad policy decisions, Europe has once again led the way. We can either learn from their mistakes or follow them. I never said gay relationships are “intrinsically disordered.” Homosexuality has been around probably as long as marriage. But only recently have there been attempts to put the two together, which is what I oppose. The difference between gay couples and childless marriages is that the latter recognizes the different and complementary nature of the sexes, which is biologically obvious and has also been proved by countless studies. My religious views inform my position on this, but are not essential to it.

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