Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bearing Witness to Marriage

I just read a great article at First Things that makes the case in favor of heterosexual marriage. While the author is specifically addressing Evangelicals who are waffling on the issue of same-sex marriage, the overall substance of the argument in favor of traditional marriage is important for all of us (Catholic, Christian, or otherwise). I was very pleased to see that the author used exactly the same reasoning that I have employed in this debate. This is the type of logical, reasoned argument (appealing to natural law and common sense) that is needed on this issue. Below is an excerpt:
"Many Americans, including substantial numbers of evangelical youth, ask: How does granting a state marriage license to that 5 percent of the population that is gay hurt the 95 percent that is heterosexual? How can we deny the rights and privileges of marriage to gay people without violating the principles of justice, equality, and respect for individual freedom? Many Americans embrace the libertarian principle that we should maximize the freedom of each individual except where that harms others, and most believe that marriage is 'primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another,' as gay activist Andrew Sullivan has written.

"If that is the proper definition of marriage, it is indeed unfair for the state to deny that privilege to a few when it grants it to the majority. But everything depends on the definition. If marriage is not about bringing up children, but about how adults solemnize their emotional commitment to each other, gay marriage becomes plausible. Other relationships become plausible as well. Why should marriage be limited to two people, for example? In fact, in 2006, prominent pro-gay activists, including Gloria Steinem and professors at Yale and Columbia, urged the state to recognize polygamous marriages and relationships of multiple sex partners.

"Is emotional commitment between two adults what the state should care about in marriage? What should a state that does not establish any religion understand marriage to be? I think the answer is clear. The state must promote the best setting in which to nurture the next generation of wholesome citizens.

"In a fascinating article in the Public Interest called 'The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage,' Susan Shell argues that the state’s central concern is to secure 'the relation between a child and a particular set of parents.' In marriage, Shell notes, 'A husband is, until otherwise proven, the acknowledged father of his wife’s offspring, with recognized rights and duties that may vary from society to society but always exist in some form. And a wife is a woman who can expect a certain specified sort of help from her husband in the raising of her offspring. All other functions of marriage borrow from or build upon this one.'

She asks: 'Can those who are not even potentially partners in reproduction, and who could never under any circumstances have been so, actually ‘marry’?' Her answer is no. Whatever else one may want to say positively about the emotional commitment of two men or two women to each other, it is simply not marriage. If the central concern of the state in marriage law is to secure a good relationship between a child and its biological parents, then by definition marriage can only involve a man and a woman.

"Other things being equal, it is better for children to grow up with their biological parents. Marriage to the mother is by far the best way to ensure responsible fatherhood. When not married to the mother, few men are effective fathers. As far as the state is concerned, the first concern of marriage law must be to protect the interests of children and thereby create an ongoing, stable, wholesome social order."
The piece is titled "Bearing Better Witness," and the author is Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action and professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy at Palmer Seminary at Eastern University. Read the whole article here.

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