The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on two cases about marriage. But regardless of what the court decides, marriage cannot be redefined. Its meaning cannot be changed. And the real meaning of marriage matters to everyone, especially children.
Father’s Day was this past Sunday. As the father of six, I can’t imagine raising my children without their mother, my wife for life. We’ve been blessed with many children, and this gift has taught us much. One thing we’ve learned is that a mom and a dad aren’t interchangeable, and that kids deserve to be raised by them in the stability and security that only marriage can provide. Deliberately depriving a child of a married mother or father is a great injustice.
Changing the definition of marriage in the law is unjust, plain and simple. To anticipate all the consequences is very difficult, because the effects of laws and social norms are measured out over a long period of time.
For example, marriage redefinition in the law necessarily alters the definitions of all family relationships. Terms like husband, wife, mother, and father become up for grabs, and in effect meaningless. When terms become meaningless, it becomes more difficult to teach the realities they are meant to convey and to encourage young people to take such realities seriously. When the law and the culture it shapes say that mom and dad are interchangeable, it becomes harder to teach your kids otherwise.
Justice Samuel Alito’s question during the oral arguments for Prop 8 is worth pondering. “Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new… You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet?”
Marriage is grounded in our human nature as male and female. We know from experience that meddling with nature has a cost. Nature always bats last. Broken hearts, divorce, absentee fathers, abuse, crime and poverty are all stark reminders of what happens when cultures don’t respect the natural good of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life.
Besides ensuring a child’s relationship to his or her mom and dad, marriage is the most fundamental and foundational relationship in society. When marriage is respected as the only institution that can unite a man and woman with each other and to any child who comes from their union, we all benefit. This includes those who cannot or never marry. A strong and healthy marriage culture helps society flourish.
These are complicated times, and the cases before the Supreme Court are likewise complicated. What’s not complicated is that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Tim Roder is the Associate Director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. For more Catholic views on marriage visit: www.marriageuniqueforareason.org.