Friday, October 19, 2012

faith fridays: 'getting the marriage conversation right'


The other day on the way to school, one of my daughters came up with what we in journalism call a bombshell question.

"So, Mom, what do you think about gay marriage?"

We were about a block from the drop-off point when the question came forth; not nearly enough time for a thoughtful response to such a multi-layered topic. But her question prodded me to dig deeper to find a satisfactory answer. After all, I realized at that moment that this is no longer an issue I can just toss about and let fall where it might. Seems my children are invested in the answer now, too.

And, as it turns out, in more ways than one might realize at the outset.


In order to answer my daughter's question to satisfaction, I realized I needed to go back, to begin from a simpler, less explosive starting point.

Indeed, before a fair conversation can happen on whether gay marriage should be allowed, we must address the base question: Why does marriage exist in the first place? And why would the state care?

As laid out in a little book by William B. May that recently fell into my hands (Getting the Marriage Conversation Right), there are two definitions floating around about marriage these days, particularly as it concerns public policy:

1. Marriage is the public recognition of a committed relationship between a man and a woman (or two adults) for their fulfillment.

2. Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.

Which of the two is true, and which better serves the public interest?

Read them again. Notice that the second is the true statement. It's also the way marriage has been understood and recognized by states, cultures and religions for eons.

Here's another fact: marriage between a man and woman is the only institution that unites children with their moms and dads.

In marriage, a man and a woman freely choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other. They also become irreplaceable to any children that result from their union.

Some readers might have to resist the temptation to become distracted by side issues here. It's important to stay on point. The fact that not all marriages remain intact is a side point. Nor is anyone going to argue (at least I won't) that same-sex couples do not have the capacity to fully love a child as well as anyone else. Those conversations can happen on a different post. But for now, let's keep to this: What's the harm in changing the definition of marriage?

The above bold statement is really the crux of the issue. As May notes, removing marriage between a man and a woman from the law would eliminate the only societal institution that unites children with their mothers and fathers.

"Redefining marriage and the family implies the only thing that is important in parenting is competency, leading to the notion that no one, including mothers and fathers, are irreplaceable, and men and women are interchangeable," May says. "The fallacy of this can be seen by turning to our own experience. All of us have the desire...for knowing and for being loved by our mother and father."

If marriage is redefined, it would necessarily have to be presented as a lifestyle alternative with no relationship to children or the foundation of a family with common ancestors.

I know this might not be the way the discussion is being framed and understood, but it is what's at stake. Are we really willing to go here?

When we look at it this way, it really isn't even about homosexuality at all. It's about the children who are the fruits of marriage, whether or not the marriage remains solid from beginning to end.

This is not a deflection. This is a crucial point that is often misunderstood or eliminated, and yet it's what's most at stake in this debate.

Is it surprising that I haven't mentioned God once, nor quoted any Bible passages? There is no need. Our faith affirms Truth, and encourages us in Truth, and helps lead us to Truth. But so, too, does logic and reason. You don't have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to see the logic of the above.

It can be challenging to pull away from emotion long enough to really get at the truth of the matter. It is clear, and it is fair, to everyone. Especially kids. And even if we don't have children, we were a child once, and we likely know and hopefully love someone who is a child.

The discussion is important, and we owe it to our children, and theirs, to keep having this discussion, and being as thoughtful about it as we can.

Q4U: Where do you stand on the issue of marriage and its purpose?

15 comments:

denis said...

this post should be required reading for everyone in the world!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Denis, thanks for seeing the good of it. I do hope it will benefit those who are confused. I'm sure others will have a different opinion, but at some point, it's important to really look at some of these emotional issues from a logical, clear perspective. I hope my post helps the discussion progress in a way that will be a benefit to society.

Vicky said...

So thoughtfully and yes, logically laid out. Did you have a chance then to discuss with your daughter? I think its essential that we have a solid grasp on what marriage means and a good definition of it is a smart starting point. Our boys don't even understand what it means to be gay yet, so there really is a layered conversation waiting to happen!

Lori said...

Hi Roxanne. I love how thoughtful and respectful you are about this issue. How refreshing. I'm wondering if your use of logic is a full representation of the nuances of this issue. By saying the issue of marriage is not about homosexuality at all, aren't you at risk of saying that it is not about homosexuals at all? And wouldn't that leave a whole lot of people out of the conversation?

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Vicky, indeed, we have been continuing the conversation in our household. It is ongoing. Lori, I would say it's about homosexuals in so far as they are people who would be affected adversely if children were left out of the equation, just like everyone else. I understand they are part of the equation, but not necessarily for the reasons we are hearing. Of course, there are the side issues that also must be addressed. But they truly are secondary to this crucial point about society needing to protect children and giving them a chance to know and love their parents and for that unit to not be divided in any way by a side issue. Like I said, there is room for a wider discussion elsewhere, but we've gotten off track and I feel it's important to bring it back to the core.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Here is a place where we have a differing viewpoint. Marriage can be about children, but not always. Many couples don't have kids together. Some couples have kids and never get married. Some adopt. Some have kids together, but one parent is not longer in the picture because of death, divorce, or abandonment. Many same sex couples are great parents to foster kids, adopted kids, or each others kids from a previous relationship. As a divorced person, I can tell you that when it comes to dissolving the marriage, the assests are divided, the kids are not. Marriage, according to the courts, is a business arrangement. No one has the right to judge another person on whom they love and how they love. What is damaging and discriminating to the same sex couples is that they aren't allowed to have the benefits of a recognized union financially, socially, or when medical decisions need to be made.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Hi Mary, so glad you stepped in here today. As I've said many times, and it applies here too, friend, the world would be a boring place if we agreed on everything. I'm comfortable with us having some areas in which we see things a little differently. That means we're unique. I love that we share so many commonalities. :) What I attempted to do here is present a very logical, clear explanation as to why some people feel passionately about upholding the traditional definition of marriage. I have heard the arguments you have presented against upholding the traditional definition many times, but I'm wondering if you had ever heard it framed the way I shared here? And what you thought about that argument. Does it seem legitimate, even if you don't agree? If not, why not? Here is the way one of my Jewish friends explained it, and I think it bears repeating: "No one is going to argue that children would lack the 'lovingness' component if raised within same-sex unions - loving-kindness is a universal and as such can be expressed fully by either sex, but what children would be deprived of is their ability (and right) to witness/learn/understand the beautiful expressions and biological complementarity when opposite sexes are together and living and experiencing life together. ...So I believe those who back the "traditional" view of marriage usually find themselves not willing to endorse anything else which would indeed lessen the full expression of both male and female identities because to do so would actually be to "limit” a bedrock biological/sexual historical and proven Truth." I think it's important that look at this thoughtfully. It's critical, and it's not judgmental. It's simply honoring one of the most basic building blocks of society.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Mary, I just realized something. What you said here: "As a divorced person, I can tell you that when it comes to dissolving the marriage, the assests are divided, the kids are not." I am so happy to know that this is the case. And that's as it should be, since children are not rights, they are not things to be accumulated, divided, etc. They are precious, unique souls, created by the union of one man and one woman. We all came into this world that way, did we not? And so it is that this is so basic that it is in need of preserving it if we're to preserve society as a whole.

Heidi said...

Roxanne, I appreciate your putting out the foundation of your views, and I wish you the best of luck in your conversations with your daughter.

I had a similar reaction to your friend Mary above--mostly because I don't agree with the premise that those two definitions of marriage you described are the only ones possible:

1. Marriage is the public recognition of a committed relationship between a man and a woman (or two adults) for their fulfillment.

2. Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.

Of course, as an adoptive parent, my marriage doesn't fit the second definition, but neither does it fit the first--because of the phrase "for their fulfillment." (That's not to say there isn't any fulfillment in my marriage, just that that's not its only purpose!)

Why can't marriage unite people (even leaving out the LGBT issue for now) for both unative and procreative purposes--just like Catholic teaching about the purpose of sex? That's what I believe, but I don't believe that procreative means only biological birth. After trying to form my conscience on this, I have come to believe that "open to life" is a lot broader than humans (mostly men) have described it throughout history.

But then I don't base my own personal morality and ethics purely on a natural law stance, so as I said, we have very different presuppositions. But to be clear, I believe with my whole heart--as I'm sure you do--that those presuppositions are very consistent with God and with Jesus' teachings.

Yet when you write (in the comment above) that the existence of my marriage would "lessen the full expression of both male and female identities because to do so would actually be to "limit” a bedrock biological/sexual historical and proven Truth"--I can't help but see that as somehow seeing my marriage as "less than" because my children were not conceived through married sexual intercourse between my husband and me.

I'm wondering how you would feel if my religion taught that biological parenthood was wrong (even though it's possible for biological parents to be loving and caring) and that it somehow "lessened" the "Truth" of true self-giving through adoptive parenting. And what if my religion was the dominant one and prevented so-called "traditional" marriages from enjoying any protections under the law? I don't presume to speak for LGBT folks, though I know a number of gay parents and families and I know many of them feel very "second class" by the argument that their marriages somehow affect yours any sort of limiting way.

Anyway, thanks for sharing what you have found helpful in explaining the foundations of your beliefs. I'm not able to capture my whole view in this comment, long as it is! But you asked, so I tried!

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am old fashioned..one man one women to be a family..and raise children together as best they can.
tough question kids ask nowadays..but at least yours are asking questions. ..I think it is confusing for teens:)

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Heidi, thanks for stopping by and taking time to lend your thoughts. As an adoptive parent, you provide another dimension to the discussion.

Of course, as you know, marriage is not a requirement for adoption. That’s just a point that could enter the discussion, so I thought I’d mention it at the outset.

Addressing your contention with the definitions as stated: This is as close as it comes to the two definitions currently being considered in public policy matters. So while some may feel there is a third or even a fourth possibility (or more), I am really just trying to get at the public discussion as it is playing out.

Beyond that, I definitely see your situation as falling under #2. Though it mentions children, it is understood and a fact that not every marriage brings about children as a result of the procreative act. Just because your children happened to come to you through adoption does not mean you are excluded from this definition.

“Why can't marriage unite people for both unitive and procreative purposes?” you asked. I would say the second definition implies that, and there's no reason both shouldn't be included. In fact, they ought to be. I also agree with you that procreative doesn’t always imply biological birth, for the reason you are living out and also for the reason there is a need to be open to life even when that is no longer possible due to age. I guess I’m not seeing where we diverge here.(Couples past fertility years are not acting in a contra-life way. They are, in theory, open to the life they are fairly sure will not arrive.)

“But to be clear, I believe with my whole heart--as I'm sure you do--that those presuppositions are very consistent with God and with Jesus' teachings.” Yes, I do. As I mentioned before, I also believe this conversation can happen without faith being mentioned, but that’s not to say my faith doesn’t affirm what can be known through reason. As the book I mentioned put it: “Public policy arguments must always be based on reason purified by faith.”

Referencing my friend’s quote, you said you felt I was implying your marriage is somehow less than, since your children were not conceived through married sexual intercourse between your husband and you. My reply: I wasn’t implying that at all. Rather, because you and your husband are a man and woman who have made yourself irreplaceable to each other through marriage, you had prepared yourself to receive life as a gift, either from your union or by adoption. This is a good thing.

With your last contention, I was confused and trying to figure out how religion entered in. Was it the mention that my friend is Jewish? If so, I apologize for getting us off by that. I mentioned her religion simply as a point of reference, and to show that all religions and cultures can grasp, and have for eons, the traditional and true definition of marriage. So, I’m not sure your reversal of the situation that seemed to be implying I am somehow being unjust or discriminatory in what I have shared here makes any sense. I don’t think stating the facts as I have come to understand them, and as they are in reality, is being unfair in any way to anyone.

Finally, you said: “I know a number of gay parents and families and I know many of them feel very ‘second class’ by the argument that their marriages somehow affect yours in any sort of limiting way.” My individual marriage may not be affected, but society’s as a whole will be if the definition of marriage is changed to accommodate same-sex couples. Consider this: with marriage redefined, schools would be required to teach marriage as nothing more than an adult-centric institution solely for individual fulfillment and present it as a lifestyle alternative with no relationship to children. Again, there’s no judgment here, only stating the facts as I understand them.

Again, thanks for entering the discussion. I do value your perspective and appreciate your time. Feel free to share more when you can if you'd like. It's an important conversation to have.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Well said ... and yet ... in the UK the Government is determined to redifine marriage to include Gay relationships. Despite opposition from the Catholic and other Churches, from other religions, from some Members of Parliament, dignitaries, politicians and several ordinary people who have signed petitions asking the Government to reconsider.

Thank you for this post.

God bless.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Victor, really interesting to hear that the UK is in a similar place regarding this issue. Interesting, too, that so many voices are going unheard. I would suggest buying the book I mentioned and sharing it as a way to help educate the people around you. God bless you as well!

Heidi said...

Roxane, sorry to be so confusing. What I meant here was rhetorical:

"I'm wondering how you would feel if my religion taught that biological parenthood was wrong (even though it's possible for biological parents to be loving and caring) and that it somehow "lessened" the "Truth" of true self-giving through adoptive parenting. And what if my religion was the dominant one and prevented so-called "traditional" marriages from enjoying any protections under the law? I don't presume to speak for LGBT folks, though I know a number of gay parents and families and I know many of them feel very "second class" by the argument that their marriages somehow affect yours any sort of limiting way."

In other words, what if the world were different and so-called traditional marriage was seen as "less than" by the dominant religion in our world? This is a rhetorical question, obviously.





Roxane B. Salonen said...

Hi again, Heidi. I did understand it as rhetorical, but I wasn't understanding the intent. In your clarifying statement, you said: "In other words, what if the world were different and so-called traditional marriage was seen as "less than" by the dominant religion in our world? This is a rhetorical question, obviously." Rhetorical, but with a point. The point being an insinuation, I think, that I and others who uphold the traditional definition of marriage see the first definition as "less than." Well, yes, we do, in part because it isn't the true definition. That alone makes the definition less than. It's also dangerous, because it will put children at risk once they are removed from the core of the marriage equation; meaning, society's definition of it. Do you see, at all, how removing children from the definition and making it solely about two adults seeking fulfillment could be a major disruption to society? Again, this is all without even mentioning anything about homosexuality. I want to be clear, just because one definition is "less than," that does not in any way mean that I feel people who are attracted to those of their same gender are "less than." I think this is where people get confused and wrongly labeled as bigots. "You're not for that, so you must be against that." Not necessarily. Just because some in society see the dangers of changing the definition for the reasons I've stated does not mean we do not care about people who identify themselves as homosexual. I can't stress this enough. Certainly, if I read the insinuation wrongly, I'm up for another clarification. And again, I appreciate the discussion because it helps us get closer to the core of the problem.