Making the case for marriage.
I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman… pretty bold, I know.
Perhaps you’ve already categorized me… “hater.” I don’t think I am. I don’t consider myself bigoted for believing that, though many people these days would tell you that my position automatically puts me in that position. If you asked most of the people who know me, they’d probably tell you that I’m generally civil, respectful, kind, and charitable to people, regardless of their views or lifestyles. You know… offer a smile at the checkout line, give an occasional lift to hitchhikers, genuinely listen to another person in a debate… I believe every person has inestimable value and dignity, and I try to treat people that way.
So why don’t I support same-sex marriage?
I realize that there has been much discussion out there on this topic, and I have heard many reasons put forward on both sides of the argument. While I have found some of the discussion helpful, much of it seems to fall short of advancing any real argument. Perhaps you’ve noticed or sensed this too. In these thoughts, then, I hope to offer something substantial.
As mentioned, I support marriage as being between a man and a woman. However, before sharing the actual reasons for my position, let me lay out three non-reasons why I support traditional marriage. Playing devil’s advocate in my mind, these arguments do not convince me; thus, I want to lay them out right here at the start so that you know what I will not be basing my arguments upon.
Three “Non-Reasons” Why I Consider Marriage Between a Man and a Woman
1) Definition Argument. I could go on a rant about how a same-sex relationship is just not marriage. That it’s just not what marriage is, and so it simply shouldn’t be defined as such. But that wouldn’t be terribly helpful, because you (or the guy next door) believes that yes it is, and that my view of marriage is antiquated and ready for an overhaul. If I believe marriage is A and you believe it’s B, and that’s the entirety of our argument… we’re not going anywhere. “Yes it is.” “No it isn’t.” doesn’t advance the dialogue very far. It might be like two people arguing about whether or not Pluto is a planet…
“What?! You don’t believe Pluto is a planet? Of course it is!”
“Nope. We decided it’s not. It doesn’t qualify any longer as a planet.”
“But it’s always been a planet. You can’t go changing it.”
“Ahhh, but we did.”
“But… you just can’t! You don’t have any right to change that.”
“Too late. Already did.”
Now, I don’t know all the in’s and out’s of why Pluto was demoted (not that I think Pluto took a personal stake in the decision either way), but the discussion obviously had to advance beyond “yes it is” “no it’s not” reasoning to bear productive results. The discussion needed to include questions like: What defines a planet? What characteristics does Pluto have? What characteristics do other celestial bodies orbiting our sun have? Why have we traditionally classified Pluto as a planet? What new information warrants changing our understanding of Pluto?
In our discussion on marriage, similar questions need to be asked if our encounter is to be productive: What defines marriage? What characteristics does the relationship between a man and a woman have? What characteristics does the relationship between two people of the same sex have? Why has marriage traditionally been considered the union of a man and a woman? Is there something new that warrants changing that? These are the types of questions that need to be asked.
2) Historical Argument. Then there’s the historical argument. I could talk about how marriage between a man and a woman is how it’s always been, in pretty much all civilizations and cultures throughout history, and how it would be foolish to change that now. In the Pluto analogy, this would take the form of, “But it’s always been a planet.”
However, just because something’s been around a long time doesn’t automatically make it “right” or “the best.” I know that. People used to wash their clothes with a pail of water and a washboard (or some similarly mechanical process) for almost all of history—that doesn’t automatically make it superior to the automatic washers and dryers we have today. If something has been around for a long time, the important question to ask is: “Why has it been around for so long?” and “Why has it been that way?” i.e. “Why did people use washboards for almost all of history?…” Oh. Automatic washers and dryers weren’t invented in 3000 B.C. Had they been, you would have been hard pressed to find someone with a washboard.
The important question to ask ourselves in this discussion is: “Why has marriage been considered the union of a man and a woman in most civilizations and cultures throughout history?” If the answer to that question still stands today, then that’s significant, not the mere historical fact that marriage “has always been that way.” Thus, my argument does not rest on the mere fact, in and of itself, that marriage has been viewed this way for a long time.
3) Moral Argument. With two arguments gone, I could now move on to asserting that homosexual actions are wrong in the eyes of God, and thus should not be given public endorsement with the conferral of marriage. I do believe—firmly—that homosexual behavior is wrong, and does not correspond to the plan of God (just like cohabitation before marriage, masturbation, pornography, contraception, etc.—I’m not just singling out this particular action). Problem is… not everyone believes that. And consequently, that belief can’t be my primary point of argument in the public sphere. That would be like someone who believes that cows are sacred demanding that the whole nation abstain from beef. In the public forum of a pluralistic society like ours, arguments must be presented that advance beyond the purely religious or spiritual and incorporate common good principles that all people of good will can agree upon.
Certainly, the spiritual element in all of this should not be overlooked, and should be included in personal discussions and decisions in this area. If there is a moral component to this issue that affects our eternal destiny and our Creator’s plan for us, then that should be incorporated. However, in this essay, my hope is to make my position known and appreciated (or at least heard) in the public square, giving compelling reasons that move beyond, “That’s just what marriage is,” “It’s always been that way,” or, “It’s morally wrong, duh.”
This, then… is why I consider marriage to be the union of one man and one woman…
Question #1: Does the Difference Between Men and Women Matter?
Does the difference between men and women matter? Does the fact that humanity exists in the two forms of “male” and “female” carry any weight whatsoever? Does the union of a man and a woman contribute anything unique to humanity?
Pondering the issue of marriage, and my reasons for believing as I do, I think it comes down, fundamentally, to those basic questions: “Does the difference between men and women matter? Is it important that we exist as male and female?” Marriage is the ultimate place in law and society where the distinctive nature of the sexes and their union is acknowledged and recognized, and thus, I believe that this fundamental question lies at the heart of the matter.
So what is the answer? Reflecting upon it, I do not see how the answer can be anything other than a resounding, “YES.” Yes, the difference between men and women, and their complementary union, carries great importance for humanity. In fact, the existence and survival of humanity depends on it.
Imagine for a moment that something catastrophic happens to planet earth… let’s say an asteroid the size of LA plunges into our planet, devastating its surface and wiping out nearly all of humanity. In fact, only three small bands of survivors remain, each one on a distant, remote island, separated by thousands of miles of ocean from the others. On one island, the band of survivors consists only of men; on another, only of women; and on the third island, of an even mix of men and women. From which island will humanity continue?
Yep. The difference between men and women really matters.
“But that’s so unrealistic. With seven billion people on the planet, we are in no danger of going extinct.” Maybe so, but the fact remains that every single one of those seven billion people came into existence because a man and a woman joined themselves to one another. And never once because a man and a man came together, or because a woman and a woman came together. The man-woman relationship is unique. And every single person who will continue to enter this stream of existence will do so as a result of the union of a man and a woman—every boy, girl, Christian, atheist, straight, gay, black, white—everyone, without exception. That’s… significant.
Even if every individual relationship between a man and a woman does not produce children (due to age, infertility, choice, etc), that does not change the fact that it is that type of relationship that perpetuates humanity, and no other. It is not “just the same” as other relationships. There is something unique about the relationship of man and woman that other relationships do not have. The existence of humanity depends on it. Your life… depended on it.
Question #2: Does the Difference Between Men and Women Matter to Children?
While not every marriage has children, every child has (or deserves to have) a family. Do fathers and mothers matter to children?
We just looked at the reality that every single person who exists, came into existence as the result of the union of a man and a woman. Every person has a father and a mother. You, whoever you are, reading this right now, have a father and a mother. Every child, wherever they may be, has a father and a mother. Even in the cases where science oversteps its bounds and “creates” children outside of the marital embrace, it still requires material from a man and from a woman.
While it is true that events and circumstances sometimes occur that prevent a child from knowing his or her biological father and mother, it is equally true that each and every child has the right to be known, loved, and raised by the mother and father who brought him or her into existence, and that these parents ought to love and be committed to one another. It only makes sense that if a child comes into his or her very existence through that most intimate union between a man and a woman, that he or she is also loved, cared for, and raised by that same man and woman.
Who cannot agree to that? Who cannot agree that the ideal circumstance is for a child to be known, loved, and cared for by his or her own father and mother? Do you really believe that it is okay to willingly and freely deprive a child of the love and care of his or her biological father or mother, the two people who gave him or her the very gift of life? Of course, circumstances can sometimes occur that inhibit this, but these are generally considered tragic, not laudable (i.e. death, poverty, irresponsibility, abuse, etc.). For adults to deliberately separate a child from his or her biological father and mother without serious cause is simply unjust.
So a biological family unit is the ideal setup – a committed father and mother, and the children born of their union. What about those tragic or regrettable circumstances that prevent this from being the reality in a particular case? What arrangements can be employed then?
If the circumstances are such that a child is unable to be known, loved, and raised by his or her own biological father and mother, or at least one of them, does it not make sense that he or she be raised in the next closest arrangement? That is, by a father and a mother, who can both model and exemplify what a man is and what a woman is, and how they interact? Does it not make sense that that boy, or that girl, be given the opportunity to experience both that fatherly love that only a man can give, and that motherly love that only a woman can give? And receive affirmation from both? It was, after all, those two types of love, joined together, that brought that child into existence.
Men and women bring something unique to a family – they are not interchangeable. Same-sex marriage implies that either men don’t matter, or women don’t matter. That either men are basically unimportant, or that women are basically unimportant. It says to a child, “You don’t need men,” or, “You don’t need women.” I think that they are important. I think that both men and women do matter, and that each has inestimable, unique, value. I think that a woman can bring something to the table that I cannot. And I believe that I, as a man, can bring something unique to the table that a woman cannot. This is not a comparison of better or worse, but rather a basic observation of our complementariness. Certainly we are equal in dignity, but equality does not equal sameness. If it did, we would not differentiate between men’s and women’s events in the Olympics. The distinction is simply a common-sense recognition of the different ways in which men and women are formed and support each other. And this matters for children.
Question #3: Is It Discriminatory to Withhold Marriage from Same-Sex Couples?
So men and women do matter. And they matter in a particular way to children. Marriage is the place where this importance is recognized. But is it discriminatory to withhold marriage from same-sex couples? Is it unjust to withhold marriage from them? Before answering that, perhaps we ought to start with a more basic question first: Why does (or should) the government grant recognition of marriage in the first place? Why should the government be involved at all?
Rather than merely speculate, let’s take a look at what the government itself has to say. Let’s see what we find in the Maine Revised Statutes (650):
“The people of the State of Maine find that the union of one man and one woman joined in traditional monogamous marriage is of inestimable value to society; the State has a compelling interest to nurture and promote the unique institution of traditional monogamous marriage in the support of harmonious families and the physical and mental health of children; and that the State has the compelling interest in promoting the moral values inherent in traditional monogamous marriage.”
Re-read that for just a moment…
“…inestimable value… compelling interest… unique institution…” Wow. Since our nation’s founding, the government has recognized what I outlined above: There is something unique and irreplaceable about the union of a man and a woman. And that union brings something utterly unique to society that no other relationship can or does. It is the type of union by which new citizens are conceived and born, and the most ideal place for these new citizens to be nurtured, formed, and raised. And even if every particular marriage of man and woman does not achieve this exact function, it is nonetheless the only type of relationship that can. For that reason, the state has a compelling interest to nurture and promote it (their words, not mine).
So… is such a policy discriminatory? Is it unjust because it excludes other types of relationships? I would maintain, “No.” I would maintain that it is not discriminatory to make legitimate distinctions. We do this all the time. “You are too young to have a driver’s license.” “You are required to register for the selective service… your grandfather is not.” “You made the basketball team… some of your friends did not.” Those distinctions are not discriminatory, but legitimate. They recognize valid differences that warrant a distinction in approach/decision/policy. There is something that the union of man and woman brings to society that other relationships do not. Recognizing that is a legitimate distinction.
To use an analogy, the government sometimes compensates its soldiers for their bravery and service with a free education. This “benefit” is not extended to everyone. Is the government discriminating against those who don’t serve? No. Those in the military have offered a specific service to our country, and their unique contribution is recognized. What about those who by nature or temperament aren’t able to join the military—the disabled, the ill, the elderly? Even in these cases, the recognition and benefit is reserved for those who render this specific service to our country, and this policy is not considered discriminatory. The benefit is a recognition of the unique service rendered. Likewise, the recognition and conferral of marriage by the government is a recognition of the unique role that the union of man and woman plays in our society.
If marriage is not the union of a man and a woman, if the (at least inherent) ability to beget and rear children now has nothing to do with marriage… then what is marriage? And who can marry?
For instance, what about two straight dudes who happen to be friends and housemates, and who have never engaged in, nor intend to engage in, homosexual behavior? Can they apply for a marriage license so that they, too, can get tax breaks, health insurance benefits, etc? Will they be discriminated against because they don’t act out sexually with each other? Or does it have nothing to do with sexual union? Does it have to do with the degree of attraction two people feel towards one another? And who judges that? Or what kind of attraction is required? Is platonic attraction sufficient? Perhaps these questions sound ridiculous, but, as I write them, I honestly don’t know what would exist to prevent such scenarios from occurring if the unique procreative nature of the man-woman relationship is set aside as “unimportant” and “insignificant.”
You see, marriage is the place that the government and society answer affirmatively to the question: “Does the difference between men and women matter?” Remove that, and what’s left to recognize the unique contribution that that type of relationship makes to humanity?
Am I a hater? I don’t think so. I just think that the difference between men and women, and the unique contribution their union brings to humanity and to children, is significant, and, in fact, irreplaceable. Marriage between a man and a woman is unlike any other relationship, and consequently should not simply be lumped together with the various other kinds of relationships that are out there. Do men and women matter? They most certainly do. That is why I support traditional marriage.
Josh Houde has a degree in theology and communications from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is actively involved in parish ministry, youth/young adult ministry, and Catholic radio.