Sunday, November 10, 2013, 00:01 by Fr Renato Borg
On January 13, 2013, many hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Paris to publicly oppose the Socialist Government’s social engineering agenda to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Some observers were surprised at the very significant public opposition. However, some of the prominent voices in favour of retaining the understanding of marriage as the union of husband and wife were associated with the gay rights cause.
These people, like many of their fellow citizens, recognise that a social institution uniting mothers and fathers in children’s interest benefits all members of society. The French demonstrations had a relentless focus on children and their opportunity to be raised by both a father and mother.
The focus on children’s well-being runs contrary to the way advocates of redefining marriage would like the discussion to proceed. This is because regardless of the types of relationship an individual desires, people would benefit from living in a society that recognises and promotes the unique and uniquely valuable bond of a man and a woman oriented towards the common good – the most important of which is children’s opportunity to be reared by a mother and father.
By contrast, those advocating same-sex ‘marriage’ would frame the issue by first reducing marriage to a private relationship oriented towards personal satisfaction to which the government should give recognition as a way of signalling its approval of the personal choices of the parties. Same-sex advocates find it difficult to understand why other citizens would want to deny this recognition to a group of individuals capable of entering into close personal relationships.
It is important that we step away from identity politics and redirect the conversational focus to social interests, the paramount being children’s needs.
In marriage, a man and woman freely choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other. Until that point, everyone is replaceable. This free choice for irreplaceability and a commitment to the common good of the unit is precisely what prepared them to receive the fruit of their union, a new person, as a gift of equal value and dignity to each of them.
In marriage, we have a public institution that specifically unites children with their mums and dads and which promotes that they be raised by their mums and dads together.
Advocates of redefining ‘marriage’ believe it would benefit their cause to talk about family processes rather than the family structure. So they would rather discuss “parenting children who have lost or been separated from their mums or dads or both”. If ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘sex’ is irrelevant to whether one can be a good parent they would argue that if homosexual couples can do well with children, redefining marriage to include these couples will not interfere with the marriage institution’s promotion of children’s interests.
According to William May, in his book Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. A Guide for Effective Dialogue (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012) such an argument is a distraction, because to have the capacity to do the things we think good parents should do is irrelevant to the question whether we retain a public institution like marriage that simultaneously encourages parental responsibility and mothers and fathers for children indispensable.
For this reason, we need to focus on the family structure. Public recognition of marriage promotes an optimal family structure for children’s interests. Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples eliminates all authority for promoting the unique value of men and women marrying before having children.
Thus, it would make it legally discriminatory for public and private institutions to promote the unique value of children being united with their mums and dads, since it would violate the principle of equality of relationships and equality in parenting.
In order to accommodate same-sex couples, marriage must actually be redefined in the law as merely the public recognition of a committed relationship. Marriage between a man and a woman, the only institution that unites children with their mothers and fathers, must be eliminated.
Experience, common sense and empirical data make it clear that children’s well-being is promoted by being reared by a mother and father. Obviously, this notion is publicly repudiated by those who are interested in redefining marriage, but such repudiation will have grave consequences.
Besides, even those who have no desire to marry a person of the opposite sex would still benefit from a culture that affirmed the uniqueness of the opposite-sex marital bond.
Over time and across cultures, the procedures, practices, and incidents of marriage have varied. Nevertheless, its primary form and legal meaning have remained remarkably constant.
The core understanding of marriage has been oriented towards the crucial social interest in encouraging the potentially procreative relationships of men and women to take place within marriage so children will have the fullest opportunity to be known, loved, and reared by the mothers and fathers who created them.
The debate is not only semantic; it is an effort to fend off a serious attempt to obscure or deny the full reality of sex difference and children’s deep needs.
We may have forgotten how to articulate a robust vision of marriage, or we may merely lack the confidence, but our failure to do so will have consequences.
Whoever, in any period of history, tried and succeeded in raising the moral tone of any society, managed to do so by causing frustration of some natural desires, and the hardship of having to forego them.