The questions we ought to be asking are quite fundamental: What is marriage? Why is the government involved in it? Why defend it? Why can it not merely be expanded?
This interview from USA Today with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and archbishop of San Francisco is an excellent model for how to have a better conversation about marriage. Notice how he gently guides even the questioning, refusing to accept the narrative, teaching with his answers.
To the first question: “What is the greatest threat posed by allowing gays and lesbians to marry?,” He replies:
The better question is: What is the great good in protecting the public understanding that to make a marriage you need a husband and a wife?
I can illustrate my point with a personal example. When I was Bishop of Oakland, I lived at a residence at the Cathedral, overlooking Lake Merritt. It’s very beautiful. But across the lake, as the streets go from 1st Avenue to the city limits at 100th Avenue, those 100 blocks consist entirely of inner city neighborhoods plagued by fatherlessness and all the suffering it produces: youth violence, poverty, drugs, crime, gangs, school dropouts, and incredibly high murder rates. Walk those blocks and you can see with your own eyes: A society that is careless about getting fathers and mothers together to raise their children in one loving family is causing enormous heartache.
To legalize marriage between two people of the same sex would enshrine in the law the principle that mothers and fathers are interchangeable or irrelevant, and that marriage is essentially an institution about adults, not children; marriage would mean nothing more than giving adults recognition and benefits in their most significant relationship.
How can we do this to our children?
And he takes a countercultural view of the discrimination happening, as one who has watched it unfold:
Q: How would the allegation that opponents are bigoted lead to their rights being abridged?
A: Notice the first right being taken away: the right of 7 million Californians who devoted time and treasure to the democratic process, to vote for our shared vision of marriage. Taking away people’s right to vote on marriage is not in itself a small thing.
But the larger picture that’s becoming increasingly clear is that this is not just a debate about what two people do in their private life, it’s a debate about a new public norm: Either you support redefining marriage to include two people of the same sex or you stand accused by law and culture of bigotry and discrimination.
If you want to know what this new public legal and social norm stigmatizing traditional believers will mean for real people, ask David and Tanya Parker, who objected to their kindergarten son being taught about same sex marriage after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized it in that state and wanted to pull him out of class for that lesson. He was arrested and handcuffed for trying to protect his son’s education, and they were told they had no right to do so.
Ask the good people of Ocean Grove Methodist camp in New Jersey that had part of its tax-exempt status rescinded because they don’t allow same-sex civil union ceremonies on their grounds. Ask Tammy Schulz of Illinois, who adopted four children (including a sibling group) through Evangelical Child Family Services — which was shut down because it refuses to place children with same-sex couples. (The same thing has happened in Illinois, Boston and Washington, D.C., to Catholic Charities adoption services). … Ask the doctor in San Diego County who did not want to personally create a fatherless child through artificial insemination, and was punished by the courts…. Ask Amy Rudnicki who testified in the Colorado Legislature recently that if Catholic Charities is shut out of the adoption business by new legislation, her family will lose the child they expected to adopt this year. … Nobody is better off if religious adoption agencies are excluded from helping find good homes for abused and neglected children, but governments are doing this because the principle of “anti-discrimination” is trumping liberty and compassion. …
When people say that opposition to gay marriage is discriminatory, like opposition to interracial marriage, they cannot also say their views won’t hurt anybody else. They seek to create and enforce a new moral and legal norm that stigmatizes those who view marriage as the union of husband and wife. … It’s not kind, and it doesn’t seem to lead to a “live and let live” pluralism.
Asked if the “tide is turning against” those “oppos[ing] gay marriage,” Archbishop Cordileone seeks to define terms better:
there are really two different ideas of marriage being debated in our society right now, and they cannot coexist: Marriage is either a conjugal union of a man and a woman designed to unite husband and wife to each other and to any children who may come from their union, or it is a relationship for the mutual benefit of adults which the state recognizes and to which it grants certain benefits. Whoever is for one, is opposed to the other. …
Those of us who favor preserving the traditional understanding of marriage do not do so because we want people who experience attraction to their same sex to suffer. We recognize and respect the equal human dignity of everyone. Everyone should be treated equally, but it is not discrimination to treat differently things that are different. Marriage really is unique for a reason.
The whole interview is worth reading, here.
Whatever happens in the Courts, we’re going to be having this debate for a long time, we might as well make it more civil and constructive. And, yes, for the sake of the children. But also our own souls and the soul of a nation.