They say the young people are embracing same-sex marriage. But some of them are looking at something different: asking together what exactly a healthy approach to love and marriage might be in contrast to the hook-up culture that all too often surrounds them. Caitlin Seery, director of programs at the Love and Fidelity Network (who has also participated in Catholic Voices USA programs, where I am a director), talks about the Supreme Court’s rulings on marriage and its future.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You’re in your twenties. You seem to be on the wrong side of history, if this week’s celebrations are any indication.
CAITLIN SEERY: One thing the celebrations outside the Supreme Court seem to amplify is the fact that marriage is, in fact, worth celebrating. But we have to be honest about what marriage is and why we are so vested in it and its promotion: It is a union of one man and one woman to provide children with a mom and a dad. I’m proud to stand alongside countless friends and peers in celebrating this long-held truth about marriage.
And, fortunately for all of us, there is no right and wrong side of history. History isn’t an unstoppable force controlling us; people make history what it is. My generation has a choice. We can start by witnessing to it in our own lives, cheering on our friends who buck the cultural tide and take the plunge young, and holding up men and women who have stuck together through decades of real tribulation (and monotony) as the heroes they are.
LOPEZ: Isn’t any pushback against same-sex marriage really over at this point for all practical purposes?
SEERY: Of course not. Americans will continue to debate marriage for generations to come. Just as Roe v. Wade did not end the “pushback” against abortion — cf. 500,000 people marching for life in front of the Supreme Court this January – Perry and Windsor won’t end the debate against same-sex marriage. And this week, just as with Roe, the Supreme Court didn’t end a debate. It launched a movement.
LOPEZ: What do you say to your friends with same-sex attractions as you make these kinds of arguments?
SEERY: I welcome these conversations. I fully respect their position and admire their dedication to a cause they hold dear, and I hope they will return that courtesy. I try to convey that my defense of marriage does not come from a desire to see a class of citizens marginalized — far from it! — but rather from a commitment to the truth about what marriage itself is. There’s no question that such conversations can be difficult — and they are rarely fruitful in public online venues or comment streams, I might add (there is far too much bullying) — but when two people come together in earnest conversation from a place of mutual respect there is a lot we can learn from one another.
LOPEZ: Why “love and fidelity”? And how can’t that be a message for people celebrating outside the Supreme Court yesterday? What if two men love one another and want to be faithful to one another?
SEERY: Two men or two women can certainly love and be faithful to one another. They could yesterday. They can today. And they will be able to tomorrow. But their ability to love and be faithful doesn’t require marriage to be redefined for the entire country. While I am appropriately disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decisions, we can take some comfort in the fact that they did not create a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The 37 states whose laws still reflect the truth about marriage stand, and Americans in all states can and should continue to debate and discuss marriage, and pass laws that reflect that truth.
LOPEZ: What do you hear about on campuses about same-sex marriage?
SEERY: It’s easy to assume that the only voices on campus talking about marriage are dressed up in rainbow flags. And while university faculty and administrations may be nearly unanimous in their support for same-sex marriage, the same is not true for college students. A courageous number are boldly standing up for traditional marriage — hosting public debates on their campuses about the nature of marriage, submitting articles defending marriage to their campus newspapers (even writing dissenting editorials like this one), engaging peers through social media, and more. As I’ve noted elsewhere, they are practicing what they preach, too, personally embracing more traditional norms with an eye toward marriage. They aren’t doing it because they’ve been told marriage will make them richer, happier, and more sexually satisfied — though statistically speaking that’s all true. They are choosing the hard way because they know it’s right. They know marriage is their best hope for developing stronger character and for learning to sacrifice, forgive, and love. They reject the idea that marriage is all about finding a partner perfectly suited to themselves, or about finding what makes them happiest. And as young married couples, they are counter-culturally welcoming of children — who require more love, more sacrifice, and more forgiveness than anyone is ever prepared for.
LOPEZ: Do you blame the generation or two before you for being bad stewards of marriage? Bad models?
SEERY: My generation’s attitude towards marriage has been substantially shaped by what we witnessed in our parents’ generation. Widespread acceptance of divorce has led to untold heartbreak and suffering — both material and psychological. It has much of my generation running scared. When states, one by one, redefined marriage a generation ago to make the norm of permanency optional, marriage suffered, and we all suffered. We see now that those who could least afford it suffered most, but it took a generation to be able to see the consequences.
LOPEZ: What do you see as the future of marriage?
SEERY: Whatever happens in the wake of these decisions, a few things are sure: The debate about marriage in our culture at-large will continue; Americans will continue to debate, discuss, and pass laws about marriage. But that’s not all. Already myriad organizations are working to restore a healthy marriage culture through witness and education. The national debates about same-sex marriage are a tiny — albeit high-profile — sliver of what is already being done and what we will continue to do to restore marriage in our culture so that the next generation has a better model to follow than we did — and so that their children will have an even better example than ours.