Last week, President Bush lent his support to efforts in Congress and several states to seek passage of a 28th amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment reads simply: Marriage in the United States shall consist of only a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred on unmarried couples or groups.
In light of the Supreme Court’s recent Lawrence decision, the Catholic Bishops of the United States – together with President Bush and many others of good will – think that such an amendment is necessary because an activist Supreme Court might indeed impose a redefinition of marriage on us in much the same way as Roe v. Wade imposed legalized abortion.
That marriage is a life long union between a man and a woman is certainly part of Catholic teaching – in fact, in our teaching, this union is seen as a covenant and is a Sacrament. However, marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the sake of family is not a product of religious sectarianism. Nor is marriage a creation of the state. It is founded in nature itself. Marriage as an institution precedes church and state – if not a creation of Church or state, neither has any authority to change the nature of marriage.
Stated simply, marriage is about a man and a woman who join together in a permanent partnership to provide the stable, protective environment (i.e. a family) necessary for children to grow to productive and responsible adulthood. For example, all the research on child rearing indicates that children are “hard-wired” to be best raised by a mother and a father. Today, more than ever, marriage as an institution must be defended and protected in order to ensure the flourishing of persons, the wellbeing of children, and the common good of society. Given the stakes, society should encourage men and women to enter into such unions beneficial to the raising of children and seek to help – within its competence – these unions to persevere.
For society to grant same sex unions the sanction of marriage would not make same sex couples like husbands and wives – but it would end up essentially changing what for millennia has been the common understanding of marriage. A redefinition of marriage to include same sex couples would strip marriage of all meaning.
Advocates for a marriage amendment are not narrow minded bigots. Most have a high level of tolerance for their neighbor’s “private” behavior. They recognize that not all behavior they may deem immoral can or should be legislated against. At the same time, they draw the line between tolerance and acceptance. To force acceptance of same sex marriages by judicial fiat does not serve the common good or promote the general welfare of society.
The amendment process will allow the people to decide and keep the judges from imposing. While it will not necessarily change hearts or even win the debate that continues to rage in our nation’s culture wars, the ammendment is a necessary first step to prevent the preemption of such debate that a Supreme Court ruling along the lines of recent rulings in Massachusetts would bring about.