More on marriage

George Weigel

Why support a Federal Marriage Amendment? Here are ten reasons why.

1. The FMA will prevent activist judges from redefining marriage to fit their squinty reading of the “signs of the times.” There isn’t the slightest shred of evidence to support the claim that the American people want this redefinition. Those who do should have the democratic courtesy to take their case to legislatures, not courts. Judicial usurpation of decision-making on grave issues of public policy is undermining democracy. It’s time to draw the line. This is the place.

2. “Marriage” is not something the state can legitimately redefine. Marriage is a human institution thousands of years older than the state; a just state recognizes that and structures its laws accordingly. The state is under moral judgment here, not the institution of marriage as it’s been understood for millennia.

3. Attempts to redefine marriage inevitably involve parallel attempts to drive religiously-informed moral norms from public life. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, for example, declared marriage a “wholly secular institution” in its recent decision mandating so-called “gay marriage.” The Massachusetts Supremes were wrong, but if their opinion prevails, it will be another step toward establishing secularism as the official ideology of the United States.

4. Government-sanctioned same-sex “marriage” will inevitably lead to demands that homosexual sex be discussed “neutrally” in public schools. Parents who fight this will be branded irrational bigots. This is already happening to supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

5. The same charge of bigotry will be laid against priests, ministers, and rabbis who decline to perform “gay marriages.” One young priest I know, an entirely sober soul, told me that he fully expects to see clergy of his generation jailed for refusing to perform same-sex “weddings.” He is not being alarmist. Unhappy precedents have already been set in Canada and Great Britain, where clergy have been subjected to the pressures of the criminal law for teaching classic Christian doctrine on homosexual behavior.

6. Some constitutionally fastidious conservatives and a few dissembling politicians argue that marriage has always been a matter for the states. This is historically inaccurate. Several federal laws against polygamy were passed in the nineteenth century, and absent federal intervention, polygamy might well have been legal in several states. Moreover, gay “marriage” activists will insist that any one state’s “gay marriage” provision be recognized in every other state under the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause – and they’ll find a lot of the federal appellate bench supporting that claim. In the current political, cultural, and judicial climates, defining marriage is, inescapably, a national issue.

7. Then there’s the slippery slope, which in this instance is an empirical reality, not a logical fallacy. If states can redefine marriage as the union of two men or two women, on what principled ground will states deny the claims of one man and three women to be married? Or two women and three men? There is no such ground. If gay “marriage” becomes the law of the land, polygamy and polyandry are not far away.

8. Gay “marriage” advocates insist that family “structure” doesn’t matter. Haven’t we learned from years of a lengthy, failed experiment in social welfare policy that marriage “structure” does count? What’s just about ignoring the overwhelming social scientific evidence that kids flourish best in a stable family led by a father and a mother? To endorse same-sex “marriage” is to declare that motherless or fatherless families are social goods. The kids, as usual, will suffer most.

9. We’ve already seen the damage that’s been done to marriage and to children by a culture that increasingly divides “marriage” and “procreation.” Legally endorsing same-sex “marriage” will accelerate the separation of marriage and parenting.

10. What would we be saying about ourselves and our traditions if same-sex “marriage” wins the day? Among other things, we’d be saying that the biblical understanding of marriage and the family is wrong, even bigoted. We’d be saying that there’s nothing really important about our being created male and female. We’d be saying that “marriage” is something than can be redefined by anyone seeking to meet a personal “need.” Is that what we want to say to, and about, ourselves?

I don’t think so.

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.