If marriage were to be redefined, what could really go wrong?
A lot, warns Ryan T. Anderson, who researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty as the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Anderson, who co-authored the acclaimed book “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense,” will speak March 19 at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought in Boulder, Colorado, on the topic “Redefining Marriage: Why It Matters.”
In this interview with Denver Catholic, Anderson discuss the consequences of the movement to redefine marriage, which range from an increased number of absentee dads, to the closing of faith-based adoption agencies, to the rise of a multitude of “marriage” arrangements.
Q: This spring the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of state marriage laws, what is the key question they face with this issue?
A: The overarching question before the Supreme Court is not whether a male-female marriage policy is the best, but only whether it is allowed by the U.S. Constitution. The question is not whether government recognized same-sex marriage is good or bad policy, only whether it is required by the U.S. Constitution.
Those suing to overturn state marriage laws have to prove that the man-woman marriage policy that has existed in the United States throughout our entire history is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. And the only way someone could succeed in such an argument is to adopt a view of marriage that sees it as an essentially genderless institution based only on the emotional needs of adults, and then declare that the U.S. Constitution requires that the states (re)define marriage in such a way. Equal protection alone isn’t enough. To strike down marriage laws, the Court would need to say that the vision of marriage our law has long applied equally is just wrong—that the Constitution requires a different vision entirely.
But the U.S. Constitution is silent on what marriage is or what policy goals the states should design it to serve.
Q: Why does marriage matter for public policy?
A: Marriage is about attaching a man and a woman to each other as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their sexual union may produce. When a baby is born, there is always a mother nearby: That is a fact of biology. The policy question is whether a father will be close by, and, if so, for how long. Marriage increases the odds that a man will be committed to both the children that he helps create and to the woman with whom he does so. The man-woman definition of marriage reinforces the idea—the social norm—that a man should be so committed.
The man-woman definition, moreover, is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father.
Q: What are the consequences of redefining marriage?
A: First, it fundamentally reorients the institution of marriage away from the needs of children toward the desires of adults. It no longer makes marriage about ensuring the type of family life that is ideal for kids; it makes it more about adult romance. If one of the biggest social problems we face right now in the United States is absentee dads, how will we insist that fathers are essential when the law redefines marriage to make fathers optional?
Second, if you redefine marriage, so as to say that the male-female aspect is irrational and arbitrary, what principle for policy and for law will retain the other three historic components of marriage? In the United States, it’s always been a monogamous union, a sexually exclusive union, and a permanent union. We’ve already seen new words created—throuple, wedlease, monogamish—to challenge each and every one of those items.
Third, I’ll mention liberty concerns, religious liberty concerns in particular. After Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington, D.C., either passed a civil union law or redefined marriage, Christian adoption agencies were forced to stop serving some of the neediest children in America: orphans. These agencies said they had no problem with same-sex couples adopting from other agencies, but that they wanted to place the children in their care with a married mom and dad. They had a religious liberty interest, and they had social science evidence that suggests that children do best with a married mom and dad. And yet in all three jurisdictions, they were told they could not do that.
Q: How do we best advance the cause of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and what can people do to protect the traditional understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman?
A: First, live out the truth. Long before there was a debate about same-sex anything, far too many heterosexuals bought into a liberal ideology about sexuality that makes a mess of marriage: Cohabitation, no-fault divorce, extra-marital sex, non-marital childbearing, massive consumption of pornography and the hook-up culture all contributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture. At one point in American life, virtually every child was given the great gift of being raised to adulthood by the man and the woman who gave them life. Today, that number is under 50 percent in many communities.
Second, protect religious liberty. When he “evolved” on marriage last year, President Barack Obama insisted that the debate about marriage was a legitimate one, that there were reasonable people of good will on both sides. But, government has not respected these Americans. For example, Christian adoption agencies have already been forced out of the work of serving children because of their beliefs about marriage. Americans should insist that government not discriminate against those who hold to the historical definition of marriage.
Third, make the public argument. Americans need to redouble their efforts at explaining what marriage is, why marriage matters, and what the consequences are of redefining marriage. Defenders of marriage need to frame their messages, strengthen coalitions, devise strategies, and bear witness. They should develop and multiply artistic, pastoral and reasoned defenses of the conjugal view as the truth about marriage, and to make ever plainer the policy reasons for enacting it.
The left wants to insist that the redefinition of marriage is “inevitable.” The only way to guarantee a political loss, however, is to sit idly by.
Roxanne King: 720-771-3394, email@example.com, www.twitter.com/RoxanneIKing
AQUINAS INSTITUTE LECTURE
Who: Ryan T. Anderson speaks on “Redefining Marriage: Why it Matters”
When: 7 p.m. March 19
Where: St. Thomas Aquinas Center, 1520 Euclid Ave., Boulder
Info: call 303-443-8383 or email firstname.lastname@example.org