November 5, 2009
According to a recent news article, the redefinition of marriage has become a pressing issue in the State of New Jersey. Proponents of same-sex marriages want to pass a bill to alter the definition of marriage after this week’s general election during the lame duck session of the State legislature. Others, however, are not comfortable leaving such a momentous societal shift in the hands of a few.
Many lawmakers want to place the issue before the public on the 2010 November ballot in the form of an amendment to the New Jersey State Constitution. The amendment, if passed, would permit marriage only between a man and a woman (cf. Mary Fuchs,
Star-Ledger, September 29, 2009). In a word, the issue of marriage, so fundamental to the life of society and the good of spouses and children, has become a political battleground whose outcome will have far-reaching consequences.
The very fact that lawmakers and lobbyists are grappling with the agenda of same-sex marriage indicates a breakdown in marriage that already exists. The last two generations have seen a greater number of divorces as well as multiple remarriages. The result: commitment to marriage as a stable, “until death do us part” covenant is quickly vanishing.
Furthermore, cohabitation has increased. Some people live together before marriage. Others do so with no view at all to marriage. The result: marriage is becoming privatized. Many no longer see it as a commitment with consequences for society itself. Why should anyone care about the relationship between two people? However, the relationship between a man and a woman is not just any relationship. It is the relationship from which children come and society itself continues. Safeguarding marriage, therefore, is an urgent issue.
A further change in the way some people see marriage has come about from the way that science can now facilitate the birth of a child. Today, more and more couples, many with a sincere desire to have children, have resorted to technical means of procreation that separate the conception of a child from the intimate, conjugal expression of the man and woman who are to become the parents of that child. Others, who do not wish any children or who choose to limit the size of their family, resort to the use of artificial means of birth control. The effect: the sexual expression of love of husband and wife is no longer accepted as ordered to children. This separation of conjugal love from its natural ordering to children has contributed to placing the primary focus in the discussion of marriage on the ability of the individuals, regardless of their sex, to form a satisfying sexual relationship with each other.
All these factors have created the context in which some today are quick to equate same-sex unions with marriage. But the two are not the same. There is a difference. It is a fundamental difference. And, it is clearly understood by reason.
The marriage of a man and a woman can express itself in the language of the body as the total self-giving of the one to another. And that gift of self has, on the natural level, the potential to bring forth children. This makes marriage radically different from same-sex unions, even in circumstances where the potential expressed in the conjugal act does not result in procreation in a particular marriage.
Without this understanding of the link of conjugal love and the potential for children in marriage, there is neither a moral nor a rational basis to limit same-sex unions to two people! If marriage is now defined as simply what is good for us to form a satisfying relationship, what would set the limit to who can be included in “us’? Once marriage is redefined, how open will it be? How many individuals will be able to be part of one marriage?
To be continued…