Defining Marriage: How to Communicate Effectively

Debate Is Not About Homosexuality

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As same-sex «marriage» continues to be a hot topic, those who defend marriage face increasing criticism in the media that they are prejudiced or that they hate homosexuals.

A couple of recent books help address this issue and give some useful pointers on how to deal with this criticism. In «Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue» (Emmaus Road), William B. May gives some advice.

May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, addresses the matter from a non-religious perspective. In his brief booklet he talks about the importance of the policy debate on marriage that has important consequences for families and society.

«Marriage is in crisis because it has become nothing more than an adult centric institution, no longer the foundation of the family, in the minds of an increasing number of people,» he commented.

Protecting the traditional definition of marriage is vital, he insisted, as it is the only institution that unites kids with their parents.

Nevertheless, he admitted, it is challenging to express what we know to be true about the family. The relativistic culture we live in leads people to make decisions based on their own point of view.

Marriage, May argued, is a human reality that is recognized by states, cultures and religions, but is not something that can be changed as it is based on truths about the human person and the family.

When, however, marriage is viewed only as a means for individual fulfillment and happiness, then the connection of marriage with procreation, children and a family is lost, and following that, the reason for marriage to be considered as only being a union of a man and a woman is no longer so apparent.


Is marriage then merely the public recognition of a «committed relationship» between two people or is it something more?

Redefining marriage to allow same-sex couples means that we consider men and women to be interchangeable and that we move away from the right of a child to have a father and a mother. Marriage thus becomes a «lifestyle alternative» instead of a commitment to establish a family.

May then moves on to pose a series of questions. Does a child have a fundamental human right to know and to be cared for by his or her mother and father? Is it best to have a public institution that unites children with their moms and dads? Does anyone have the right to create a child with the intention of depriving him or her of knowing and being cared for by his/her mother and father?

May advised against becoming involved in debates about homosexuality and also said it is not appropriate to use religious doctrine to argue about public policy on marriage or to use ideological labels. Instead he suggested that the emphasis be on the consequences of redefining marriage and what this will bring.

The second recent book on this topic is «What is Marriage: Man and Woman: A Defense,» by S. Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George (Encounter Books).

The book is an extended version of what was originally published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

The debate about marriage, the introduction starts, is not one about homosexuality, but about marriage itself. The last few decades have seen a vision of marriage as above all a loving emotional bond and a path to personal fulfillment.


With this understanding, there is no difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions as both involve an intense emotional union and so both can be a marriage.

By contrast the authors argued that the basic features of marriage do not depend on individual preferences or cultural trends, but rather that marriage is «a personal and social reality, sought and prized by individuals, couples, and whole societies.»

It is also a human good with an objective structure, they added.

Redefining marriage will injure the common good and not be in the best interests of children, the authors continued.

Such a redefinition will also give the wrong ideas to people about marriage and will undermine the societal pressures for the permanence of marriage and for men and women to marry before having children.

Instead, the authors argued for a definition of marriage as compatibility in the whole of the spouses’ lives, as well as cooperation in the upbringing of children. It’s not just shared domestic life, but a basic connection between the bond of marriage and procreation.

«In short, marriage is ordered to family life because the act by which spouses make love also makes new life; one and the same act both seals a marriage and brings forth children,» they explained.

The book goes on to develop further arguments, but what comes out of both books is the realization that this debate is not about homosexuality, but rather about a consideration of what marriage and the family are and their role in society.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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