Fr. Ben J. Cameron, C.P.M.
America is in a moral and cultural war. On one side stands the forces of secular humanism (“liberals,” “progressives,” etc.) and on the other side stands the forces of traditional culture and morality (“conservatives,” “traditionalists,” and sometimes called “Neanderthals” by their opponents). It seems that on every major issue, it is a case of “ne’er the twain shall meet.” After all, how can we compromise on such fundamental issues as the sanctity of every human life (including the life of the pre-born) and the nature of marriage?
The forces of secular humanism seem to be winning. The polls say so. As we look at pop culture, it sure seems like they are winning. But are they? On the issue of abortion, the majority of Americans now say that abortion is wrong, that it should be outlawed, or only allowed when necessary to “save the life of the mother.” [This last position is defective in its reasoning, but that is a subject for another article.] The forces of secular humanism and unrestricted abortion seem to be slowly losing the argument on the issue of life.
The issue of so-called “gay marriage” is different. We are told that the majority of Americans favor it now. Funny that Americans have voted it down in almost every election in which it was on the ballot. In most states that have “legalized” homosexual “marriage,” it has been done through unelected judges handing down rulings stating that it is “unconstitutional” to prohibit homosexuals from marrying. And we are told that we must conform. And we (traditional Americans) have drawn a line in the sand. We have said: “No, Marriage is the union of a man and a woman.” Period. And that is the ground on which we will stand.
This writer is going to make a radical statement to traditional Americans: we have drawn the line in the wrong place in the sand. Yes, you read that right. I am NOT saying that we should not fight for “traditional marriage.” I am saying that most of us are defining marriage wrong, and so we have set ourselves up to lose this battle. Marriage is NOT simply “the union of a man and a woman.” Marriage has been understood for centuries as the covenant between a man and a woman, united to each other before God and human society, in a life-long and faithful union, which is open to the gift of new life (children). Let’s break that down a bit:
- Marriage is a Covenant. It is greater than any other form of legal contract (which can be broken under certain conditions). “Covenant” has deep Scriptural roots and hearkens back to God’s covenants with His People at various times in history (Old and New Testaments).
- It is a covenant made by a man and a woman, neither of whom is bound to someone else by a marriage bond, and who are morally and legally free to marry each other (you can’t marry close relatives, or anybody else that society has forbidden you to marry).
- This covenant is made between the man and the woman before God and before human society because marriage has very important social effects. It is through marriage that new citizens are brought into human society. The family, which is based on marriage, is where those new human persons are best formed to participate well in society.
- This covenant union of marriage demands life-long fidelity. The stability of the family, of children, and of society as a whole demand it. But marital infidelity does not break the marriage bond. It wounds it, but does not release a person from the vows that he or she made before God and society. Adultery is not a legitimate excuse for one to divorce and enter a second marriage with another person.
- This covenant union is fundamentally oriented toward the procreation of children. Even though some couples are not able to conceive, or to carry a child to term, the covenant union between the man and the woman is still directed toward them becoming “father” and “mother” (which is why adoption of children is often such a great gift for infertile couples).
So where have we gone wrong on marriage? We have been drawing our line in the sand at only the “a man and a woman” part. If we really want to save marriage in America (and the rest of the western world), then we need to re-embrace marriage as given to us by God “in the beginning.” One of the prayers for Nuptial Masses says that marriage is the one gift of God, given in the beginning, which was not forfeited by the sin of Adam and Eve. Yet we have been slowly giving it away by accepting secular humanism’s advances: “no fault divorce” (which goes against marriage as a life-long and faithful covenant) and artificial contraception (“birth control” – G.K. Chesterton once said that he hated that term because with contraception there is no birth, and no control). We, who claim to be for traditional morality and culture, need to start to once again live by traditional morality and culture, and not by the minimalistic definition of “traditional” which is in vogue today.
Let’s reclaim the marriage battle. Let us put our Christian marriages back on track with God’s intention and the teaching of His Holy Catholic Church – absolute life-long fidelity in thought, word and deed; and openness to the incredible gift of new human life which God gives in and through marriage.