I live on a one-way street. Occasionally someone ignores the signs and goes up instead of down. This is unsettling when you consider how dangerous it is for the wrong-way driver and unsuspecting drivers who are going the right way.
With the status of marriage in America today, some wonder if we are going the wrong way when proposing a constitutional amendment to protect and maintain marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Divorce has touched the lives of many. Out-of-wedlock births are at an all time high. Many children are growing up in situations that do not resemble the mother/father nuclear family model. Isn’t it futile these days to protect something that is increasingly less secure and less honored? Shouldn’t we just resign ourselves to the idea that times have changed?
The truth is these trends are taking their toll on the well-being of families and our society. A 2008 report from the Institute for American Values estimates the cost of family fragmentation to US taxpayers is at least $112 billion a year. Many other studies confirm the devastating connection between divorce and single-parenthood with poverty, violence, substance abuse and poor achievement in school. These social troubles have a hefty price tag, but we cannot begin to measure the cost of the heartbreak of thousands of children who grow up separated from one parent or the other.
Same sex marriage advocates often mock supporters of marriage between one man and one woman by challenging, “If you care about marriage, outlaw divorce or do something to support single parents?” In 1980 when Pennsylvania passed the No-Fault Divorce Act, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) lobbied fiercely against it offering many of the same arguments that make the case against same sex marriage today. Children do best with mothers and fathers. The Church supports any reasonable measure that encourages couples to stay together and underscores the permanence of marriage.
Catholic Charities is a multi-billion dollar ministry to help people with many different needs. A sizable number of clients are struggling single parents. The Church provides charity and compassion to each of them. At the same time, in the 1990s the Church urged welfare reforms to encourage rather than penalize people for getting married.
Decades ago, we argued that policies that make it too easy for people to dismiss the important role of mothers or fathers in the family would negatively affect society. Social studies, again, prove this very true. Likewise, a penalty for marriage on those receiving welfare benefits also created undesirable social fallout.
Protecting marriage is not about who gets to call each other “spouse” or receive benefits. It is about affirming the special and unique role of marriage in our community as a whole. Certainly, not every family fits this ideal, but redefining marriage to include anything else gives state sanctioned permission to create relationships that by design exclude one gender or the other. This discounts everything we know to be true about marriage. We should work to preserve and encourage the ideal whenever possible, not shrug our shoulders and give in.
The Pennsylvania Senate will consider two bills regarding marriage this session. One proposed by Sen. Daylin Leach (Delaware/Montgomery Counties) will legalize same sex marriage; the other, proposed by Sen. John Eichelberger (Blair County), will amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
Which way should we go? Do we follow the signs and go the right way to protect marriage, or ignore them and take society dangerously the wrong way?
PCC Column June 2009 by A.B. Hill, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.