July 23, 2010


The definition of marriage

Marriage” and “family” are God-given. They are not open to redefinition by civil society.

It’s a sign of our time. A federal judge in Massachusetts has ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. What does the offending language say? That for the purposes of federal statutes, regulations and rulings “marriage means the legal union of one man and one woman.”

Why is it unconstitutional to define marriage this way—the way it has been defined for virtually all of human history?

The judge’s decision was based on two separate rulings. One states that section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection principles of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The other holds that it violates the Tenth Amendment and the Spending Clause. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro commented that, “as irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest,” section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

How is it “irrational prejudice” to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman? By what standard of reason or law can a federal judge reach this conclusion?

Speaking on behalf of the American bishops, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, said, “Marriage—the union of one man and one woman—is a unique, irreplaceable institution. The very fabric of our society depends upon it. Nothing compares to the exclusive and permanent union of husband and wife. The state has a duty to employ the civil law to reinforce—and, indeed, to privilege uniquely—this vital institution of civil society.

“The reasons to support marriage by law are countless, not least to protect the unique place of husbands and wives, the indispensible role of fathers and mothers, and the rights of children, who are often the most vulnerable among us. And yet, a judge has decided that a marriage-reinforcing law like DOMA fails to serve even a single, minimally rational government interest.

“On behalf of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, I express grave concern over these dangerous and disappointing rulings which ignore even the most apparent purposes of marriage and thus offend true justice,” the archbishop said.

This is a situation worthy of the worst science fiction. Big Brother, the omnipotent state, now claims the right to redefine what words mean. “Marriage” no longer means what we all know it means.

Now, because the heterosexual union of a man and a woman is no longer politically correct—let alone sacrosanct—we claim the right to change its meaning. And not only do we expand the meaning of the term beyond recognition, but we assert with pompous arrogance that the traditional meaning is nothing but “irrational prejudice.”

“To claim that defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is somehow irrational, prejudiced or even bigoted is a great disservice not only to truth but to the good of our nation,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “Marriage exists prior to the state and is not open to redefinition by the state. The role of the state, instead, is to respect and reinforce marriage.

“Thursday’s decision, by contrast, uses the power of the state to attack the perennial definition of marriage, reducing it merely to the union of any two consenting adults. But only a man and a woman are capable of entering into the unique, life-giving bond of marriage, with all of its specific responsibilities. Protecting marriage as only the union of one man and one woman is not merely a legitimate, but a vital government interest.”

A marriage is not whatever anyone says it is. It is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves to one another in love and to be open to the gift of life. Authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society.

We applaud Archbishop Kurtz’s efforts to call a spade a spade and to defend the importance of marriage as only the union of one woman and one man.

For us, marriage is a sacrament, not simply a social contract, and the family is much more than simply a social arrangement.

It is a domestic Church, the most fundamental and important community that human beings belong to.

—Daniel Conway

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