Katherine Kersten: This year, the family is on the ballot

Minnesota's choice for governor will determine marriage's fate in this state.

This year's election is supposed to be about jobs, bloated budget deficits, taxes and other economic issues. No doubt it will be. But more is at stake.

On Nov. 2, the family -- and marriage as we know it -- will be on the ballot in Minnesota.

Mark Dayton and Tom Horner both promise to bring same-sex marriage to our state. Their allies in the Legislature and a phalanx of pressure groups are poised to make this happen. Last year, a slew of bills related to this project was introduced. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto threat was vital to keeping them from becoming law.

Next year, Democrats will likely try to steamroll same-sex marriage through. If Dayton or Horner is elected, the governor will be on board -- perhaps even leading the charge.

Tom Emmer takes a different stance. He's the only gubernatorial candidate who supports marriage as the union of one man and one woman, as it has existed in Western civilization for 2,000 years.

Why redefine marriage? Dayton's and Horner's answers may sound appealing. On his website, Dayton promises to "make Minnesota the sixth state ... to recognize that the love and commitment shared by same-sex partners is as real and meaningful as their opposite-sex counterparts." On his site, Horner proclaims that "the quest for marriage equality is a simple matter of fairness, of equal opportunity under the law."

Notice: Neither Dayton nor Horner mentions the stakeholders who have the most to win or lose in the marriage battle -- children.

Though Dayton and Horner may be loath to admit it, marriage has been a male/female institution -- across the globe and throughout history -- for a simple reason, rooted in biology. Sex between men and women creates babies. It's the only kind of sex that does.

Marriage is a "conjugal" concept, based on the sexual complementarity of men and women. It channels the powerful male/female sex drive to positive ends, to ensure that children will -- whenever possible -- have the love, support and guidance of both their mother and father. By linking fathers to their children, marriage strengthens an otherwise tenuous bond that is vital for both children's and society's well-being.

This truth about marriage's core purpose is highly inconvenient for same-sex marriage supporters. To evade it, they employ a two-pronged rhetorical strategy.

First, they portray the purpose of marriage as being simply to encourage, and publicly affirm, adults' "love and commitment" -- Dayton's words. If we grant this premise, it becomes a denial of "equal rights" to withhold marriage from two men or two women who care for each other. "How will my same-sex marriage hurt your marriage?" gay-marriage supporters ask. They expect the answer to be "not at all."

But marriage is not primarily about affirming "love and commitment." Otherwise, government would regulate friendships as well as marriages. At its core, marriage is a social institution, whose public purpose is to structure male/female sexual relationships in a way that maximizes the next generation's well-being.

Same-sex marriage advocates' second rhetorical ploy is to charge that their opponents are motivated by fear, bigotry and hatred toward homosexuals. In 2004, for example, Dayton told a crowd of gay-rights activists that people who support a constitutional amendment to protect male-female marriage are "the forces of bigotry and hatred" who "spew hatred and inhumanity," according to the Star Tribune.

But most traditional-marriage supporters don't "fear" or "hate" homosexuals. On the contrary, they invite gays to live as they please. They simply believe that every child needs and deserves a mother and a father. And they suspect that the radical redefinition of marriage will have damaging, unpredictable long-term consequences for all of society.

I've got questions for Dayton and Horner:

If we abandon the conjugal idea of marriage -- and redefine marriage as appropriate for any two caring adults -- on what grounds can we continue to limit the institution to two people? If love and commitment are sufficient for two, why not three or more? "How does my polygamous marriage hurt your marriage?" Same-sex marriage supporters have no logical answer.

And how can we logically limit marriage to people in a sexual relationship? If marriage is simply about caring adults, why shouldn't a grandmother and daughter raising a child together have its benefits? Going forward, on what grounds can we discriminate against people simply because they don't have sex together?

Same-sex marriage supporters try to exploit Americans' goodwill. They know people don't want to be against "equal rights," or to be labeled a bigot or hate-monger. But support for traditional marriage has nothing to do with such things. It's about doing all we can to ensure that as many children as possible have what they need and deserve -- a mother and a father.

Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at kakersten@gmail.com.

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