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Continued: John Nienstedt: Let's protect the meaning of marriage

  • Article by: JOHN C. NIENSTEDT
  • Last update: April 27, 2010 - 10:05 PM

Why should Minnesotans care about passing a marriage amendment?

Marriage matters to every Minnesotan, whether or not we choose to marry personally, because it is the natural way we bring together men and women to conceive and raise the next generation. The intended reality of marriage as a lifelong, committed, life-giving union between one man and one woman, a reality long accepted as established fact, is severely challenged today. High rates of fatherlessness and family fragmentation impoverish children and leave women with the unfair burden of solo parenting. Children suffer, but so does the whole society, when marriage fails in its irreplaceable task of bringing together mothers and fathers with their children.

Into this confusing mix, so-called same-sex "marriage" throws a whole new level of challenge and uncertainty. Defining marriage as simply a union of consenting parties will change the core meaning of marriage in the public square for every Minnesotan.

We might learn caution from experience. Back in the early 1970s, the experts told us that no-fault divorce would liberate women from bad marriages without affecting anyone else. We now know that as many as one-third of women fall into poverty with their children as a result of divorce. Social science caught up late with the common-sense wisdom that children need a mom and a dad working together to protect them.

In other words, changing the law of marriage to enshrine no-fault divorce had unintended consequences that few predicted. Same-sex marriage represents an even greater challenge.

Throughout history, human beings in virtually every society have recognized that, to make a marriage, one needs a man and a woman. What is more, it has long been acknowledged that marriage is not just about the happiness of adults but concerns the well-being of society -- that is, the common good. Marriage exists in civil law primarily in order to provide communal support for bringing mothers and fathers together to care for their children. Same-sex unions cannot serve this public purpose.

What will happen to children growing up in a world where the law teaches them that moms and dads are interchangeable and therefore unnecessary, and that marriage has nothing intrinsically to do with the bearing and raising of children? Do we really want first-graders to be taught that gay marriage is OK, or that the influence of a mother and a father on the development of a child somehow doesn't matter?

We all know that not all children live in the ideal situation. Many parents are doing a magnificent job working hard to raise children in less than ideal circumstances. Every son or daughter is a child of God who deserves our concern. But gay marriage would certainly be a declaration by the government that we have officially abandoned the ideal that children need both a mom and dad.

The only way to secure the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman is to follow the lead of other states and put a simple definition of marriage in our state Constitution, beyond the reach of activist courts.

In years past, our elected officials told us that we did not need a marriage amendment, because there was no realistic threat from the courts. But the Iowa court decision, on the heels of rulings in Connecticut, California and Massachusetts, clearly demonstrates that an amendment is needed.

Thirty-one states have passed marriage amendments, from Oregon to Wisconsin, from Michigan to California. There is nothing radical about the ideal of making sure marriage is defined as a union of one man and one woman.

Marriage is the way a man and woman bind their love into a lifelong commitment that is mutual, exclusive, and open to new life -- where they promise not only to love each other, but to love any children whom they create together. With that vow, the die is cast and the adventure of receiving and raising the next generation has begun.

A question as important as the future of this great, social institution called marriage should not be decided by a few, narrow elites, but by the people of Minnesota themselves. A marriage amendment is the only just and respectful resolution.

The Rev. John C. Nienstedt is archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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