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This artwork by Paul Tong relates to gay marriage.

Paul Tong, Tribune Media Services

In Minnesota, marriage as we know it is at stake

  • Article by: KATHERINE KERSTEN
  • March 9, 2013 - 4:32 PM

The marriage amendment may have fallen short at the polls in November, but a majority of Minnesotans continue to support marriage as the union of one man and one woman, according to recent polls by KSTP/SurveyUSA and the Star Tribune. In the Star Tribune poll, only 38 percent said they favored legalization of same-sex marriage.

Clearly, the amendment vote wasn’t a green light for same-sex marriage, and legislators would be wrong to see it that way. Most likely, voters were spooked by a lavishly funded campaign in which supporters of same-sex marriage warned that placing the current definition of marriage in our state Constitution would “end the conversation” about marriage.

Now, just months later, these advocates are mounting an aggressive campaign to do just that. They are pressuring the Legislature to pass SF925, a bill described as “the marriage between two persons authorization.”

More conversation? Who needs it? same-sex marriage supporters seem to say. The issue, they insist, is a no-brainer — a simple matter of “equality,” and the logical next step in the struggle against “discrimination.” The point is so obvious that anyone who questions their project must be a “bigot,” and so drummed out of hearing in polite society.

But a look at SF925 reveals that something much more insidious than advocates let on is underway. This bill would strip the words “mother” and “father” of meaning under Minnesota law. Henceforth, the bill states, these words — among the most beloved and culturally freighted in the English language — “must be construed in a neutral manner to refer to a person of either gender.”

Of course, “mother” and “father” aren’t “gender-neutral” words. That’s a fiction. All Minnesotans have a mother and a father — female and male, respectively. Our state’s legislators may view themselves as powerful, but they can’t repeal this fact of human biology. Yet same-sex marriage advocates must pretend this is possible, if they are to convince the rest of us that a “union” of two people of the same sex is identical to that of a man and woman whose sexual complementarity is the only thing that produces the next generation.

This stripping of meaning from “mother” and “father” is just one signal of the tectonic shift our society will undergo if we try to redefine marriage in a way that portrays the anatomical, social and psychological differences between men and women as irrelevant to human life — just as shoe size and eye color are. We urgently need a conversation at the State Capitol that grapples seriously with the unknown implications of such a step — as they unfold next year and 50 years from now.

Legislators should begin by considering why marriage has been a male/female institution throughout recorded history. Is it really because people in the past weren’t as smart as we are, or were “bigots?” Of course not. It’s because marriage has a vital public purpose: It binds fathers to mothers and the children their sexual union creates. This bond is crucial to children’s well-being — and to society’s future.

To succeed in redefining marriage, same-sex marriage supporters must deny this public purpose of marriage. Instead, they tell us, the only criterion for marriage should be that people love each other. It’s just emotional intensity that distinguishes marriage from all other human relationships.

This claim has far-reaching implications:

First, if marriage is merely about emotional intensity, marital norms based on male-female complementarity — like sexual exclusivity and permanence — no longer make sense, or at best become optional. People can have a number of emotionally close relationships at the same time, and when the intensity fades, so does the reason to stay together.

Second, if emotional attachment is all that’s required, the logic for limiting marriage to two people — or even to people in sexual relationships — disappears. It becomes difficult to distinguish marriage from friendship, which the government does not regulate. That’s why some prominent commentators are already calling for government to “get out of the marriage business” altogether.

Third, making marriage “gender-neutral” would radically alter parenthood. Children need both a mother and a father, who bring different and complementary qualities to child-rearing. Two lesbians or two gay men (or two lesbians and a sperm donor), no matter how loving, cannot replicate this.

Most important: Redefining marriage as a unisex institution would decisively delink marriage from procreation and child-rearing in the public’s mind. Our marriage culture is already seriously frayed, and our children are paying a devastating price. Same-sex marriage would accelerate this trend, by telegraphing that government is now wholly indifferent to whether a child’s mother is married to his father.

The hour is late and the stakes are high. Let the conversation begin.

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Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are her own. She is at kakersten@gmail.com.

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