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Sonja Corbitt Offers a Non-Religious, Social Defense of Marriage
By Sonja Corbitt
May 10th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
After Tuesday's NC vote to ban gay marriage and civil unions, many are asking "why"? Questions of concerning marriage as a relevant institution, a legal advantage, and an individual right and have become so widespread, systemic, and divisive in our society that it is important to publicly revisit, in a non-religious, anthropological way, why traditional marriage must be legally elevated above other unions, cohabitative, homosexual, or otherwise.
If religion or faith is part of their lives, it takes a back seat to a sense of justice provoked by the denial of equal rights of gays to marry or protections for those who live together without marrying. All initiatives and arguments that seem opposed to this sense of choice and fairness, then, are seen as religious and irrelevant without considering the other, more convincing foundations.
Supporters of equal rights for alternative family models believe that any institution or government that acts to maintain the status quo, does so exclusively because the family, based on marriage, is simply the cultural model (a "traditional" as opposed to "progressive" model) that it wants to keep, despite the great advances and evolutions of our times.
Questions of marriage as a relevant institution, a legal advantage, and an individual right and social justice for all, then, have become so widespread, systemic, and divisive in our society that it is important to publicly revisit, in a non-religious, anthropological way, why traditional marriage must be legally elevated above other unions, cohabitative, homosexual, or otherwise.
A Rational Perspective
The justice or fairness argument is most often taken up in defense of a situation, person, or group of persons with whom individuals and groups are personally connected or sympathetic. It is therefore an emotional assertion. Arguments based on emotion, whether based on compassion or ideology, are inherently superficial, prejudiced, and most often culturally conditioned. They cannot be wholly rational, nor therefore wholly just, at all.
Viewing the case for legal equality for alternative unions through sympathy pits contemporary, individual, private choices against decades of scientific evidence and millennia of historical proof for the objective value of traditional marriage to the social order. It exalts individual freedom of choice without reference to any relevant social value.
It is an individualistic and private approach to marriage and the family that is blind to its objective social dimension. Without these considerations, the argument is irrational and contrary to reason. It is self-affirmation, often forced against others. It is selfish because it affirms and acknowledges only self, not society, and does not consider either the past or the future, only the present. It cannot therefore, be just.
The difference between the family originating in marriage, and the community that originates in an alternative union, is not, and could never be created by any public authority. It is a natural and original institution that is completely and absolutely prior to any group whatsoever.
An Ancient Anthropological Perspective
What is prior, inherently takes priority. Before there was ever a civilization, society, race, or tribe, there was a man and a woman. DNA studies indicate that all modern humans share a common female ancestor and a common male ancestor who lived in Africa thousands of years ago. The first humans had children, and a family was created.
Aside from any physical anomaly, fatherhood and motherhood are genetically and physiologically written into the first man and woman, and every man and woman after them. Genetically and physiologically, woman receives man, and a new human is created. Children have a genetic, inherent, and fundamental right, then, to both a mother and father. This fact is physically and genetically irrevocable.
Furthermore, children can only proceed from this union. Certainly fatherhood and motherhood can also be and are emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, but gender is inherently natural, genetic, basic and foundational. Physical anomalies can and do occur, and we have compassion and empathy when they do, but anomalies do not, and cannot change that man plus woman is the genesis of all humankind.
Granting marital status to unions between persons of the same sex is anthropologically opposed by the natural impossibility of the transmission of life and the absence of complementarity between male and female at the most basic biological level. If the bond between two men or two women cannot constitute a real anthropological family, then it follows that the right for that union to adopt children without a family is also contrary to reason.
The man plus woman union is, therefore, foundationally and naturally dominant over all other unions, from the dawn of humanity. Civil law that favors this particular union simply reflects its dominance and succession (procreation and education) of human generations.
A Historical Social Perspective
This anthropological union, throughout the history of human civilization, is called marriage. Since an original social institution is founded, one through which human civilization and society originate, a demand for justice and protection is inherent within marriage itself, without regard to public authority.
History proves that the man plus woman union is also properly socially dominant over all other unions, because stable man plus woman marriage is the solitary, fecund cell upon which every society was ever built, and every civilization has ever stood.
The family cell is the historically and incontestably best environment for children to thrive. The complete self-giving of man and a woman in their potential fatherhood and motherhood, with the resulting union - that is also exclusive and permanent - between the parents and the children, expresses unconditional trust that is expressed in strength and enrichment for all.
The bond between a mother and a conceived child and the irreplaceable function of the father require the child to be welcomed into a family which will guarantee, whenever it is possible, the presence of both parents. The marriage union is therefore good and preferable to all others. Study after study after study, and our combined human experience all prove that children from stable, traditional marriages are better adjusted.
They do not long for a missing father or mother, they do not experience the trauma of divorce, they are not at risk of becoming involved in crime and violence, they do not lack community, they are less often victims of poverty, are less often dependent on government, they have fewer emotional and psychological problems, and fewer health problems.
The family nucleus, as the basic building block of the whole of society, offers benefits unique to it. Marriage nurtures economic stability when the State is not forced to substitute itself where family is missing or broken. It offers legal stability, when the State need not intervene in problems that would otherwise be solved privately, including education, citizenship, the transmission of culture and values, and care of the elderly.
Marriage fosters freedom. Breakdowns in the traditional family have historically left individuals more and more vulnerable and defenseless before the power of the State and impoverished them by requiring progressive intrusions on liberties. Although the crisis of the family has certainly been the cause of greater intervention by the State, it is also true that government initiatives facilitate and promote difficulties and breakdowns of many marriages and families. Anyone who wants to know the ulterior motives of a government or institution should take a look at what it incentivizes.
A Contemporary Social Perspective
The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife expect and are expected to give themselves in love and in the gift of life, constituting the foundations for freedom, security and community within society.
The marriage union is inclined in itself toward complementarity, a certain exclusivity, the generation of offspring, and a joint life project. The legislative function must always reflect and support this ideal reality in social responsibility.
Marriage, as the foundation of the family and society, is not a "way of living sexuality as a couple." While it can only be established through an act of mutual free will, as an institution it is determined by the structure of the human being, the woman and the man in mutual self-giving and the transmission of life, not public authority.
Other ways of living sexuality can exist - other forms of living together, other friendly relationships whether based on sexual activity or not, and other ways of bringing children into the world. Such unions can be based on love and constitute a community of life and love, but they are substantially different from the community of life and love of marriage. Any alternative union that previews marriage without commitment or betrays the natural structure of marriage is legalized and incentivized to the erosion of society.
Therefore, the law must distinguish between public interest and private interest. It is the role of government to protect and encourage public interest, but the State can only guarantee freedom in private interest.
Marriage and the family are in the interest of society and should be recognized and protected as such; they are the fundamental nucleus of society and the State. Two or more persons may decide to live together, with or without a sexual relationship, but this cohabitation is not, for that reason, of public interest. Public authorities should not incentivize the private choice of alternative unions which are the result of private behavior and should remain on the private level. The Sate should only ever legalize or incentivize behaviors and unions that are good for society.
Their public recognition or equivalency to marriage, and the resulting elevation of a private interest to a public interest, weakens the family based on marriage. In marriage a man and a woman constitute a community of the whole of life which is ordered by its very nature to the good of the spouses and the generation and up-bringing of offspring.
What is specific about the family based on marriage is that it is the only institution that incorporates and unites all the elements mentioned, originally and simultaneously. It is the natural heritage of humanity written in every person's DNA and which characterizes the culture of all the peoples in history.
Family based on marriage and alternative unions are neither similar nor equivalent in their duties, functions and services in society; they cannot be similar or equivalent in their legal status. It is for the common good of society that the institution of marriage be legally protected, incentivized, and elevated, in order to encourage that behavior for the good of children, individuals, society, and humankind. It is why 30 states, as of yesterday, have moved to protect marriage.
Catholic Documents on Marriage
Pontifical Council for the Family on Family, Marriage, and De Facto Unions
Sonja Corbitt is a Catholic speaker, Scripture study author, and a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit pursuingthesummit.com to order her 10-week, DVD-driven Bible study on the "whys" of Catholicism: Soul of the World, The Heart as God's Dwelling Place.
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