Tips for Dialogue about Marriage With Family and Friends

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by William B. May

Marriage hints and tips

SAN FRANCISCO, 2014 -- If your family is like mine, there may be a lot of diverse opinions shared including different understandings about marriage. It is always good to share insights in a charitable way that help reveal the truth about marriage as the Church teaches, however, it is good to use non-religious language that anyone can understand and accept.

Evangelization of culture does not require changing someone’s mind or getting them to acknowledge that they are wrong. Conversion is really the work of the Holy Spirit and being a witness for marriage requires humility to appreciate that. If we really trust the Holy Spirit, it is liberating to know that the outcome of the dialogue is not our responsibility.

  • Hint 1: Clarify False Underlying Permises
  • Hint 2: The Fact that Can Only Be Recognized.
  • Hint 3: Remember the Circle of Irreplaceability
  • Hint 4: For Those Who Hate Opposing "Same-Sex Marriage."
  • Hint 5: Beware of "Bait and Switch"

Here are some tips that may be of help in having discussions without getting sidetracked into conversations about homosexuality or sexual ethics, which offer little to reveal the truth about marriage as an integral part of God's plan for creation. ("Reframing the Marriage Issue Reveals Reality")

Hint 1. Clarify False Underlying Premises

Remember, those who see no objection to same-sex couples marrying start out with two false assumptions. Rather than accuse someone of holding a false assumption, use this insight to help formulate how you present the reality of marriage and the issue of redefining it.

The two false assumptions are:

  1. Most think the issue is merely about expanding marriage to let same-sex couples participate. It is not. To accommodate same-sex couples, marriage is actually redefined in the law replacing “a man and a woman” with “two people,” which by definition eliminates the only civil institution that is specifically geared to unite kids with their moms and dads. The question is, “Do we need such an institution, yes or no?"
  2. A lot of the conflict is over two different understandings about what marriage is. Before discussing public policy on marriage, it is important to clarify the two conflicting understandings. Fifty-eight percent think that marriage is merely for the public recognition of committed relationships for the benefit of adults. That is not what marriage is, but it actually becomes that under the law if it is redefined. Marriage in reality is much more than a committed relationship. Marriage not only unites a man and a woman with each other, but with any children born from their union. That expresses the fulness of what marraige is, the community of life and love.

Hint 2: The Fact that Can Only Be Recognized.

When defending marriage, most try to explain what marriage is by talking about all of its different attributes including procreation, sexual complementarity between men and women, mother and fatherhood, and the good of the children. Frankly, that complicates things too much.

Simply put, marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. That is what marriage is, that is what marriage does. Memorize this phrase. This is a fact that can only be recognized and never changed. It already assumes procreation, complementarity, and mother and fatherhood. It summarizes §1603 of the Catechism. Additionally the phrase expresses irreplaceability, and irrevocability, two attributes rarely associated with marriage today. Not every married man and woman has children, but every child has a mother and father. With insertion of the word “any” even the possibility of the heartbreak of infertility is accounted for. It is the only definition of marriage that you will need.

When the reality of marriage is recognized by law, it creates the only civil institution that is specifically geared to unite kids with their moms and dads—also a fact. When marriage is redefined, it is eliminated from the law—another fact. So the question becomes, do we need such an institution, yes, or no?

(See Hint 1 about clarifying false underlying premises and awareness of the two conflicting understandings about marriage.)

 Hint 3: Remember the Circle of Irreplaceability.

One of the difficulties that friends and family members have in recognizing the reality of marriage is caused by cultural confusion about the relationship between love and sexuality, and a view that marriage is primarily for the happiness of the loving couple. Of course, for Catholics, it also happens to be a sacrament in the Church. The result is that fewer and fewer people see the need to marry and see little connection between marriage and having children. More than half of the births to women under 30 are outside of marriage, a shocking statistic. Priests report that many people in marriage preparation classes have not even discussed the possibility of children with their fiancées.

Helping family members and friends understand the true meaning and purpose of marriage is vital because it has a bearing on the choices that they make in their own lives. Considering the adult confusion, we can turn to scripture and recall Jesus prayer in Luke 10:21, “although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”

When the child looks at marriage, she does not see sex or adult agendas. She only sees that a secure place has been made for her characterized the unconditional love of her mother and father, and the reality of irreplaceability. To the child, this is what marriage is:
A man and woman freely choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other in marriage. That is what prepares them to receive a child as a gift of equal value and dignity to themselves. Because, in reality, the child is irreplaceable to both of them and both the mom and the dad are irreplaceable to the child.

It was the free choice of the mom and dad to marry that started the circle of irreplaceability that we call the family.

This reveals the beauty of marriage as part of God’s plan for creation. If we experienced this, we are grateful; if we missed the experience for some reason, we still recognize how much we desire that connection- to know and be loved by the man and woman from whom we originated. They are part of who we are; our identity. How can we not desire that for our children or grandchildren?

This description also beautifully expresses adoption by a married man and woman. They first made themselves irreplaceable to each other through their marriage. It prepared them to receive a child through adoption as a gift of equal value and dignity. They have brought the child into their circle of irreplaceability and restored what the child has lost.

Hint 4: For Those Who Hate Opposing "Same-Sex Marriage."

If opposing “same-sex marriage” makes you feel uncomfortable, then don’t. The phrase is what causes many to falsely presume that you are motivated by discrimination against gays and lesbians. It also misleads people about the consequences of redefining marriage. Expunge the term from your vocabulary. It can be a tough habit to break, but it is essential to move the conversation to what is really important: not opposing same-sex couples marrying, but opposing the very redefinition of marriage required to accommodate their objectives.  

For the majority who believe that marriage is merely for the public recognition of committed relationships and the convenience of benefits for adults and their families, your statement only communicates that your objective is to prevent same-sex couples from sharing in the “benefits” of marriage. This helps explain why the majority of the US Supreme Court think defense of marriage laws are expressions of bigotry and animosity against homosexuals.

Using the term also misleads people to think the issue is about “expanding” or including others in marriage as proponents of marriage redefinition want you to think.  It is about radically redefining it in marriage laws by deleting “a man and a woman” and replacing it with “two people.” The unintended consequence (or arguably intended) is that the only civil institution that unites children with their moms and dads and all authority to promote it is eliminated.

Certainly men and women will still be able to marry if marriage is redefined, but the problem today is that they aren’t. For women under 30, more that 50% of births are outside of marriage. The human and social consequences are staggering (See Quick Facts About The Breakdown of Marriage and Family and have this information at your fingertips to use in discussions.).

The breakdown of marriage has led both liberal and conservative sociologists to agree—programs are needed to promote men and women marrying before having children. Ron Haskins of the left leaning Brookings Institution has even suggested TV commercials geared to influence attitudes and behaviors related to marriage similar to those to change behavior on smoking, drinking and driving, respect for the environment, wearing seat belts, and now healthy eating to fight obesity.

The new legal principle established when marriage is redefined goes far beyond the claimed “equality” of adult relationships. It becomes legally discriminatory to claim, advertise or teach children that there is any unique value for men and women marrying before having children because same-sex couples cannot have their own. This is the hidden agenda. Don’t believe it when people say, “We don’t want to change marriage, we just want to participate in it.” They can’t, however, unless it is redefined.

Hint 5: Beware of "Bait and Switch"

Those proposing to redefine marriage often confuse people by asking questions that seem to relate to marriage, but don’t. To help avoid confusion, a little trick that CCGI teaches is to always ask the question, “What does this question have to do with the only institution that unites kids with their (own) moms and dads (marriage between a man and a woman)?”

For example, people ask, “What about children with gay parents? Don’t they have a right to have married parents too?” CCGI’s reality-based approach is the only way to keep from getting fooled and to be able to respond in a way that politely reveals the false underlying premise.

In reality, same-sex parenting has nothing to do with marriage, the only situation that unites kids with their moms and dads. The conversation has switch to a situation similar to adoption or broken families involving children who have been deprived of their mom and dad united in marriage. Unmarried people can adopt, why then should adoption be justification for redefining marriage? (See Hint 3 re adoption by married men and women.)

“But what about the fact that same-sex couples can have their own children through artificial reproductive technology?” some people retort. This is another example of “bait and switch.” They have not only moved the conversation away from marriage, but have introduced a very serious human rights consideration. In reality, who has the right to create a child with the intention of depriving the child of part of his or her identity: the fundamental human right to know and be loved by his or her mother or father or both?

It is plain to see, none of these responses is a commentary on anyone’s ability or qualifications for parenting. Adoption situations are simply unrelated and provide no justification for eliminating from the law the only civil institution that unites kids with their moms and dads. Nor should we be judgmental about anyone who has created a child with a sperm or egg donor. In reality, we must presume that anyone parenting loves their children and is trying to absolutely do the best job they can in raising them. Our conversations must always be directed toward the future, not the past.

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