Standing Up for Traditional Marriage

*This article is informed by the work of William C. Duncan, JD, executive director of Marriage Law Foundation.

Mormon FamilyThere are many people who believe that marriages and families in the United States and the world need to be strengthened, not weakened, and who are alarmed by the current trends that are weakening marriages and families.  The latest threat comes from gay rights activists demanding the “right” to marry their homosexual partners.  Some people are against gay marriage and desire to uphold traditional marriage, but are unequipped to argue or defend their stance.  They don’t feel that their objections to gay marriage fall into the category of bigotry.  They also might be uncertain about what the future will be.  Could gay rights activists be correct in stating that granting gays the right to marriage will have no effect on society or traditional families?

The following are some basics that might help.

A group of family scholars has created a declaration about marriage:

“Marriage exists in virtually every known human society.  Exactly what family forms existed in prehistoric society is not known, and the shape of human marriage varies considerably in different cultural contexts.  But at least since the beginning of recorded history, in all the flourishing varieties of human cultures documented by anthropologists, marriage has been a universal human institution.  As a virtually universal human idea, marriage is about regulating the reproduction of children, families, and society.  While marriage systems differ (and not every person or class within a society marries), marriage across societies is a publicly acknowledged and supported sexual union which creates kinship obligations and sharing of resources between men, women, and the children that their sexual union may produce (Doherty, Galston, Glenn, Gottman, et al., Why Marriage Matters: 21 Conclusions from the Social Sciences, 2002).

Marriages and families differ in shape and in character.  Many studies have been conducted to determine what kind of family is best for children.  Gay activists cite studies on small groups that seem to show that children of gay couples fare as well as children raised by heterosexuals.  Of course, the standards for judging the success of grown children are subjective.  Many people who oppose gay rights  are religious and would not consider a child who grows up to be irreligious a success.  Gender identity, sexual experimentation, self esteem — all of these are subjective measures of “success.”

Most studies show that the children who are best off are those who are raised by the parents who bore them, and by definition, these parents must be heterosexual.  Since co-habiting couples who are not married are more prone to conflict, abuse, and divorce, the ideal couple is married, and married for a long time in a low-conflict relationship.  Studies show that children are damaged by divorce, but that children fare better with divorce than in very-high-conflict homes.  Studies have also shown that having a male and a female parent provides children with aspects of nurturing that are absent when both parents are male or both parents are female.  A male nurturer is future oriented and responsibility oriented, while a female nurturer is more tuned in to the current details of life and tender care-giving.  According to sociologist David Popenoe, children have dual needs that mothers and fathers fill — for relatedness and independence, for challenge and support.  In other words, the most desirable form of family both for children and society is to have strong and stable marriages and children with their biological parents.

Is Marriage a Right?

Marriage is defined as the legal (and religious, if desired) union of a man and a woman in order to form a family.  The right to marriage is a limited one.  Under-age couples may not wed. People who are closely related may not wed.  Of course, there are many people who remain single out of choice or not.  Many of the handicapped never have an opportunity to wed.  Some religious orders demand celibacy of their clergy.  The right to marry is the same for heterosexuals as for homosexuals.  Homosexuals have every right to establish a family with a member of the opposite sex, and some do this very successfully.

Instead of desiring a basic human right, gays are trying to redefine the age-old institution of marriage, to remake it to suit their desires.  This is not the same as desiring an inalienable right.  And denying that “right” is not bigotry. Those who want to remake marriage to satisfy gays want to redefine marriage as a union that is pleasurable for two partners.  That’s not what marriage is.  Its entirety is the family.  Even if we want to be kind, we are not doing society or marriage or even gays a favor by allowing gay marriage.

Allowing gay marriage changes the message that marriage conveys.  The new message is that marriage is “just another lifestyle choice” and that “one lifestyle is as good as another” and that any set of adults will do for raising a child.  These messages affect all of society.  As Duncan says, “…everyone in society will be told by their government that the old view of marriage was really nothing more than bigotry and prejudice.”

When gay marriage is legalized it will take away the rights of religions and religious people to judge it a sin and will therefore make treating it like a sin illegal.  The Mormon Church joins other churches in proclaiming that marriage is meant to be a sacred covenant, part of God’s eternal plan for His children.  The Church advocates chastity outside of marriage and fidelity in marriage in order to strengthen the covenant and sanctify marriage:

“As a doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture, we affirm that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.  The powers of procreation are to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife.  Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship (First Presidency Statement, October, 2004).

Changing laws about marriage do not make homosexual behaviors morally correct.  But we must be civil in the town square as we stand for the right.  The First Presidency Statement says,

“We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.  We realize there may be great loneliness in their lives, but there must also be recognition of what is right before the Lord.”

Late church president Gordon B. Hinckley said,

“Our opposition to attempts to legalize same-sex marriage should never be interpreted as justification for hatred, intolerance, or abuse of those who profess homosexual tendencies, either as individually or as a group….We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Why We Do Some of the Things We Do, 92).

What we do is in defense of the sacred institution of marriage and religious rights, not out of bigotry, intolerance or disdain for gays.  We realize that legalizing gay marriage will reap the wind for all of us, not just those who oppose it.  Wickedness never was happiness, and indulging homosexuals will take us faster and farther toward the destruction God has, over time, meted out to those who break His laws and rebel against His commandments.

Statements on Traditional Marriage

The Washington Court of Appeals (1974):  “The state views marriage as the appropriate and desirable forum for procreation and the rearing of children. …Marriage exists as a protected legal institution primarily because of societal values associated with the propagation of the human race” (Singer v. Hara 522 P.  1187, 1195 Washington Court of Appeals. 1974.)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court (1847): “The paramount purpose of marriage [is] procreation and protection of legitimate children, the institution of families and the creation of natural relations among mankind from which proceed all the civilization, virtue and happiness to be found in the world” (Matchin v Matchin 6 pa. 331, 337, 1847).

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State” (article 16, 1948, December).

Lehr v. Robertson, 1983: “The institution of marriage has played a critical role both in defining the legal entitlements of family members and in developing the decentralized structure of our democratic society.  In recognition of that role, and as part of their general overarching concern for serving the best interests of children, state laws almost universally express an appropriate preference for the formal family” (Lehr v. Robertson, 463 US 248, 256-57, 1983).