Hang around Facebook long enough and you’re sure to come across something like this: “The country is going broke; the dollar is in the basement, American manufacturing is practically extinct. Aren’t these the really pressing issues? Why can’t you just drop all this gay marriage fuss and concentrate on more important things?”
I recently came across this passage in one of the books I’m reading:
A recession that sent financial markets reeling in the past year still crippled the dollar, weakened the banks, and hurt the import/export trade. Unemployment was up, factories shut their doors, the federal government ran a deficit, the public staged a run on banks, and financially pressed banks could not meet their specie payments.
The book went on to say that, in light of these serious national issues, a lot of people in the press and in the government were saying it was foolish for some Americans to insist that the real problem with the country was actually a social issue. A social issue that, moreover, involved only a small number of citizens. In fact, during this period of American history, every effort was made to put this social issue aside, and to minimize the opinions of those who thought it was important.
Does any of this sound familiar? It did to me.
But here’s the thing. The crises listed above—high unemployment, devaluation of the dollar, a crippling national deficit—occurred in the year 1858. The social issue—that little nuisance that, after all, only involved a few American voters—was slavery.
Should the people who were told to mind their own business, to turn their attention to more immediate problems like unemployment, have let themselves be silenced?
Hopefully, we agree that the answer is “NO.”
As Americans, we place an inordinate amount of emphasis on personal freedoms. We are conditioned to think, “My business doesn’t affect you, so stay out of it.” But as social beings, we live in relationship. Many times, “private” matters have critical public components that should not and cannot be ignored.
In the case of marriage, we know that society is only as prosperous, as stable, and as imbued with moral values as its families. Just this past fall, the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia released a global report on marriage, fertility, and the economy. Among other findings, the study revealed that key sectors of the modern economy profit when men and women marry and have children. Economist Douglas Allen points out that when marriage is redefined, a redefinition of parenthood and parental rights follows suit, which is a social issue.
I know our country is facing a grave financial crisis. I know unemployment is heartbreakingly high—my brother, a father of four, has been out of work for a year. I know the dollar is in the dumpster (I have a budget, too, like everyone else). But when people say to me, “Doesn’t all this make same-sex marriage kind of a minor issue?” I disagree.
Social issues are the very fabric of our society. If that fabric is shredded, what good will all the jobs and money in the world do us?
N.B. I’m talking about the importance of social issues in tough economic times. So don’t bother sending me some muddleheaded accusation that I’m equating those who experience same-sex attraction to slave owners or something. I’m not.