In recent decades, it has been popular to say that the Catholic Church is obsessed with sex. This is often summed up by variations on the following claim: “What happens in my bedroom isn’t really the Pope’s concern.” And in the United States, with its long history of church/state separation and privacy protection, it’s understandable that many Americans would be suspicious of what the Church has to say about sex. As a result, few of us take the time to consider why the Church has a lot to say about sexual relations.
I once heard it said that sex can either be one of the most fruitful, life-giving acts a human being can engage in, or one of the most destructive. Looking at our culture today, it’s pretty easy to spot the consequences of destructive sex. We hear of spouses cheating on each other and tearing families apart, people young and old engaging in a “hook up” culture with disastrous results, and diseases spreading among our population. The people who are mostly deeply wounded by these acts are our children. These include children of divorce or children who grow up not knowing one of their parents, and, most heartbreaking, children who are destroyed before they make it into the world.
This is one of the reasons the government has afforded certain privileges to married couples—to protect the children that will be the natural result of such a union. Our experience and scientific studies show us that children who grow up in stable families are likely to become moral, law-abiding citizens. The various rights of married couples granted by state and federal marriage laws are not in place primarily for the good of the husband or wife; instead, they are granted for the good of the children produced by such a union. Our government has an interest in making sure that children grow up in intact, healthy families so that society itself remains healthy. This insight into the relationship between marriage, children, and society is echoed in the Church’s teaching: “The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities” (CCC 2224).
But should families with same-sex parents be considered healthy and stable? Obviously this is one of the key questions raised by the upcoming marriage amendment vote. Our religious and civil traditions tell us that a family headed up by one parent, or two parents of the same gender, is not the ideal situation for a child [also see Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lam, Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single Parent Families, 65. J Marriage and Fam. 876, 890 (2003)].
It is important that children have a strong relationship with both their father and mother so that they can relate to each gender appropriately, generously, and lovingly. Recent sociological research also shows that children raised by both of their married biological parents have increased literacy and graduation rates and a better sense of identity than their peers who were raised in other circumstances. They also experience lower rates of suicide, anxiety, depression, drug abuse, teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexual abuse, aggression, attention disorders, and incarceration.
The death of a child’s mother or father may make perfect family stability impossible to achieve. Legalizing gay marriage will do the same, as it will, in effect, be an admission on the part of Minnesotans that having a mother and a father doesn’t really matter. This less than ideal situation will become a union that the government actually approves of and protects with special rights and privileges. In effect, in a few generations our society will lose our sense of what the ideal family looks like, and the consequences of this decision will negatively affect us all.
In granting special status to same-sex relationships, Minnesotans will be denying that there is anything important about gender. As a people, we will be claiming that it doesn’t really matter if a child is raised by opposite-sex parents, same-sex parents, or no parents at all. And as is so often the case, in our desire to offer adults more choices and greater freedoms, we will be harming those who are least able to defend themselves from adverse circumstances: children. To enshrine same-sex marriage as a relationship equal to traditional marriage is to make manifest a lie that will shift the focus of the entire institution from children and adults to adults alone. In the process, it will become more and more difficult for our society to truly regard the young as God wishes we regard them: “as human persons” (CCC 2222).