Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's at Stake in the Marriage Debate

We were in church, and he was standing there so firmly rooted, so solid, letting her sway freely in his arms. Her blond hair flowed down to her shoulders. Her eyes sparkled. She was wearing a jumper dress with white tights. And she was SOOOO happy! You could tell by the way she was playfully rocking back and forth in her daddy’s arms, stroking her daddy’s face and mouth with her hands, and throwing her head back with carefree abandon. His eyes and his mind were obviously trying to focus on the Mass more than on her, but he was letting her continue touching and stroking his face, while he held her in his grip.

She was probably not more than two or three years old, and suddenly I saw myself in that little girl. It hit me. I WAS that little girl once.

I felt the stab of loss. What would she feel, if the next day, she was ripped out of his embrace forever?

Blood splattered all over the front seat. Broken glass. The side of the car looked like a smashed soda can. A woman moaned, knowing intuitively that her husband’s life had just been snatched away. And the little girl in the back of the car lost her daddy that day.

What marks would be left chiseled on the young girl’s face? I am familiar with the marks. I see them in photographs of myself soon after that tragic day, a little girl just three years old with lips pursed so serious from the taste of grief, and eyes looking so sad and lonesome. It breaks my heart.

I see the marks in a growing child who’s hiding somewhere deep inside herself when uncles are roughhousing with her cousins. I see the marks in the teenage girl, insecure and uncertain about her body, wondering why isn’t her father here to notice her, to coach her, to teach her about the world. I see the marks in a college-bound girl finding her way out there, wondering and wanting to know what kind of man her father really was. 

Fatherlessness. It’s more common than ever today and very unfortunate. Yet part of our society tries to tell us that this condition is normal and okay. We get a mixed message that young girls don’t need a father. Young boys don’t need to be raised by a dad to learn about manhood. In fact, we can do away with this institution called marriage that unites kids with their moms and dads. We can do away with recognizing this and protecting this for the sake of redefining marriage to be between any two people who love each other.
Really? This hurts. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 (the ban on redefining marriage) and arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act. Marriage is hanging in the balance and many people don't even know what is at stake. Some think it's just about letting same-sex couples "participate" in marriage. But the problem with redefining marriage (by removing "man and woman" from the law and inserting "two people") is that it eliminates the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads.

When either a child’s mom or dad is taken out of the picture, replaced by someone else or not, the child suffers. Roger Scruton said in his essay from “The Meaning of Marriage”:

“Take away marriage and you expose children to the risk of coming into the world as strangers, untutored by fathers or abandoned by mothers; a condition of abandonment in which they may remain for the rest of their lives.”

Fatherless and single-parent homes produce children who are more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime and treated for emotional and behavioral problems, as well as more likely to be sexually, emotionally and physically abused and neglected. There is a physical poverty in this that has its effects on society - 71% of poor families are unmarried, while marriage alone drops the probability of childhood poverty by 82% - but there is also a huge emotional poverty here that books like Fatherless Daughters and Motherless Daughters so keenly address.

We should ask ourselves, how is the obliteration of marriage between men and women contributing to a safer and healthier community and society? After reading a short, eye-opening little book called Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a guide for effective dialogue by Bill May, I have begun to see marriage through the eyes of a child. I recommend reading it if you want to know how to to talk respectfully on the subject. Seriously, read it.

If we stopped viewing marriage as an adult-centric thing and started seeing the good of marriage for children and for society – the public good – we would realize that marriage essentially is not just a public pledge of love between two committed persons but that it is in essence an institution of procreative and unitive forces. It exists to unite a man and woman with each other and any children born of their union.

Every child has a biological mom and dad. And every person has a common desire to know, love and relate with their biological mom and dad. We carry our parents traits and the traits of those who came before them. We have a family history running through our blood. We want to know where we came from, because it’s part of our identity.

Where do I get this head full of strawberry blonde hair from?...This writerly way of looking at things?...This connection with all things growing in nature?...This courageous spirit?...Namely, who's history is written into my very DNA? To intentionally deprive a person of having these questions answered is to close off a part of the human experience to them.
Let’s stand up for children, marry and be witnesses that the family is the first school of love, discipline and justice. Building stable and healthy families means building a stable and healthy America. 

Love that little girl and her daddy for witnessing to me in a simple moment the beauty of the father-daughter relationship.


  1. Beautiful, Christina, thank you. You really emptied yourself here and I am grateful for your words.