October 16, 2012

Souls to the polls for marriage

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

Thirty-two states have put same-sex marriage to the ballot since 1998, and thirty-two times voters have refused to redefine marriage. Same-sex marriage supporters hope that will change this November, when marriage is on the ballot in four states: Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota.

An October 15 AP report shows same-sex marriage leading slightly at the polls in Maine, Maryland and Washington – but similar leads in other states have evaporated at the ballot box. It’s a matter, as Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori told an interfaith gathering recently, “of getting souls to the polls.”

It’s also a question of voter education. No one wants to be unfair to fellow citizens or unloving to homosexual friends and family members. No one wants to impose religious doctrines on people of other faiths, either. That makes a lot of people shy from defending marriage in public.

But promoting man-woman marriage is in everyone’s interest – even homosexuals’. Here’s why.

Who is going to take care of you in your old age?  The answer used to be “my children.” Increasing numbers of us answer instead, “the government” (through Social Security, etc.).

What is the source of this “government” we rely on? It’s revenues raised from tax-payers. What are they being taxed on? Income from jobs in businesses generated by people. Without a robust upcoming generation, there won’t be businesses enough to tax nor enough tax-payers to pay for our entitlement programs to survive.

We are already feeling this pinch. A largely un-remarked factor in our current debt crisis is the small number of young workers we have in comparison to our retirees and the extent to which we brought that on ourselves by simply choosing not to have children. The situation is going to worsen. Last year for the first time America’s total fertility rate fell to below replacement rate.

Civil marriage is vital for society’s survival because only the union of a man and woman is capable of engendering new life. Marriage as a public question is not about affirming individuals, proving our tolerance, approving love relationships or imposing Christian Matrimony on anyone. The state’s interest is in encouraging births to ensure society’s perpetuation and doing everything possible to attach mothers and fathers to their children so they’ll grow up in stable homes. Marriage is where new citizens, dedicated to the common good, come from.

This is not religion, it’s biology. Human beings don’t reproduce asexually and the stork is not going to bring us well-adjusted individuals to build our communities.

It is not disrespectful of hard-working single parents or our gay brothers and sisters to note that decades of research make it clear that a child’s best chance at flourishing comes in a home with both a mother and a father. Lacking either puts kids at greater risk for poverty, promiscuity, drug abuse and a life of crime.

Because natural marriage works best for children, and that stork is not on his way, we all – gay, straight, married, unmarried, with or without kids, religious or not – have an interest in encouraging and protecting the one relationship shown over time to best accomplish our common goal of engendering and rearing a flourishing next generation. The state has nothing to say about other kinds of relationships. It permits and tolerates them, but has no reason to promote them.

It’s not discrimination when the government distributes armor and weapons to soldiers but not the rest of us. Soldiers have a unique mission that’s important for the common good and we all rightly contribute to their training, equipment and moral support. We even offer financial incentives to encourage people to accept that mission. Similarly, men and women who take on the physical, financial and emotional sacrifices of having and rearing children are taking on a unique mission that benefits us all – one that increasingly few of us are willing to take on ourselves. It’s not discrimination to privilege that relationship and do all we can to strengthen it. Consider it a kind of combat pay.

Legalization of abortion, widespread acceptance of casual sex, and no-fault divorce laws have all contributed to the gradual devaluing of marriage and the steady decline of marriage rates. Same-sex marriage will accelerate that decline just when we can least afford it. In every nation where same-sex marriage has been legalized long enough for us to evaluate long-term results, there has been a decline to almost nil in the overall marriage rate.

Is now the moment to devalue having children even further by re-defining marriage? For the sake of our civic health, we should be going the other direction: looking for ways to affirm marriage, encourage child-rearing and reverse our social and economic decline.

Rebecca Ryskind Teti is Operations Coordinator for the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at the Busch School of Business & Economics at CUA, though the opinions are her own. This column is modified from an earlier version that first appeared in Faith & Family  magazine.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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