21st Mar 2011
Are we married to marriage?
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
There she was. Don Quixote, otherwise known as Maggie Gallagher, testifying before a committee in the Maryland House of Delegates in defense of marriage.
Gallagher, the chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, had been there before – defending marriage even as conventional wisdom portrayed gay marriage as inevitable, both in the immediate fight and the long run. Listening to activists and local and national media, the likes of the National Organization for Marriage seem like they’re clinging to a bygone age.
But there she was, trying, bless her heart.
Bless her heart, because it seems a somewhat lonely, thankless job. Those who would seem like natural allies frequently don’t want to join in the defense of marriage. It looks intolerant. It looks like a losing battle. And what’s so special about marriage anyway?
That last question is at the heart of why so many Catholics, why most conservatives, aren’t politically active on this issue. We’ve been seen to cringe, dismiss, or otherwise walk away from the conversation for a combination of reasons. But that question hits at our greatest liability: Marriage in our culture. Activists will point to potential Republican presidential candidates. A party of hypocrites, they’ll say, singling out the imperfect personal lives of one or another or yet another. And, in some way, it resonates – or, at the least it does what it intended to do: Dull the opposition. Curb the enthusiasm for anything like a confident defense of the institution of marriage.
That we can point to these people – and that we do – has everything to do with the nature of sin and evil and our fallenness. But it is in the truth of the Cross and its mercy that we can and must be missionaries to a culture that has in some very public ways lost its way on marriage.
And it’s why, in some ways, we ought to be grateful that this is the contentious issue that it is. Campaigns for gay marriage locally and nationally can serve as a wake-up call. The reticence of many likely defenders of the very definition of marriage as between a man and a woman stands as a mirror on our culture – a culture for which we could all afford to do more to make better. Not in rhetoric or political activism, necessarily, but in our lives.
We may go to weddings and be faithful, but are we faithful in encouragement and friendship and fellowship? Are we being pro-marriage in our lives? Are we making choices about what we read and watch and create that reflects what we believe to be true about marriage? Are we showing people that there is, in fact, something special about the marriage of a man and a woman, something to preserve and protect, to want, to expect, to live? Are we being honest about our struggles and helping others as they fall or fail or seek? At home, at Church, in school in every aspect of our lives? That doesn’t mean dishing the intimate details of our lives at every opportunity, but it means demonstrating everything we say we believe when we take or witness sacred wedding vows in our daily living.
Gallagher, God bless her, was actually on the winning side of the marriage debate this month in Maryland. That’s because “gay marriage” is not inevitable, just as the sexual revolution did not irreversibly cast asunder what is true.
Despite the conventional expectation that she was on the losing side, black churches in particular raised their voices in opposition to the bill seeking to legalize same-sex marriage. Two of the bill’s cosponsors jumped ship in response to the citizen lobbying against it.
“Truth matters,” Gallagher said, reflecting on the win. “Same-sex unions are not marriages, and the American people are proving remarkably stubborn in refusing to pretend otherwise.” In over thirty states and counting.
Reflecting on the politics of marriage, Gallagher added: “They keep saying, ‘It’s a done deal.’ Then it turns out we win. As my favorite political consultant says, ‘It's not a done deal. If it were, it would be done already.’”
Truth not only matters, it is the reality of our lives, the reality we seek to live and spend eternity with. This is why marriage continues to be a success story, even in the midst of original sin. Carl Anderson points out in his recent book, Beyond a House Divided, that 90 percent of married Americans report themselves as happily married, and nine in 10 would marry their spouses again if given the choice. He writes, based on Marist polling for the Knights of Columbus, that: “Most first marriages do not end in divorce, contrary to the myth that half do. Americans see marriage as undervalued by society and see it as one of the top priorities in their own lives. There is little doubt that the good of marriage is well understood by Americans and will continue to be so.”
But we can be a people of little faith, believing the headlines we frequently read and the media spin of the inevitability of something else we are fed. Yet there is every reason to have some confidence and to live that confidence – to live lives that celebrate and witness to what marriage actually is and should and can be. The president of the United States may not want to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but we can do it in how we live our lives, how we raise our voices civically, in our prayers and in being good neighbors to those who are and want to be married.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love, we pray. And in the blessed sacrament of marriage, with a community of supportive witnesses, in Christ, that love has a prayer of being a civilization’s renewal.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life.
(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)