By Bethany Meola | US Conference of Catholic Bishops
Marriage is clearly a big deal for Catholics.
Even many non-Catholics know that, for instance, the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize divorce and that being married in the church is important to Catholics.
Delving into Catholic teaching, Scripture is filled with references to marriage, and the church presents it as a vocation and as one of the sacraments, a visible sign of God’s gift of grace.
What might be more surprising is that, for Catholics, marriage is also a key public policy issue, in fact one of six raised by the U.S. bishops when they reissued Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, their call to political responsibility.
This means marriage is not only something that matters to the doctrine of the Church and the private lives of the people entering into it. It matters to all society.
The reason it matters is because marriage affects the common good. In fact, the two are inseparably intertwined. As the Second Vatican Council put it, “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and the family.” In fact, because the union of husband and wife is uniquely capable of welcoming new life into the world, the Church describes marriage as the very “condition” for society’s existence.
The family founded on marriage plays a profound educational role in society. Pope John Paul II taught that the family is “the first and irreplaceable school of social life,” where each person “learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person.” This “dynamic of love” emanates from the total self-giving union between husband and wife.
Because of marriage’s unique contribution to society, all people should be concerned with its well-being. In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops write that, in light of the tragic consequences of marriage’s breakdown or disappearance, especially for children, “policies on taxes, work, divorce, immigration, and welfare should help families stay together.”
They also advocate for wages that “allow workers to support their families” and for public assistance for struggling families.
In addition to urging policies that strengthen marriages and families, the bishops are deeply concerned with “intensifying efforts” to redefine marriage, namely proposals to remove sexual difference from marriage. This is not “expanding” marriage, as the bishops see it, but rather redefining it and in effect dismantling it.
Sexual difference is not an optional component of marriage but rather an essential element, rooted in the nature of the human person created male and female.
Both the bishops of the United States and Pope Benedict XVI have stated that defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman is, as the pope taught in one ad limina talk, “ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.”
Defending marriage does justice to the child by providing him or her with the best possibility of knowing and being loved by both mother and father together.
In contrast, redefining marriage asserts that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and denies a child the right to know both a father and a mother. It also obscures the core of marriage, namely the union of husband and wife founded on sexual difference.
Standing up for marriage can be difficult and often uncomfortable in today’s cultural climate, but it’s essential for the good of marriage itself and for the common good, especially for the welfare of children.
The USCCB offers resources to help Catholics understand and articulate what marriage is and why it matters. Preserving, strengthening and defending marriage are matters of justice that should matter to everyone.
Bethany Meola is program specialist for the USCCB’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.