WASHINGTON — The latest proposal for redefining marriage just surfaced in The Washington Post, with an op-ed suggesting that 21st-century couples sign up for short-term “wedleases” rather than take vows that affirm a lifelong commitment “until death.”

“We all know that far too many marriages end in divorce,” and “most Americans today want to expand conventional marriage to include same-sex couples,” wrote Paul Rampell, who is identified as a Palm Beach lawyer specializing in estate planning.

“So why is there no effort to improve the legal structure of marriage, when it shows itself to be deficient?” said Rampell.

He then noted that some individuals buy property, reflecting a long-term commitment, while others opt for leases that underscore different expectations.

“Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a ‘wedlease’?” Rampell said.

His proposal will leave some Post readers scratching their heads. After all, modern couples who balk at the words “until death do us part” face little pressure to marry, so why even bother to tweak traditional wedding vows?

Over the past decade, since Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry in 2004, and non-marital births approached 40% of live births in the U.S., the Catholic bishops and marriage experts like Maggie Gallagher, the founder of the National Organization for Marriage, have warned of the dire consequences of redefining marriage — or opting out of matrimony altogether.

Indeed, the steady increase in both cohabitation and non-marital births parallels a decline in sacramental marriage, and catechetical outreach now must celebrate the goods of marriage while also explaining the problems of “marriage equality.”

Yet the growing divide between sacramental marriage and modern society’s fluctuating view of matrimony poses enormous challenges for Catholic educators.

 

New Dictionaries Needed

Ryan Anderson, the co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense, took note of Rampell’s “wedlease” proposal in an Aug. 8 column in National Review that explained the danger of modifying marriage vows to accommodate individualistic values.

“Merriam-Webster is going to have to update the next edition of its dictionary, at least if marriage redefiners have their way,” said Anderson.

“Do you know what the words ‘monogamish,’ ‘throuple’ and ‘wedlease’ mean? If not, you soon will. After all, the power to redefine words is the power to redefine reality.”

He reported on the edgy terms that herald efforts to undercut marriage vows that affirm sexual exclusivity between one man and on woman.

“Throuple” is a term that defines a sexual relationship, which has moved beyond the traditional two-person couple to a three-person arrangement. Then there is  “monogamish,” a term that reflects a loose rather than a strict interpretation of monogamy.

Dan Savage, a popular sex columnist, reportedly coined the term “monogamish,” partly as a way to reflect differences between heterosexual norms and the range of behaviors accepted in long-term homosexual male partnerships.

“I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage told a New York Times writer in 2011, “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances.

“But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”

The Times’ story acknowledged that Savage’s frank remarks could backfire on the national effort to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples by feeding “into the stereotype of gay men as compulsively promiscuous.” However, Savage contends that fidelity should be reassessed because it gives married “people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners.”

 

High Social Costs

Since Savage raised questions about the value of “strict” monogamy, a variety of stories, like the May 2013 “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss” in the Atlantic, have expanded on Savage’s message.

But Ryan Anderson warned in his National Review article that the seductive appeal of retreating marital exclusivity and a lifetime commitment must be resisted.

“Whatever we may think about the morality of sexually open marriages or multi-partner marriages or by-design temporary marriages, the social costs alone will run high.

“If a man doesn’t commit to a woman in a permanent and exclusive relationship, the likelihood of creating fatherless children and fragmented families increases,” he said.

“The more sexual partners a man has, and the shorter-lived those relationships are, the greater the chance he creates children with multiple women. His attention and resources thus divided, a long line of consequences unfold for both mother and child.”

While the media generally frames new ideas about marriage in a value-neutral way, Anderson encouraged readers to accept the constraints of fidelity and permanence or risk undermining the primary mission of marriage.

“Through vows of permanence and exclusivity, husband and wife pledge to each other to be faithful. Marriage gives to children a relationship with the man and the woman who made them, their mom and dad.”

Mark Regnerus, the Texas sociologist who has studied changes in sexual behavior and marriage formation in the nation, noted in a June interview with the Register that advocates of same-sex “marriage” have begun to speculate on possible changes in marital norms.

“I think there’s some predictable adjustment of expectations as the reality of it all gets closer and closer. It’s certainly not politically expedient for same-sex marriage supporters to suggest that the reality of the institution will change, but nor is it plainly obvious how it might change either,” Regnerus told the Register.

“Some opponents of same-sex marriage assert that it will cause a full-scale retreat from marriage by men and women. I doubt that, but it may look like that because I expect marriage rates to continue their slow decline regardless of what happens with same-sex marriage.”

 

The Truth About Marriage

With mixed success, the U.S. bishops have backed efforts to resist same-sex “marriage” in states across the nation. But the sharp decline in sacramental marriage has also led them to step up catechetical outreach to young Catholics who are part of a generation that has been strongly influenced by shifting cultural norms.

“We need to develop a Catholic subculture in which the truth can be spoken of clearly and questions can be answered that help young people discern the reasons behind the truth about marriage,” Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis told the Register.

“The Supreme Court decision [on the Defense of Marriage Act] is a step backward, but it calls for us to have a new resolve on explaining what marriage is in a complete and compelling way,” said Archbishop Nienstedt.

From 2010 to 2012, he spearheaded a two-year effort to strengthen catechesis on marriage, and he also backed a 2012 election-year effort to secure an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The proposed amendment was not approved by state voters, and the Minnesota Legislature legalized same-sex “marriage” in 2013. But Archbishop Nienstedt has not given up the fight.

During an Aug. 2 address at the California-based Napa Institute, Archbishop Nienstedt cited Anderson’s What Is Marriage? as he compared the “comprehensive union” — first introduced in Genesis and later affirmed in federal and state law until recently — with a “revision” understanding of marriage as an “emotional union.”

The “comprehensive union,” with its openness to procreation, “calls for an all-encompassing commitment of permanence and exclusivity,” the archbishop explained.

Those who redefined marriage present it as an “emotional union, merely enhanced by whatever sexual activity the partners find agreeable.”

Archbishop Nienstedt did not reference terms like “wedlease” or “monogamish” to build a more complete and current picture of “revisionist” norms regarding marriage. But he made it clear that young Catholics can be influenced by the dominant culture, and Catholics leaders and educators face a daunting challenge as they seek to form minds and hearts. 

“The modern world … speaks to us about self-fulfillment and self-gratification. From its perspective, when other people enter into our lives, they are said to give our lives meaning,” he observed.

“Only in Christ can we quench the longing found deep within our hearts. When we try to find perfection in another person, we are quickly disappointed.”

Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.