In Waiting for ‘Superman,’ the acclaimed documentary about the struggle for education reform, Michelle Rhee, then-superintendent of the Washington, D.C., public schools, offers a terse explanation for why the teachers’ union resists changes to the tenure system: "It’s all about the adults," says Rhee.
As the nation awaits the outcome of two landmark marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that could result in the legalization of same-sex "marriage" across the nation, Rhee’s damning remark can be applied to a host of social trends that place adult desires before the protection and care of children.
From fatherless families and legal abortion to unfiltered pornography and Plan B over the counter, we’re creating a world warped by unfettered sexual expression. Our elementary-school curricula are touted as "child-centered," yet we as a society question a child’s right to life, and we have begun to dismiss their right to a mother and father. Indeed, those who challenge the new hierarchy of values on moral or religious grounds may find their own liberty at risk.
The lies that children must be "wanted" to be permitted entry into the world and the damage wrought by no-fault divorce have brought us to the cusp of a radical reordering of the family and its mission. The "kids are all right" in two-mommy households, we are assured. Are they? Do we even know what "all right" still means for family life?
Blessed John Paul II wrote in his 1994 "Letter to Families" that "a person normally comes into the world within a family and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual. When he has no family, the person coming into the world develops an anguished sense of pain and loss, one which will subsequently burden his whole life."
John Paul reflected on the decisive impact of family life through the lens of a man who lost all his blood relations by early adulthood. He did not sugarcoat the struggles of individual families.
Nevertheless, he insisted that the child’s "life becomes a gift for the very people who were givers of life and who cannot help but feel its presence, its sharing in their life and its contribution to their common good and to that of the community of the family."
Children, he reminded the world, have the right to be created through the loving one-flesh union of their parents. And they should be welcomed and treasured as gifts from God. This is the biblical form of marriage and family life revealed in Genesis and handed down by the chosen people, who reverenced the family’s role as the repository of the faith during the long exile.
Then, with the Incarnation, the family became "the way of the Church," writes John Paul. "In the Gospel, Jesus offers a supreme confirmation: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (John 3:16). The only-begotten Son, of one substance with the Father, ‘God from God and Light from Light,’ entered into human history through the family: ‘For by his incarnation, the Son of God united himself in a certain way with every man.’"
The story of the family, then, is also the story of creation, redemption and the Church. The Creator’s great love guards the dignity of the family. In turn, the parents partake of that self-sacrificial love when they choose the good of the child over their own desires.
Have parents always measured up to the responsibilities of family life? We know they have not. A moving new film just out in theaters, What Maisie Knew, offers a modern retelling of Henry James’ portrait of narcissistic parents who neglect their young child as they pursue their careers and their marriage disintegrates.
As Maisie’s daily routine implodes, her struggle becomes a morality play with lessons for our culture. Despite her age, Maisie must tolerate and even bless her parents’ selfishness.
Now, as the Supreme Court prepares to issue its rulings on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, we face the likelihood that "Maisie" will receive little sympathy in a world turned upside down. Already, children conduct Internet searches for their sperm-donor fathers, and tens of thousands of frozen embryos are stockpiled for future implantation, scientific research or destruction. A New York Times wedding announcement for two men notes that they have a child through an unnamed "surrogate" — an anonymous woman treated with no more dignity than a stork.
Advocates of "marriage equality" say it will change nothing, and perhaps they are right. Maybe the West’s view of family life has already changed so much that our elites now view biblical teachings on marriage with derision.
In April, during the oral arguments for Proposition 8, Charles Cooper, the advocate for the private group defending Proposition 8, argued that the law reflected the state’s rational "interest in responsible procreation" — not hostility to homosexuals as a group. Justice Elena Kagan dismissed that argument as ridiculous and asked whether older couples should be allowed to marry if they could not have a child together.
Cooper responded: "The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that … marriage, will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage."
Whether or not same-sex "marriage" becomes the law of the land in the near future, Justice Kagan’s ridiculing of traditional marriage underscores the state of the debate and the challenges before us.
More than ever, Catholics must stand up for marriage as the sanctuary of human life, and they must protect the form of marriage set forth in Genesis. They must do this not because they are hidebound traditionalists, but because children have a right to a mother and a father who care for them with a love inspired by the Creator himself.