Redefining Marriage, Part 1: Who’s to Blame?

Editor's note: In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark opinion legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, it seems fitting to repost this article written in June 2011 by Steven Greydanus.


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


Don’t blame the gays.

Same-sex marriage was not foisted on New Yorkers by less than 5 percent of the population. I mean, you can blame them a little. But same-sex marriage isn’t the real problem—it’s only a symptom of the problem.

Don’t blame the Evil Party or the Stupid Party. They were instruments of evil, not the root cause. I’m not saying don’t hold responsible the politicians who pushed through same-sex marriage in New York, or that their offense is not very great. (This particular legislative push was a Democratic governor’s personal cause, and according to an intriguing, depressing post mortem in the New York Times, he mobilized an extremely effective campaign with the aid of top Republican donors and the passive cooperation of lackluster Republican leadership.) But it’s only because the meaning of marriage is already so eroded that this was able to happen—and it wasn’t politicians or gays who brought us to this point.

Don’t blame the bishops or the priests. I’m not saying that our shepherds don’t bear a fearful burden of responsibility, or that they have in general discharged it effectively. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter that most priests have fallen silent—or worse, dispensed with or openly rejected Church teaching—on subjects that should be shouted from the rooftops. Nor am I saying that bishops haven’t dropped the ball on Church discipline—say, on Canon 915, a canon that too many bishops seem unwilling to implement under any circumstances. These things matter a lot.

But our shepherds have been swayed (wrongly, certainly) by pressure coming above all from the laity. By and large, we are the problem—we, and the rest of the culture. A problem our shepherds are charged with taking by the horns, which by and large isn’t happening, but still, the marriage crisis isn’t something that’s been foisted upon us by external forces. It’s something that, by and large, we ourselves—Catholics as well as Protestants—have accepted, tolerated and embraced.

Recently in an online forum a same-sex marriage advocate wrote to me, “I’ve never once had any conservative be able to tell me how the legalization of gay marriage affects, in any measurable way, their relationship with their spouse.”

My response was: “I’ve never once had any same-sex marriage advocate be able to offer a coherent account of what marriage is and is not, and why it is the state should have a bureaucratic apparatus for certifying (and decertifying) sexual partnerships involving two and only two non-related adults in any gender combination.”

The problem is, it isn’t just same-sex marriage advocates who are unable to explain what marriage is. It’s practically everyone. Marriage has been redefined for decades in our society, and it isn’t homosexuals or politicians who have done it. It’s our culture as a whole. And that’s why we are where we are.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Pope Francis presides over the Feb. 11 canonization ceremony of the first female Argentinian saint, María Antonia de San José de Paz, known as “Mama Antula,” in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

Canonization of Mama Antula, and National Marriage Week (Feb. 17)

Argentina got its first woman saint last weekend — a lay woman who was a Jesuit missionary. The canonization of Mama Antula brought together Pope Francis and the country’s new president, Javier Milei. Catholic News Agency’s editor-in-chief Ken Oliver brings us the story. Then we turn to National Marriage Week. Although the marriage rate is 60% of what it was in the 1950s, studies show people who are married are happier than those who don’t marry. How do we build strong and happy marriages? Witness to Love founders Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret join us with their insights.