Marriage: Protect It, Don't Reject It

On Dec. 21, 1942, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a divorce granted in Nevada must be accepted by every other state in the union.

Justice Robert Jackson was one of the two dissenters. In objecting to the court's decision, he wrote: “To declare that a state is powerless to protect either its own policy or the family rights of its own people … repeals the divorce laws of all states and substitutes the law of Nevada to all marriages.” He called the ruling, “demoralizing.”

This decision, together with its attendant objections, makes interesting reading in light of the current imbroglio concerning same-sex “marriages,” and whether another Supreme Court decision will require all states to recognize what the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has joined together.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars federal recognition of same-sex “marriages,” and guarantees states the right to make their own choices on the matter. Nonetheless, President Bush has stated that courts may “have little problem striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. Overreaching judges could declare that all marriages recognized in Massachusetts or San Francisco be recognized as marriages everywhere else.”

The institution of homosexual “marriages” is the ultimate and unhappy outcome of a disintegration of marriage and the family that began with the dissolution of heterosexual marriages.

We have come to take divorce lightly, though more concern is now expressed for the children who are its innocent victims. It was naively believed that contraception and sterilization would strengthen a marriage by allowing a husband and wife to avoid the burden of unwanted children and, with it, an important factor that contributed to divorce.

But statistics have shown that where there was a greater use of contraception, there was an increase in the divorce rate. Also, contraception was notorious for failing to prevent pregnancy. As a result, people clamored for abortion. But abortion only added more weight to already overburdened marriages.

The isolation of the wife and mother from her husband and children weakened family ties even further. In addition, the current climate of sexual permissiveness, with its glut of readily available pornography that quite often alienates the father from his family, has also contributed significantly to the disintegration of the family from an organic unity to a loose assemblage of mere individuals. And it must be remembered that if marriage is reduced to a juxtaposition of solitudes, it is inevitable that society will become more and more a gathering of strangers.

Recognizing the sad and shattered situation of marriage today, philosophy professor Gary Dann, who teaches at the University of Waterloo has issued the following post mortem: “Marriage is an archaic institution that has lost its moral force. But if we wish to provide a healthy, loving environment in which to reproduce our species, we'd better think up something quick to replace it.”

There are honest, thinking people still around, however, who believe that it would be the final act of madness to replace God's concept of marriage with a quick fix. And if they believe that marriage is truly an “archaic institution,” it is only because they recognize that it is eternal.

Moreover, what environment is healthier and more “loving” than one in which a husband and wife form an indissoluble bond of love, commitment, and responsibility to each other and to their children?

What we need is not a replacement for marriage, but its restitution, not its rejection but its protection, not its dismissal but its development.

If we fail to return a carton of milk to the refrigerator, we will find that its contents will soon go sour. But this discovery should not cause us to give up on milk and eliminate it from our diet. Nor do we need an anti-milk brigade to tell us that milk is an archaic drink that has lost its taste. It should make us realize that we must treat things properly if we want them to remain fresh and functional.

In her book, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, Mary Ann Glendon points out that American divorce law in practice “seems to be saying to parents, especially mothers, that it is not safe to devote oneself primarily or exclusively to raising children.”

Selfishness and devotion to marriage and the family are antagonistic concepts. Marriage will fail if it is founded on selfishness. The solution is not to jettison marriage, but to establish it on its vivifying principle of loving a commitment between a man and a woman. We should make good the promise of the prototype.

Marriage is simply indispensable and irreplaceable. We have no choice other than to assist marriage in growing from its proper root while protecting it from its enemies. There is nothing on earth that is so impervious to assault that it can withstand decades of abuse without losing something of its proper functioning.

Though written in 1981, John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Commnio seems even more timely and pertinent than it was when written: “At a moment in history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God.”

Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.