Spirit and Life
What Marriage Means
Dear Lance and Adrienne, If you have been listening to the news of late, you have been hearing lots of debate about what makes a marriage. When I was a young person (ugh, I'm starting to sound like my father), this wasn't even an issue for debate.
From as far back as I can remember, I knew what married people were. Married people were a man and a woman who decided to get married because they loved each other. They would have a wedding, usually with a priest or minister. There might be a big party.
After they had been married for a while, they might have children. The couple took care of each other and their children. It wasn't always easy, but the concept was pretty simple.
Most of the kids I went to school with had a mom and dad — one of each. Oh, there was divorce and death, even then. But they were exceptions. If a kid in our school had lost his mom or dad, the rest of us would try to give him a little extra attention because, well, we felt sorry that he didn't have both a mom and a dad like everyone else.
President Bush has proposed a change to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman — one of each. It seems funny to me that we need to amend the Constitution to recognize something I knew when I was 6 years old.
But lots of folks have been trying to suggest that a marriage can be something other than what I have always thought it is. They suggest it can be two men, two women or two people who aren't sure exactly what they are. They are wrong and the president is right. And there isn't anything cruel or intolerant about his being right. He is simply standing up for basic morality. He is simply making clear that, in this great country, we need to live by some basic rules of what is right or wrong, clearly stated in the Bible and every other sensible moral guide in the civilized world.
But what about men who feel attracted to other men and women who feel attracted to other women? What is to become of them? As the teachings of the Catholic Church make clear, we are all tempted — frequently — to do things God has forbidden. Some of those things are as unnatural as they are wrong. By rejecting our temptations, whatever they might be, and living a moral life, we find favor with God.
People are tempted by many sins — lying, stealing, cheating and immoral sexual behavior, to name a few. It matters if we give in to those temptations because they hurt us and others around us. Those sins also offend our Creator.
We must be forgiving and tolerant. That doesn't mean we must accept or condone behavior that violates God's natural law. It certainly doesn't mean that we should diminish our definition of marriage.
Some argue that marriage already is diminished by the high rate of infidelity and divorce. True, the practice of marriage has been tarnished, but not the ideal. Millions of couples continue to live a married life. Few of their marriages are perfect, just as few people are perfect. But they continue on the journey — learning from each other, raising children and forgiving each other for their failures.
I hope each of you will have the opportunity to love and marry. I pray you will one day meet someone you love as much as I do your mother. True marital love isn't just a feeling but a decision and a commitment. It requires a man, a woman and the Creator.
Jim Fair writes from Chicago.
- July 18-24, 2004