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Marriage Briefings: Culture and the Meaning of Marriage

February 2nd, 2012

Public policy is for the common good, not the advantage of a minute minority. State governments have traditionally overseen the definition and solemnization of marriage because they have an interest in maintaining peace, order, and public health. Peace, order, and public health do not result when individuals of the same family are allowed to marry one another, or when children are raised not in homes by parents but by troublemakers on the streets. For these reasons the state is not only authorized but right to maintain a legal definition of marriage that determines what requirements a couple must meet in order to be allowed to enter it. It is also right to be extremely cautious in allowing these requirements to be changed; it must first be demonstrated before any wise government that social harms will not result.

The diminution of marriage in the public mind has already made us less aware of its social importance. Marriage, not the state, is the best Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Frankly, since the beginning of the “Great Society,” government initiative has done more harm to families and marriages than help. The same is true now. The cultural changes that would be brought about by changing our marriage laws are aptly expressed in the following letter, written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2003.

 “It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the common good if it does not impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which does not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only more serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound influence, and would result in changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common good. Civil laws are structuring principles of man’s life in society, for good or for ill. They “play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour.” Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation’s perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”

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