Pope, President Offer Point/Counterpoint on Marriage

In his inaugural address on Monday, January 21, Barack Obama called for Americans to embrace same-sex marriage, saying:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law–for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This stands in sharp contrast to the sage counsel of Pope Benedict XVI.  The pontiff, in his address to the Charity Council on Saturday, January 19, explained:

“The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great ‘yes’ to the dignity of the person called to intimate communion with God, a filial communion, humble and confident.  The human being is neither an individual subsisting in himself nor an anonymous element of the collective. He is rather a singular and unrepeatable person intrinsically ordered to relationship and sociality.

“For this reason the Church stresses her great ‘yes’ to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of a faithful and fecund alliance between man and woman, and says ‘no’ to such philosophies as the philosophy of gender. The Church is guided by the fact that the reciprocity between man and woman is the expression of the beauty of the nature willed by the Creator.”


Well, you know where I stand.  I want to tell you today, though, about a great little book on the subject, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right:  A Guide for Effective Dialogue (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012).  The book is authored by William B. May, founder and president of Catholics for the Common Good.  Bill May led the lay Catholic response to California’s Proposition 8 effort—an effort that successfully restored the definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

In his book, May offers some sobering statistics on marriage in America:

  • 41% of children are born to unmarried mothers.  In the African-American community, that number grows to 73%.
  • 71% of poor families are not married.
  • Marriage decreases the possibility a child will live in poverty by 82%.
  • Fatherless or single-parent homes produce children who are
    • 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime;
    • 2 times more likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems.
    • 2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school
    • 33% more likely to drop out of school
    • 3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
    • Compared to a married mother and father, children living with an unmarried mother
      • And biological father are 4 times more likely to be sexually, physically or emotionally abused.
      • And a boyfriend are 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically or emotionally abused.
      • And biological father are 3 times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected;
      • And a boyfriend are 6 times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected.

These alarming statistics are from Stand With Children, a marriage advocacy program formed by Catholics for the Common Good.  They go on to describe the long-lasting effects of marriage breakdown, continuing into adulthood for the children of broken homes.

Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, like the Stand With Children organization, equips Catholics to engage the culture with a reasoned approach, expressing God’s plan for creation that is not dependent on belief in God.  Marriage, the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads, has been recognized by every culture, society, and religion, each according to their own competencies.

Clearly, logically, May lays out a framework for the discussion—addressing issues of public policy, the breakdown of marriage, and some common traps that hinder communication about marriage and family.  In the last section, a comprehensive Q&A on marriage and related issues, he covers:  alternative families; gay parenting and procreation; civil marriage vs. religious marriage; church and state; conflict with freedom of conscience/religious expression; civil unions and domestic partnerships; and much more.

To obtain your own copy of Getting the Marriage Conversation Right and other resources, or to invite Bill May to speak in your community, contact Catholics for the Common Good at 415.651.4171 or visit their website, ccgaction.org.

Kathy Schiffer is the wife of a deacon and mother of three grown children. For more than 20 years she has worked in the Catholic world, as a radio producer, conference director, event planner and media relations coordinator.  She lives and writes in Southfield, MI. Visit her website at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer.