By Barry Schoedel

A recently published short book —about 70 pages—titled Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue, reframes the marriage debate by asking this question: what is marriage through the experience of children? This much needed and effective guide is written by William B. May, of Stand with Children, a marriage advocacy group and chairman of Catholics for the Common Good, a lay apostolate for the evangelization of culture.

Preschoolers sing Lenten song 'Were You There' at Holy Name School in Ketchikan, Alaska
Preschoolers sing Lenten song ‘Were You There’ at Holy Name School in Ketchikan, Alaska (Photo Nancy Wiechec, CNS)

An important aspect of this guide is that it intentionally uses non-religious language and thereby equips people to engage secular culture in debate and dialogue in a way that appeals to reason. It is a text that is written especially for those who feel at a loss for explaining why it is reasonable and in the public interest to not only reject attempts to redefine marriage but also to strengthen our understanding of marriage as the fundamental institution of a just and moral society. It is a “reality-based” approach, referring to the experienced reality of childhood that all adults can remember, and re-enter into through reflection.

By appealing to common human experience there are many things that can be known universally, and the meaning of marriage, particularly its foundations, is one of these. But how is this done? By looking at marriage through the experience of little ones, through children. May explains that by doing this marriage is no longer an abstraction, but a reality. He continues, “We can recall our own desire for knowing our origins and being loved and cared for by our mother and father. Even if we never knew our mother and father or by some circumstances felt alienated from them, that desire is still there.” Perhaps it is especially when this desire is unmet, that this reality is not taken for granted. Each and every person has a mother and a father, and it is an innate aspect of being a child to desire to know mom and dad, to be raised by them in a loving family. When mom and/or dad aren’t known, or when the family falls apart, it is experienced by the child as a loss, as a privation.

A story to illustrate this truth: a friend of mine works in an environment where there are two women who live together in what they refer to as “marriage” (though they are now seeking divorce) and raise a child that belongs to one of these women. The child has been told he has two moms and doesn’t have a father – not simply that his father left, or can’t assume the responsibilities of fatherhood, or that he has died. No, this young boy has been told that he exists without a father, that he simply doesn’t have one. One day, in a discussion about family the boy remarked, “I don’t have a father,” whereby my friend remarked, “yes, you do… of course you do, everybody has a father.” This fact led the boy into a posture of self-reflection because even at that young age, he realized that despite the illusion created by his mother and her lover, he had a father somewhere out there. For the boy, someone is missing.

Marriage, then, is the unique institution that unites a man and a woman and any children that come from their union; it unites kids to their mom and dad. The public interest in preserving marriage is that it is the only institution that nurtures, protects, and promotes this inescapable and essential reality. Do we really want to continue the progression away from the truth and necessity of marriage? Is the total breakdown of marriage really in the public interest? Natural reason should reveal that it isn’t. And, regrettably, there is no shortage of sociological data that reveal problems associated with the consequences of the breakdown of the institution of marriage for society.

Saint John Paul II once wrote, “to use means to employ some object of action as a means to an end.” An example is if you get a flat tire, you ordinarily must use a jack to lift the car, and a tire wrench to get the wheel off. Tools are means to an end. A child is never a means to an end. Indeed, human persons are always ends, and never means. Put another way, it is a grave violation of humanity for children to become tools of adult fulfillment. A child possesses a fundamental right to be connected to his mom and dad through the institution of marriage. When this reality is not recognized and affirmed the dignity of the child is diminished and great harm is done. In cases where for legitimate and unavoidable reasons, a child isn’t able to be reared by one or both of his parents it still must be admitted that this is a type of loss for the child – a loss that will need to be met with recognition and compassion.

May’s guide, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, will help equip us to stand with children, to stand for the truth, and to promote a renewal of married and family life in culture. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to be better equipped to protect our children, and to see once again through the eyes of little ones.

Visit Catholics for the Common Good at http://ccgaction.org/ to get this text and other materials for your family, home, and parish. Believe that you can make a difference.

Barry Schoedel is the Assistant for Evangelization and Technology for the Diocese of Juneau.   Email: schoedel.doj@gmail.com.