Sunday, October 05, 2003

The Marriage Crisis and What We Can Do About It

Senator Rick Santorum

(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 5, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 10: 2-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2003]

I hope you won’t be offended by what I’m about to share with you. These are the words of a man who has been called an “evil, narrow-minded, hateful bigot” (among other things!). So brace yourselves for his potentially-offensive words:

I believe that Congress has an obligation to take action to defend the legal status of marriage— before the Supreme Court or individual state supreme courts take away the public's ability to act.

Every civilization since the beginning of man has recognized the need for marriage. This country and healthy societies around the world give marriage special legal protection for a vital reason — it is the institution that ensures the society's future through the upbringing of children. Furthermore, it's just common sense that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

There is an ocean of empirical data showing that the union between a man and a woman has unique benefits for children and society. Moreover, traditional family breakdown is the single biggest social problem in America today. In study after study, family breakdown is linked to an increase in violent crime, youth crime, teen pregnancy, welfare dependency and child poverty.

Marriage has already been weakened. The out-of-wedlock childbirth rate is at a historically high level, while the divorce rate remains unacceptably high. Legalization of gay marriage would further undermine an institution that is essential to the well-being of children and our society. Do we need to confuse future generations of Americans even more about the role and importance of an institution that is so critical to the stability of our country?

The last thing we should do is destroy the special legal status of marriage. But galvanized by the Supreme Court victory [which called the Texas anti-sodomy law unconstitutional], proponents of removing that status are out in force. Ruth Harlow, lead attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Texas case, said, "The ruling makes it much harder for society to continue banning gay marriages."

That is where we are today, thanks to the Texas ruling. But the majority of Americans will have the final say in the battle to preserve the institution of marriage.

I hope elected leaders will rally behind the effort to defend the legal status of marriage from a non-elected group of justices, and I urge you to join those elected leaders in this vital case.

Now that was horrible, wasn’t it? I sincerely apologize to any of you who were offended by these divisive, crude, unenlightened, and terribly un-American remarks.

How dare this evil man—Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania—how dare he assert that marriage is to be given special legal status in our nation! How dare he make the claim that marriage is crucial to the health and well-being of society! How dare he make the claim that marriage is between a man and a woman only! What an evil, narrow-minded bigot!

Have I made my point yet? I wish I could stand here today and tell you that I just engaged in some lighthearted hyperbole, but I can’t do that. Hyperbole is defined as “extravagant exaggeration,” but I did not exaggerate one bit. This is exactly how many people—especially in the media—have responded in recent months to Senator Santorum (and to all those who publicly express similar views on marriage—like our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II). They have been vilified, slandered, and called every name in the book by those who want to destroy the institution of marriage as God designed it!

This is something that we as Catholic Christians need to be deeply concerned about—and also angry about! Husbands and wives please understand: your vocation has been under severe attack in our culture for the last 40 or so years—and the assaults are now getting more intense and more frequent. And if something isn’t done about it very soon, family life as you and I have known it will someday disintegrate. That means your children and grandchildren will be forced to suffer the consequences.

Let me now share with you some of the more glaring assaults on married life that we’ve faced in the last 4 decades:

The general acceptance of living together before marriage—this has been an attack on marriage itself. Did you know that couples who live together before their wedding have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don’t? And about 60% of couples who cohabitate break up without ever marrying. Cohabitation is often the “kiss of death” for a relationship. So much for the wisdom of the world which has maintained for years that it’s a great blessing!

Contraception and abortion have also been attacks on marriage and on marital fidelity. Contraception causes many men to treat their wives as objects and playthings (pornography, by the way, has the same effect). The legalization and availability of contraception has also made infidelity in marriage a lot easier. Now you can have an affair and not worry very much about pregnancy. And the effect abortion has on a woman, psychologically and emotionally, will certainly have an impact—a negative impact—on her relationship with her husband (or future husband). Psychologists call it “post-abortion syndrome.” Those of you who came to our pro-life conference a few weeks ago heard a lot about this from a woman—Vera Faith Lord—who has lived through it.

And how about the general acceptance of divorce in our culture? This has also undermined the institution of marriage. On that note, the Catholic Church is the only church I can think of which takes the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel seriously. Notice that Jesus takes a very hard line on divorce in this scene. He tells the Pharisees that Moses tolerated divorce because of the Israelites’ hardness of heart. And then he goes back to Genesis—to God’s original design for marriage. He summarizes it all with this very strong statement: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Not surprisingly, the disciples have a problem with this (since they were taught the Law of Moses), but Jesus doesn’t back off. When they question him about it, he responds even more forcefully: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This is why the Church doesn’t recognize the spiritual validity of divorce. The Church recognizes it as a civil reality only.

Now I know that whenever I speak of divorce, I need to qualify a few things. First of all, there are some divorced people who are in that condition through no fault of their own. They never wanted to get divorced. They did everything possible to save their marriages—God bless them. Others separated from their spouses for legitimate reasons (for example, they feared for their own physical safety). The Church says there are valid reasons for separation. But if you were validly married and are now separated (and perhaps civilly divorced), remember that in God’s eyes you’re still married—you’re just not living with your spouse. Therefore, as long as you’re living a chaste life and not remarried outside the Church, you can practice your faith fully. And finally, an annulment is not a “Catholic divorce.” A divorce says, “There once was a marriage, now there isn’t a marriage;” an annulment says, “There was never a true marriage bond there to begin with—even though the couple probably went through the wedding ceremony in good faith.”

And finally there’s the general portrayal of married couples on television and in movies. This also constitutes an attack on marriage itself, since most of the time the portrayal of married couples in these settings is decidedly negative. Face it, those of you who are married are usually depicted in the media as poor fools who’ve lost your freedom and your opportunity for personal growth and fulfillment. You can’t have fun anymore; your partying days are over; diapers and bills and pot bellies are all you have to look forward to for the next two or three decades!

So, is marriage finished? With all these attacks going on, is this the end for marriage as the Lord designed it? NO!!! Unless we all sit back and do nothing! If we do nothing, we are in trouble. Praise God for Senator Rick Santorum and others who are leading the fight for what’s right in this area. He’s certainly better than the two pathetic senators and two pathetic congressmen from Rhode Island—who, by the way, do not support the proposed marriage amendment to the Constitution!

So what can we do?

Well, here are some concrete suggestions for promoting marriage as God designed it:

First of all (this is for those who are married): talk about the blessings of marriage with your children and grandchildren. Tell them how your marriage has made you a better person—despite the trials and difficulties you’ve faced over the years. Don’t presume they know these things!—because in today’s anti-marriage culture they probably don’t.

Secondly, defend what you treasure! Go on-line and voice your support for the marriage amendment. Write a letter to each of our senators and congressmen in Washington. Tell them you’re upset that marriage is being undermined in America right now—in part by them!

Thirdly, resolve to vote for people in the future who will support traditional marriage and family life by the laws they vote for in our state and national legislatures.

And finally—last, but certainly not least—pray! Nothing good—including the renewal of marriage and family life—happens without prayer.

Senator Rick Santorum predicted (and here I quote), “The majority of Americans will have the final say in the battle to preserve the institution of marriage.” One of the reasons we are where we are, is because the majority of Americans who support traditional marriage have remained silent and passive, while the enemies of marriage have been hard at work promoting their evil agenda. May that change soon—very soon—and may each and every one of us do our part to make the change happen!