Here’s Your ‘Traditional Marriage’

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CONSERVATIVE FORCES in the U.S. have succeeded in shifting the debate about same-sex unions from a question of equal protection under the law to one about protecting the meaning of the word “marriage.” The phrase “defense of marriage” emerged as a touchstone in the conflict after passage of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which limited marriage to heterosexual couples in matters under federal jurisdiction. Since then—spurred by the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2003—many states have moved to ban same-sex marriage by enacting laws or amending their constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This semantic strategy was never more blatantly applied than in California last November, when voters amended their state constitution to redefine marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Field workers in the California Campaign were instructed to say that their effort was to “restore the definition of marriage as God intended.”

The passage of California’s Proposition 8 was underwritten by Mormon and Catholic religious leaders, whose support was indispensable for its passage. In 2004, the Mormon Church officially declared that same-sex marital relations “undermine the divinely created institution of family.” H. Richard McCord, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, and Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, more recently claimed that the meaning of marriage is “written in the law of nature and in the language of the human body and spirit. It is a truth enshrined from the beginning of time. Church teaching about marriage starts with this truth” (at www.faithfulcitizenship.org). Even the liberal National Catholic Reporter (10/31/08) joined this chorus just prior to the California vote. Columnist Stafford Beatty wrote glowingly of his gay friends who love each other, but concluded that the term “marriage” must be withheld, because when “a man and a woman marry, they can have children in the way nature planned.”

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