A couple years ago my parents finally obtained the financial means to visit Ireland. They were able to spend three weeks in the homeland of our ancestors. They travelled the country and visited all the places associated with our ancestry—which, of course, included several pubs. They met wonderful and friendly people who were either distant relatives or knew the local histories associated with the people from whom we came.
This desire to become familiar with our family trees, to visit the lands of our ancestors, to know what they thought and what they did is evidenced by the growing popularity of ancestry websites and services. But what does this have to do with the debate over redefining marriage? In short, everything!
Why do we have such a profound desire and need to know the people with whom we are biologically linked: because who we come from shapes who we are. Our link to our relatives and ancestors informs our self-understanding and shapes our identity. Marriage is not just the only public institution that unites men and women to their children and each other: it is also the only public institution that connects children to their family trees.
If we allow the definition of marriage to be changed to accommodate same sex couples, we will be responsible for the vast deforestation and devastation of many children’s family trees. This means that we will by purpose and design uproot children from the very moment of their conception. The roots of their family tree—father and/or mother, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins—will be severed by design.
And what does this mean for these children? We will deny them the opportunity to know who they are by cutting them off from whom and where they came. It means that we will publicly sanction limiting some children’s ability to develop their full sense of identity and self-understanding. Moreover, it will prevent grandparents and other relatives from ever loving and experiencing the love of these children.
The measure of a truly just society is whether it promotes, protects and safeguards the fundamental rights of its most weak, vulnerable and powerless members. It is a mark of barbarity and injustice to injure those who are unable to defend themselves. Children have a fundamental human right to develop their identity by experiencing a loving relationship with their biological mothers and fathers whenever possible and being linked to their family trees. To deny children this fundamental right in order change the definition of marriage is an injustice of the highest order.
It is, of course, a great tragedy and sorrow for children when their biological mothers and fathers are unable to care for them. A just and healthy society will try to remedy this sorrowful situation through the institution of adoption. In fact, one could argue that it is precisely because certain children are not able to experience the love of their biological parents that society must strive all the more diligently to place them with an adoptive mother and father. Husbands and wives have the unique capacity to provide a home where adopted children can experience the love of a mother and a father, and they have the unique capacity to link their adopted children to the maternal and paternal lines of their family trees.
To redefine marriage is to intentionally deprive some children not only the opportunity to experience the love of their biological parents, but to purposely deny them the opportunity to ever experience the love of a mom and dad. Two men might each be good fathers, but neither can provide the child with the love of a mother—and vice-versa for two women. The ideal for children is to experience the love of their own biological mother and father. Where this is not possible, children can nevertheless experience the love of a mother and father through adoption. No same-sex couple can provide this fundamental right of children, and to redefine marriage is, therefore, to deny the fundamental human rights of some children.
This, among other important reasons, is why we must promote a strong marriage culture and fight to defend the authentic definition of marriage in the public square: marriage is the only institution that unites moms and dads to their children and each other and, thereby, promotes the health of the family tree. And, in the case of adoption, marriage is the only institution that provides orphaned children the opportunity to experience the love of a mom and a dad and be grafted onto a family tree that possesses maternal and paternal branches.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!