Marriage and Social Justice

“Rebuilding a marriage culture is an imperative of social justice,” says Bill May, founder and president of Catholics for the Common Good

If you knew that Catholics for the Common Good was based in California and you noticed on its website a box with the words “Same-Sex Marriage” crossed out in a red circle—and the words “The wrong issue” above that, you might think this was some kind of “Left Coast” initiative, heavy on Catholic “social justice” and light on life, marriage, and family issues.

You’d be right that they’re heavy on Catholic social doctrine. But they’re equally passionate about those other issues. In fact, according to CCG founder and president William B. May, they all tie in with one another.

The issue isn’t about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, he says. “The issue is: do we need a civil institution that is specifically geared for uniting kids with their moms and dads?”

William B. May, founder and president of Catholics for the Common Good

May looks at the breakdown of marriage in recent decades: the high rate of divorce, the increase in births to unwed mothers, etc. What has it yielded? An increase of children living in poverty, higher rates of juvenile delinquency among boys without a father, and other ills. “Rebuilding a marriage culture is an imperative of social justice,” May said. Every law, every curriculum, and every institution should be judged by how well it supports men and women marrying before having children.”

He finds support in his views in Catholic social teaching, in particular two documents: “Centesimus Annus talks about the right of a child to grow up in a united family. Donum vitae teaches that every child has a right to grow up within a family with their mom and dad united in marriage because it’s through that relationship that they can discover their own identity,” May said. “A mom and dad are who we are. We’re carrying their flesh for all of eternity. Who do I look like, my mom or my dad?

“Our faith calls us to be not against the oppressors but in solidarity with the victim,” he continued. “And who are the victims of the breakdown of marriage? It’s children who are deprived of a right to grow up in a family with their moms and dads united in marriage.”

May can’t state it enough. You’ll hear him repeat it over and over, and you’ll read it throughout his book, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue (Emmaus Road, 2012): Marriage “creates the only civil institution that specifically unites kids with their moms and dads.”

“The goal must be promoting the recognition of an institution that unites children with their own moms and dads and promoting that, respecting the rights of the child, opposing the creation of children [through artificial reproductive technologies] with the intention of depriving them of the fundamental right of knowing their moms and dads,” he said.

He sees similarities between the pro-life movement and the movement to defend marriage. As the law does not recognize the right to life of the child in the womb, in an increasing number of states, laws do not recognize the right of the child to be born into a family with a mother and father united in marriage, he says.

Losing Battle?

The way things have been going lately, the marriage issue seems like a losing battle. Every week, it seems, another court strikes down a state’s ban on “same-sex marriage” as unconstitutional.

May is disappointed but undeterred. “We need a new kind of a marriage movement, one that is not focused on what we’re against but on what we’re for, and one that really doesn’t focus on the consequences of same-sex couples marrying but one that focuses on recognizing the reality of the institution of marriage.”

His book’s title implies that marriage advocates have been getting the conversation wrong. “The approach has been to defend the traditional understanding of marriage,” May said. “We have proposals to redefine marriage because procreation has been delinked from sex and delinked from marriage; children have been delinked from marriage, and arguments to justify marriage on those bases just don’t make sense to the judges. The real thing that people have to realize is that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage in the law when marriage is redefined. They take out ‘man and woman’ and put in ‘two people.’ When that happens they’re eliminating the only civil institution that is geared toward uniting kids with their moms and dads. When you think of it that way, how can it be unconstitutional to have a civil institution that unites kids with their moms and dads?”

Meanwhile, society is redefining the family to be some amorphous, malleable animal that is able to serve individual tastes. This redefinition is “basically saying that a child has no right to know and be cared for by its own flesh and blood,” May said. This mentality is manifested in a number of ways. Amnesty international, for example, recently launched a campaign for “sexual freedom,” one point of which is to respect the “right” to determine what kind of family a person wants to create. May says he’s even heard of a Catholic school using a textbook showing “all kinds of alternative families” and mothers being questioned by their daughters, “Why do I have to get married? I don’t need to be married to have children.”

“The problem is they’re teaching kids there’s no relationship between moms and dads and marriage and children in the family because they’re teaching them that marriage is just one lifestyle choice and has nothing to do with children,” he said.

Appeal to Experience

What is Catholics for the Common Good’s solution to all of this? Aside from May’s book and the group’s dissemination of literature through parishes, it has collaborated with the Apostolate for Family Consecration to produce a six-part DVD series on marriage, intended to help Catholics talk to others about marriage.

“A lot of times when we’re taking about marriage, we have one idea about what marriage is and the person we’re talking to has another idea,” May said. “Many of us know what the Church teaches about marriage, and when we’re talking to other people that may be confusing. They’re thinking marriage is nothing more than a committed relationship for the happiness of adults, so the arguments that we make just don’t make sense to them because we’re talking apples and oranges.”

May is inspired by the example of Pope St. John Paul II, saying he “taught us that the language of the culture today is experience.”

“People today don’t think objectively; they think subjectively,” May contended. “They don’t use objective reasoning, they use subjective reasoning—what’s true or not based on their own experience. … And one of the beauties of John Paul II is that he was able to tell young people the truth, not what they wanted to hear, but they knew it was true because it corresponded with their hearts. They knew he was telling them what was good for them rather than teaching an abstract morality.”

May might have an apostolate, and he might be traveling all over the world speaking about this view of marriage for the common good. But he insists that the evangelization of culture is local, not global: it starts around the family dinner table.

“We need to talk to our children so they understand what marriage is. Catechesis is not enough. They have to verify it for themselves and be able to share it with their friends without fear of persecution,” he said.

He likes to tell the story of a young student who was distressed because she had to write a paper defending marriage and couldn’t get any help from her teachers. “I said to this young woman, ‘Are your mom and dad married?’ and she said ‘Yes.’ And I said ‘Well, this is what marriage is: marriage is when a man and a woman freely choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other. Up until that point, anybody is replaceable. But by making themselves irreplaceable that is what prepares them to receive new life as a gift of equal value and dignity to them because in reality, you’re irreplaceable to both of them and both of them are irreplaceable to you. That’s the circle of irreplaceability that we call the family.’

“She said ‘Wow, that’s beautiful.’ I described it in a way that she could verify it was true. She’ll never forget that.”

And that, he said is the key to the new evangelization, “when we can communicate Church teaching in ways that people can see the beauty, that it affects them.… Marriage is a reality that we can confirm by our own experience when it is expressed in a way that correlates with it. This experience is common to every person because everybody has a mother and a father, everybody has a desire to know them, even if they were deprived of that relationship.”

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About John Burger 22 Articles
John Burger is news editor of