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Getting the Marriage Conversation Right

March 25, AD2013 34 Comments


“This disgusts me, how sick for you all to discriminate against same sex marriage…Its [sic] 2013 [sic] can\’t you guys grow up and see the new age of non­discrimination and living without judgment?”

‐Comment on Catholics for the Common Good Facebook page

The above argument is one that William B. May knows well. He is the author of the new booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a Guide for Effective Dialogue, and is the President of Catholics for the Common Good (CCG). He says that too often, proponents of traditional marriage are put on the defensive with such attacks.

“We don’t buy into the other side’s argument,” May said in an interview. “Instead, I would ask, what does this have to do with the only institution that unites children to their moms and dads?” This is a question that he hopes will be clearly addressed to the U.S. Supreme Court this week during oral arguments, which begin Tuesday, March 26th, on California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. This case will be the first presented to the U.S. Supreme Court and then will be followed by oral arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act\’s (DOMA) denial of government benefits to same‐sex spouses. May says that the real question is not whether to let homosexuals marry but whether to redefine marriage or not. Under the current definition of marriage, he says it is an institution that unites children to their mother and father. Thus, marriage between two homosexuals is not possible without completely changing its purpose.

May does not use the words “same‐sex marriage” or “gay marriage” because, according to him, those terms confuse the issue. Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a Guide for Effective Dialoguepublished by Emmaus Road Publishing helps deprogram people’s thinking from cultural misperceptions on the purpose for marriage and then explains how to defend it  without religious arguments or discussing sexual preferences which lead people off the topic.

A key point May presents in this book is that a mother and a father are irreplaceable to children. “We approach marriage from the perspective that a child has a right to be born into a family with the mother and father as a matter of justice,” May says. “The relationship to our parents is very significant, and there is the desire to know and be loved by the person we originated from.” The bottom line is that marriage is about the rights of children. That, he hopes, is what the U.S. Supreme Court will be considering when they listen to oral arguments on the issue of marriage this week.

Society’s Loss of Understanding Marriage

William B. May acknowledges that society has lost the understanding that marriage is for children and not just a public statement about adult relationships. He points out that divorce is not the only problem depriving children of the connection with both their mother and father; but that there has been a huge decrease in people getting married. “In just 30 years, the marriage rate per 1000 unmarried women has declined more than 43 percent. Births to unmarried mothers are now over 41 percent among all women, and 73 percent among African Americans,” he writes.

“And there lies the root problem,” according to May. “Children are not being protected through marriages. Instead, society has come to regard marriage as the public recognition of a relationship rather than it’s original intent: to unite a man and women with each other and to any children born from them. The couple becomes irreplaceable to each other and irreplaceable to their children just as their children are irreplaceable to them,” he says.

May decries that half of young people think families without both a mother and father are acceptable. He states, however, that fatherlessness harms individuals and society, leading to drastic increases in crime, depression, youth violence, poverty, drugs, and gangs, out of wedlock pregnancies, school dropout and incredibly high murder rates.

The fact that society has lost respect for marriage does not dissuade May from using logic to defend it. “Even if we never knew our mother and father; or by some circumstances, felt alienated from them, the desire is still there. Contemplating this, the reality of marriage in God’s plan for creation becomes apparent to all, but is not dependent on belief in God. It is a fact stamped right into our very nature,” he writes.

May contends that the very fact that we are in the middle of a never‐ending debate about marriage is evidence of cultural confusion. As a result, a Stand with Children movement was created by Catholics for the Common Good (CCG) to help train people to evangelize the culture on marriage and family. The project was put on hold when the California Catholic Conference asked CCG to lead the lay Catholic campaign to support Proposition 8. In November 2008, a majority of voters passed it, overturning the California Supreme Courts ruling that had overturned the state’s marriage protection law adopted by the voters in 2000.

The victory restored the traditional definition of marriage by placing it in the state constitution, out of the reach of the state courts. However, the fight now continues all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Through CCG’s work on the campaign, a program to train volunteer leadership teams evolved. May’s book was written as a training manual based on Catholic social teaching, and particularly the teaching of Blessed John Paul II on marriage, the family and the human person.

“We know what marriage is down deep,” May writes. “We know what our faith teaches about it, but how to express what we know to be true and cannot be any other way is challenging in this culture.”

Effectively Dialoging on Marriage

“I wanted to help navigate those concerned through the common pitfalls and equip them to effectively dialogue on Marriage. I also wanted to help them to avoid making marriage a gay vs. Christian issue,” explains May. In this 70‐page “how to” guide for an effective dialogue on marriage, May presents clear, concise facts and helps to equip the reader to answer those tough questions many struggle with, and coaches them to avoid getting confused and going off on tangents. He encourages with hope, information, warnings against common pitfalls, and teaches them techniques for disarming the opponent.

For instance, May instructs people not to say children “need” a mother and a father, but instead, focus on the fact that every child has a mother and father, and that they have a fundamental human right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their mother and father. This takes the argument from opinion to fact.

In his book, May warns against traps such as: don’t let the discussion shift from marriage to competency of parenting, don’t say, “we believe,” when you mean “we know,” and to avoid debates about homosexuality. He explains why they are traps and provides alternative arguments.

May also poses common questions and supplies responses in this marriage dialogue manual such as: Why do you oppose “same­-sex marriage”? Answer: “I don’t oppose ‘same‐sex marriage’; I oppose redefining marriage to accommodate same‐sex couples. There is a big difference. While I am sympathetic to the sincere and loving same‐sex couples who desire to marry, the consequences of redefining marriage are too great.”

May’s marriage guide, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, is available both paperback and Kindle versions, for anyone wanting to learn ways to defend their values. It will help train leaders and speakers and serve as a handy reference when questions come up in conversations with family and friends. Even many secular leaders see May’s book as a “must have” in every family’s library. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Mayor of Boston, Raymond L. Flynn, refers to May’s book as essential reading. He states, “This communication guide is an invaluable resource for answering questions and explaining what is at stake for the future of marriage and the rights of children if marriage is redefined. Every family should have one.”

May hopes that people who read his book will have the courage to allow the Holy Spirit to work in them as they better understand this issue, so that when the opportunity knocks to discuss marriage, they can gracefully and poignantly “get the marriage conversation right.”

In addition to what May believes are God‐given truths about marriage, he encourages humility when learning a new way to approach something ‐ especially something that is so common to us like marriage. He states, “We must all proceed with humility to recognize that we are all in need of learning and formation. We owe this to our children. After all, the children are the ones suffering here. Remember, even Jesus told us, ‘Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:4)

As we begin Holy Week, let us take to heart the wisdom from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who May quotes: “Dismantling the inhuman parody we call ‘modern American culture’ begins not with violence but with the conversion of our own hearts. . . Your task . . . is to strengthen that spirit in each other . . . and to instill it in all the people you reach with the extraordinary skills God has given you. If you do only that, but do it well, then God will do the rest.”

© 2013. Patti Maguire Armstrong. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious; children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Read more at Catholic News and Inspiration and follow her at Twitter. Please "Like" her Facebook pages: DearGodBooks, BigHeartedFamilies, and CatholicNews&Inspiration

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