MARRIAGE: A Well-Defined Union

Fr. James Melnick

“Many well-meaning people think same-sex marriage is just about equality and spreading the benefits of marriage. Its more radical supporters know it’s about destroying marriage itself.”   ~Robinson and Richards, Indivisible

“We must continue to witness to the truth about marriage, find new ways to make the reasoned case about what marriage is and work to protect our freedoms to do so for the next generation…. All of this must be done in service of the long-term goal of restoring a culture of marriage.”  ~Ryan T. Anderson

Definitions matter. They matter because they shape our reality and culture. Changing the definition of marriage from a conjugal and comprehensive union between a man and a woman to one based on emotional union and shared experiences between two adults will not only change the definition of marriage, but the reality of the family and the culture. The quotes and ideas for this post are based on Girgis, Anderson, and George’s book, What is Marriage?” Man and Woman: A Defense.

No Hatred for “Gays”

First of all, defending traditional conjugal marriage between a man and a woman does not imply hostility and bigotry. Memes come up: “If homosexuals had a book that said Christians should be stoned to death, how long before you called it “Hate speech”? A defense for monogamous heterosexual marriages can be made while bracketing the morality of homosexuality. Not taking rights away. Ancient Greece, which glorified homo-eroticism, had marriage set for one man and one woman in their laws. The Civil Rights movement of the ’60s was about removing laws made with hatred towards certain people. The laws themselves were created to preserve white supremacy. Marriage law has never been about disenfranchising homosexuals. It’s about legally protecting a relationship.

Friendship and State Recognition

Most people publicize their friendships, either with nicknames, inside jokes, friendship status on Facebook, etc. None of these require state recognition. Imagine having to notify the State of Georgia that you would like to befriend somebody at Rotary Club! The state doesn’t care. It need not protect or uphold the dignity of friendship here in these instances. Some believe that marriage is just the “Ultimate Status of Friendship.” Civil marriage, to some, signifies the official BFF status for the one you love. And so the high schooler’s query: “If they love each other, why can’t they get married?” But is there a difference between friendship and marriage? We say yes. But the revisionist’s notion of marriage cannot give a good distinction because same-sex marriage is based primarily on emotional union and shared experiences. It’s based on feelings (which may be simultaneously felt but never identical. Feelings are subjective and ultimately cannot be felt by others) and showing love and affection for one another. To ask the state to recognize these select friendships leads us to question: “Why involve the state in what amounts to the legal regulation of tenderness?” (What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Girgis, Anderson, and George, Encounter Books 2012.) Then why does the state have an interest in solemnizing and publicly recognizing a special relationship between a man and a woman in marriage?

What is Marriage?

To know what equality and justice is in the realm of civil marriage, we have to know what marriage is and why the state would want to protect and support marriage. Again, as the definitions go, so the culture goes. And we get a sense of the health of a person or culture by their definitions. For instance, if a person thought friendship meant a relationship that gave you the right to take advantage of someone’s kindness and to manipulate them to getting ahead in life, we would not only think that this person has an erroneous definition of friendship but also that their state of living would be seriously faulty. Likewise for marriage. Getting the definition of marriage wrong does not just mean we disagree on what makes a marriage, but rather it is an indication of something off-kilter in their life.

The revisionist’s view of marriage, based on emotional union and shared experiences “cannot account for three points common to both sides of the debate: the state has an interest in regulating certain relationships; that interest exists only if the relationships are sexual; and it exists only if they are monogamous” (Ibid, 15).

The other definition of marriage is the conjugal marriage. It’s much more than just a friendship. Being good spouses means a whole lot more than just being good friends. “In short, as most people acknowledge, marriage involves a bodily as well as mental union of spouses, a special link to children and domestic life, and permanent and exclusive commitment. All three elements converge in, and go to constitute, the conjugal view” (Ibid, 36). This is what underlies natural and the civil law of most civilizations throughout history. It does have religious backing as well, and we Catholics can and should provide logical reasons for our belief in this conjugal view of marriage. But promoting this classic view of marriage is not exclusively tied to Christianity or any religion. It is a law in most countries because it promotes the common good of each nation.

For the Children

The state has an interest in its own future. It wants to encourage and nurture healthy and conscientious citizens. Most sociologists and studies show that children thrive best when raised by their biological mother and father. And not only a mother and father, but a mother and father who love each other and are faithful to one another for life. It provides security and a community of love that benefits all involved. And it is a plus for the state:

Studies that control for other factors, including poverty and even genetics, suggest that children reared in intact homes do best on the following indices:

Educational Achievement: literacy and graduation rates

Emotional health: rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide

Familial and sexual development: strong sense of identity, timing of onset of puberty, rates of teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and rates of sexual abuse

Child and adult behavior: rates of aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency, and incarceration (What is Marriage?, 42).

Divorce, cohabiting, single-parents, and every other combination of living normally result in situations that do not favor the children. Hence the need of the state to maintain intact families and marriages. The crumbling of the dignity of marriage in latter years, especially from no-fault divorces, should be a concern for the state. These children will tend to rely upon the state more for help in the future, and the money wasted on divorce cases, lawyers, judges, welfare, etc. should also interest the state in protecting and preserving marriages.

A Mom and a Dad

There is a benefit for the child in being raised by both a mother and father, and especially from biological parents. The left-leaning research institute Child Trends states “There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents….[I]t is not simply the presence of two parents,… but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development ” (Ibid, 43). Although the APA has tried to propose that there is no difference between being raised by same-sex parents versus being raised by a mom and a dad, no study has shown that this is the case. There is not enough case study to even conclude this fact, and the research thus far reports that children raised by same-sex parents are not better off in dozens of indices.

“While every person is unique for parenting, social science has confirmed what we know intuitively: Dads and moms tend to interact differently with their children. Dads tend to tickle and roughhouse, moms tend to cuddle and comfort; dads challenge, moms encourage. Dads stupidly throw their toddlers in the air. Moms cringe when dads stupidly throw their toddlers in the air. We also tend to communicate and discipline differently. ‘Dads tend to see their children in relation to the rest of the world. Mothers tend to see the rest of the world in relation to their children.'” (Indivisible, Robinson and Richards, Hachette Book Group, 123).

Coitus: The Consummation of Marriage

In law, a marriage is ratified or consummated by intercourse, or coitus. Only this action, the comprehensive union of body and mind, which naturally leads to a child and the beginning of a family, satisfies the law’s definition of marriage. Marriage and children are naturally connected. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…” Ever primary school kid who sang that song recognize that fact at some level. It is because of this connection of sex and marriage, children naturally coming from sex, that the state wants to encourage couples to have children and to encourage the best conditions for the children.

Infertile Couples Can Marry?

Some Same-sex marriage advocates will argue that it seems archaic and very surprising that anyone would see the connection between marriage and children. And they will even go so far to say that children are not important in a marriage because infertile couples can marry. But any couple who has dealt with infertility feels the loss when there are no children. In any other friendship, this is not the case. Even still, a man and a woman who marry and are infertile do not take away anything from the definition of marriage. And sometimes couples who are infertile for a time have children later on. Couples usually do not know of any fertility problems at the point of marriage, and thankfully there is no fertility test required to apply for a marriage license. Fertility is not a requirement for marriage. However, being able to engage in the marital act, consummating the marriage through sex, is a requirement for marriage.

The End of Monogamy: Polyamorism

Once we begin redefining marriage, the next part of the classic conjugal definition to go will the be the fidelity part. Why are marriages monogamous? Why just one spouse? Especially if it benefits the emotional unity of the couple to have more than one sex partner? How about small group marriages? “In their statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” more than three hundred ‘LGBT and allied’ scholars and advocates-including prominent Ivy League professors- call for legally recognizing sexual relationships involving more than two partners (What is Marriage?, 68). The good of being faithful to one spouse will become harder and harder to recognize. Having more than one lover, polyamorism, will probably be cited as a good for spouses, and the conjugal view of marriage will be harder to


We are at a crucial point in our country where we need to ask the question “What is marriage?” And we need to hold fast and proliferate the conjugal view of marriage: Marriage is a comprehensive union of body and mind of a man and a woman dedicated to domestic life, children, for their whole life, faithfully to each other.

 © 2014. Fr. James Melnick. All rights reserved.

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More Resources:

The Fight Against Redefining Marriage

What is Marriage? Harvard Journal of Law:

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

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6 thoughts on “MARRIAGE: A Well-Defined Union”

  1. Fertility is not a requirement for marriage. However, being able to engage in the marital act, consummating the marriage through sex, is a requirement for marriage.

    Father, with all due respect, you are most definitely NOT in any position to dictate what is a requirement for marriage. Where do you get off saying that consummating a marriage through (heterosexual) sex is a requirement for marriage. Show me a single civil law that states that. Eventually, same sex marriage will be recognized in all modern, civilized states and countries and this discussion will be moot and recognized as the nonsense that it is.

  2. American Catholics support same-sex marriage 60 – 31 percent, compared to the 56 – 36 percent support among all U.S. adults.

    More devout Catholics, who attend religious services about once a week, support same- sex marriage 53 – 40 percent, while less observant Catholics support it 65 – 26 percent.

    Catholic women support same-sex marriage 72 – 22 percent, while Catholic men support it 49 – 40 percent. Support ranges from 46 – 37 percent among Catholics over 65 years old to 64 – 27 percent among Catholics 18 to 49 years old. Quinnipiac University (CT) National Poll October 2013

    MORE Roman Catholics support gay marriage than other Christian denominations….surprise?

    Gay marriage and parenting: An interim report found there was no statistical difference between children of same-sex couples and the rest of the population on indicators including self-esteem, emotional behaviour and the amount of time spent with parents.
    However, children of same-sex couples scored higher than the national average for overall health and family cohesion, measuring how well a family gets along. (Melbourne University, Dr Simon Crouch on the largest study of gay parenting)
    Just the facts…..

    1. I am a single mom of five outstanding boys. My husband left suddenly when I was five months pregnant with the fifth little guy (a surprise pregnancy – and a HUGE blessing to us!) If you look at my boys and me, you would be able to write a study showing how wonderful single parent families are. My oldest is one of 46 students nationwide selected to participate in the YES program in DC this week. He, as a junior, won a scholarship to a top engineering school for high SAT scores, plays year round baseball and soccer, and was elected prom prince this spring (like prom king only for junior class). My 2nd son wants to go to Clemson and study law and is a straight A student in his honors classes. He also plays several sports and tested up to play at the JV level as a middle schooler and was pulled up to varsity baseball as a freshman. My 13 year old and 10 year old struggle a bit more academically but are both B to B- students and play numerous sports. Both are participating in Little League All Stars this week. And my 4 year old – my little blessing, my true gift from God who shows me every day God’s plans are better than our own! – he is just a curly haired wonder boy, always chatting happily but he can be very strict when he thinks a rule is begin broken. He knows most of his letters and can count almost to 100 (missing 15 and 17 for some reason!) I could go on and on…

      Why am I telling you all this? It’s not to brag. It’s to show that statistics can prove anything. I doubt we are the typical single mom family, and, even if we are, statistics don’t show the pain of losing our house due to lack of child support or the fear of not being able to find housing or the exhaustion of working three jobs or the sadness in the kids’ eyes when we can never go celebrate a baseball win with ice cream as a family again or the aggravation they feel when they have to watch their younger brothers or cook dinner day after day or embarrassment when the younger guys hand in incomplete homework because there was no one with time to help them.

      Statistics can show anything if you pick the right people to ask, but, even then, they only tell part of the story. I don’t know Father personally so hope I’m not putting words in his mouth, but I don’t believe he was saying you can never have successful, happy children from a same-sex marriage, but that there isn’t enough evidence to know for certain long term effects but that study after study has shown children raised in a home with a biological mom and a dad do better overall. This may be just another set of statistics, but in my experience, it sure seems valid. Why are we okay with turning children into guinea pigs when we know a mom-dad situation works? Every child I’ve ever known is worth more than that.

    2. even if your figures are right. catholic doctrine is always against same sex marriage. you are describing poorly catechized catholics. mere membership in our church does not make one an authentic catholic. right is right even the whole world think it is wrong. I think your personal philosophy is largely based on whatever is popular thats why you try to impress us with this statistic

  3. Ladasha Smithson

    “If they love each other, why can’t they get married?” But is there a difference between friendship and marriage? We say yes. But the revisionist’s notion of marriage cannot give a good distinction because same-sex marriage is based primarily on emotional union and shared experiences. It’s based on feelings (which may be simultaneously felt but never identical. Feelings are subjective and ultimately cannot be felt by others) and showing love and affection for one another.
    Unfortunately most Christians think that emotion and attraction are the sole difference between marriage and friendship.

  4. Pingback: How to Receive Christ With Love -

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