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Definitions

June 19, 2008

Definitions

No one likes definitions of deeply human realities. For a definition can be cold and remote, or at least seem to be such. When what is defined is deeply human, one feels the need for a bit of poetry in the defining, lest the wonder of the defined be somehow lost.

Marriage is a case in point. It is a permanent, exclusive relationship of a man and a woman who seek fulfillment in acts of love, and especially in that act of love which in the ordinary course of events leads to the procreation of offspring. The definition is accurate, but the poetry is missing. Nor should this be a surprise. A definition of motherhood would never do the reality justice, and the same might be said of a definition of patriotism and so much else that is deeply human and inevitably entangled in feelings and emotions.

Of late, there is in our society a movement to change the definition of marriage. The reason, however, is not a lack of poetry in the timeless and classic definition, as some would suggest, but rather a desire to make marriage into something it is not. In the new definition, instead of being only a relationship between one man and one woman, marriage is to become also a relationship between two men or two women or any other combination or number of human beings that seek to relate among themselves. Accordingly, the definition would not require the male-female and procreative aspects of marriage and would therefore define little more than friendships or partnerships of any kind that look to achieve fulfillment by mutual caring.

Any harm in this? Yes, indeed. If ever in the history of this nation of ours, marriage in its full and authentic meaning needed to be protected, it is now. Children without a mother and a father may in certain circumstances "turn out well," as we all know. However, the chances that they will not so "turn out" in our time and society are asserted and documented by virtually all respected psychologists and sociologists, no matter what their philosophical or political leanings. The father has a unique and essential contribution to make to the development of the child, no less than the mother; and two fathers or two mothers are not a father and a mother. In the words of one of the wisest human beings I know: "Take away mom and dad, and you damage first our children and then the society in which our children are to work out their lives. Nature will have it no other way."

But does not this position entail discrimination, for example, against two men or two women who want to have their caring relationship considered and recognized as a marriage? Not at all. I might want to be considered an angel and to be recognized as such. Still, in point of melancholy fact, there are elements of the angelic that are simply not to be found in me. A friendship or partnership of two persons of the same sex, no matter how caring it may be, is not a union between a male and a female whose love is to inspire and include acts that by their nature lead to the begetting of offspring. This is reality, not discrimination.

Moreover, once marriage is stripped of its essentials and reduced to any form of endearing human relationship so as to avoid an accusation of discrimination, the slide down the slippery slope of a gravely damaged society is inescapable. In the new definition, must the relationship of two men and one woman or 10 women and one man be considered and recognized as marriages? If not, why not? Cannot members of these kinds of relationships also be the objects of discrimination? But even more importantly: if all of these various relationships are to be considered and recognized as marriage, must not society protect and promote them, just as it needs to protect and promote marriage in its timeless and classic sense if it wishes to thrive and even survive? As the ancient Romans expressed it: "From a false premise, anything can follow."

All of this may sound a bit overly theoretical. Perhaps it would be well to bring the issue down to day-by-day life in our very concrete and practical world.

Let us suppose that the new definition of marriage takes hold. It is considered appropriate and in due course becomes enshrined in law. Let us further suppose that a charitable agency believes that marriage is between a man and a woman and will not therefore arrange for the adoption of a child by a couple of men or a couple of women or any other groupings that are not one man and one woman. Could the law force the agency to do what the agency knows to be wrong at least as regards the well-being of the child to be adopted? Lest you feel that this is an unlikely scenario, please know that it has been played out in Boston with the result that the adoption agency of Catholic Charities has had to close its doors. And the same fate awaits clergy who refuse to witness "marriages" that are not marriages and schools that refuse to teach the new and dangerous definitions of that essential, precious and—for us Catholics—sacred union of man and woman that is marriage.

Some weeks ago, against the clear will of the electorate, four federal judges legislated a new definition of marriage for the State of California, whereby a male can "marry" a male, and a female a female. Within a few days, the governor of our state announced that such "marriages" contracted in California are to be recognized as valid here in New York.

The alarm has thus been loudly sounded, and it is time that people of common sense and fundamental morality make their voices heard. Here in the State of New York, we are blessed with an institution that is firmly in place and well-equipped to assist us in this crucially important effort. It is the Catholic Advocacy Network, which is located on the Web site of the New York State Catholic Conference, www.nyscatholic.org. With all the urgency I can muster, I ask the People of God of the Archdiocese of New York to do three things:

1. Sign up with the Network,
2. Learn from the Network more about the implications of so-called "same-sex" marriages," and
3. Join 55,173 members of the Network in protecting marriage and family life by telling legislators and judges where we stand in this struggle for common sense and fundamental morality.

There is no time to lose. If we hesitate, the damage may become such as cannot be easily reversed. And this, as citizens and Catholics, we dare not allow.


Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York

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