Supreme Court's Obergefell decision is a chance to start from a clean slate, Bill May Insists
For William B. May, it is just beginning.
May, who has been fighting in this area since the days of California’s Proposition 8, says it’s now time to stop defending marriage. As the Supreme Court, in his words, eliminated
from the law "the only civil institution that is specifically geared for uniting kids with their moms and dads," he says it’s time to reintroduce the true concept of marriage to a society that has lost sight of it by being fed a steady stream of false premises.
Catholics for the Common Good,
May is the author of Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue. He spoke with Aleteia Friday, after the Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, about
he Marriage Reality Movement,
an initiative, he says, that has been eight years in the making, "all with the anticipation that this day would come."
What are your thoughts about the decision?
In a way, there’s a grace from this decision because we won’t have to oppose same-sex marriage anymore. We can get about the business of reintroducing marriage to the culture and to society, starting from the very beginning.
We won’t have to oppose same-sex marriage anymore? What do you mean?
What the court did was essentially eliminate from the law the only civil institution that is specifically geared for uniting kids with their moms and dads. And in doing so they made it discriminatory to teach children that there’s any unique value for men and women marrying before having children. So while all the attention is focused on the outrageousness of the decision, we have to give attention to the right of future children to be born into a family with their moms and dads united in marriage, as the Church teaches, and the right of our own children to discover the truth about love, sexuality, marriage and family, because that affects the decisions that they make in life. Who wants their children to grow up to be single parents and their grandchildren to be deprived of married mothers and fathers? But this is what the court is helping to facilitate by completely severing marriage from the rights of children to be born into it.
As the Church teaches, for every human right, there is a corresponding duty, and our duty is to really help our children understand, help our society understand, help young people understand how important it is to make the choice to marry before having children. And the Supreme Court has redefined marriage as an adult-centered institution that has nothing to do with children and families unless somebody chooses to connect it themselves. And today fewer and fewer people are making the connection.
Until now, the goal for most people has been to keep same-sex couples from marrying, but really the most important thing is protecting our children from corrupted ideas about love, sexuality, marriage and family. …
Roe v. Wade obliterated the right of unborn children to be born. This decision obliterated the right of children to be born into a family with their own married mother and father. We cannot rest until that injustice is corrected and that marriage reality is once again recognized as a priveleged institution that unites children with their own moms and dads. If we focus on that, everything else will take care of itself. …
Our problem is that we’ve been emphasizing what’s essential to marriage, but what’s essential to marriage isn’t particular to marriage anymore, and people just can’t distinguish it. But the only thing that’s particular to marriage is the fact that when it’s recognized by the law, by religions or by the man and woman who chooses to enter into it, it becomes the sole institution that unites kids with their moms and dads. This is Church teaching from the Catechism.
St. John Paul II used to talk about marriage as a communion of man and woman leading to communion between parent and child, and the importance of looking at marriage as an intergenerational institution, a connecting institution of kinship. The Church also teaches that it is through the secure relationship with their moms and dads united by marriage that children can discover their own identity. Who am I? …
So now that the word "marriage" has been separated from the reality of marriage—it still exists but not connected to the word—now our goal is to reintroduce it starting from the beginning, and ultimately have it re-recognized by the state. This is what we refer to as taking back marriage. It’s time to stop defending marriage and time to reintroduce it to the culture starting from the beginning.
How do you see that working out on a practical level?
We’ve got training materials and formation materials. It’s no longer an issue for the Supreme Court or legislatures. It’s an issue for around the family dinner table, an issue we’re going to have to prepare people to deal with, with school boards and things of that nature.
So you would recommend ways for parents to talk to their kids about this? Young people today are inundated with messages from the gay rights agenda, etc.
Yes…. A child knows the truth about marriage, and the first thing they think about isn’t sex. Unfortunately, in our culture that’s the first thing everybody thinks about. But the reality of marriage can only be seen today through the eyes of a child. And for an adult, it has to be put in a context so they can see it through the eyes of the child within them, because we all have an experience of God’s plan for creation seen in our own desire for connection, to know where we came from, for connection with, and be loved by, our own moms and dads and our grandparents. People are fascinated by searching for their ancestors. You know, we’ve got sperm donors now walking down the street looking for people who look like them.
So the truth about marriage is within us, and in children it’s just merely a case of reinforcing what they already know. The family with married parents didn’t happen by accident. It was intentional. "Mom and dad chose to make ourselves irreplaceable to each other because that’s what prepared us to receive you, as a gift. In reality, you’re irreplaceable to us, and we’re both irreplaceable to you."
For people with married mothers and fathers, they can’t imagine their mothers and fathers being apart. For people who have lost a mother or father, they are aware they’ve had a loss—that’s reality. Telling kids they have two dads or two moms is an insult to their intelligence, because they know they have a mom and a dad. During the day they might say "I’ve got two dads," but as they’re lying in bed at night they’re wondering, "Where’s mom?" When I talk to teenagers, this blows them away: finally someone is acknowledging what they’re feeling.
We can talk to our children about how much their two dads love them, how much they love their dads, but unfortunately they don’t have their mom, and they’ve lost someone who’s really important. We have to have compassion for them but reinforce in the child that it’s important future dads and moms make themselves irreplaceable to each other before having children.
Even some of the single parents in our movement have talked about this with their kids: "It’s a misfortune that Dad’s not here. Dad loves you still, but it’s a misfortune."
What’s happening today is that people think of marriage as a commitment rather than a choice of irreplaceability, which also has the understanding of unsubstitutability and irrevocability because someone is either irreplaceable or he’s not.
We’ve been losing our kids in this debate by being anti-, anti-, anti-. Now we can be for, and present it in a way where young people can say, "Wow, that’s beautiful. I’m so glad my mom and dad got married, and that’s what I want for my children because it’s so beautiful."
decision is riddled with false premises. I am not sure a well-catechized or orthodox Catholic could even spot the false premises because they’re so widely accepted. When we’re helping people understand what marriage is, we have to understand the false premises that they’re starting with. You can’t get to what’s true from assumptions that are false.
We learned this through our focus groups. And when people understand, they say "Oh my gosh, I’ve been saying things that conflict with what I believe."
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.