The marriage debate we should be having


There has been much digital and literal ink spilled on the fight over so-called “gay marriage,” even here at and in my own posts. We obviously disagree with “marriage equality” folks that two men or two women can be married, as that term is understood. But as we defend marriage, our interlocutors will occasionally point out rampant divorce, Hollywood “quickie” marriages, married couples’ ubiquitous use of contraception, and other such scandals as evidence that we must not value marriage very much to begin with to let it deteriorate to this point.

And on this point, we must completely agree.

Other faith traditions that allow divorce and contraception, and that don’t treat marriage as a sacrament, must have a difficult time defending against the “marriage equality” arguments. Thankfully, the Catholic Church has had clear and consistent teachings on these issues since the beginning. That’s because it has a clear understanding of what marriage actually is and requires, as the Rite of Marriage makes clear:

The priest then questions them about their freedom of choice, faithfulness to each other, and the acceptance and upbringing of children:

“Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”

“Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”

“Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”

There is clearly, at a minimum, a recognition that marriage involves a gift of self to the other, mostly to the spouse but also to whatever children may spring from their union. In this, marriage mirrors the self-donation that Christ gave on the Cross for His bride, the Church.

CNA_5151bfab969db_19654What happens when marriage is entered into for somewhat alternative reasons, reasons that the “marriage equality” side seems to prefer, like “We want the state to recognize that we really like each other”? You get stories like the following {with my own occasional thought in squiggly brackets}:

The mother who says having these two children is the biggest regret of her life

I felt completely detached from this alien being who had encroached upon my settled married life and changed it, irrevocably, for the worse…

Quite simply, I had always hated the idea of motherhood…{which is why the Church requires openness to children as a condition of marriage. If you don’t want kids, why enter into the arrangement specifically designed to create them?}

I know my life would have been much happier and more fulfilled without children…

Two years and four months after Stuart was born, I had my daughter Jo… I believe it is utterly selfish to have an only [child]…{But it’s not selfish to want neither of them?}

Yet I dreaded her dependence; resented the time she would consume, and that like parasites, both my children would continue to take from me and give nothing meaningful back in return…

What I valued most in my life was time on my own; to reflect, read and enjoy my own company and peace of mind. And suddenly that peace and solitude wasn’t there any more. There were two small interlopers intruding on it. And I’ve never got that peace back…{I wonder if anyone ever pointed her to St. Therese’s “little way,” or to Brother Lawrence’s “practice of the presence of God.”}

From the moment we decided we would be spending the rest of our lives together, I confessed I didn’t want to start a family.

I was acutely aware that a child would usurp my independence and drain my finances. I felt no excitement as my due date approached… I focused on enjoying the last months of my freedom…{True freedom comes from living consistently with God’s will and detachment from material things. Again, I wonder if anyone ever pointed her to St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Avila.}

There are a few chilling stories interspersed:

[I]n May 1979, Stuart was born, blue in the face as the cord was wrapped round his neck. While other mothers would be frantic with worry, I remained calm when the doctor whisked him away. I sent Tony back to work and for the next four hours I waited without any apprehension. I did not really think about Stuart at all, until Tony returned after work and asked where he was. He was fine, of course, but when they wheeled him back into the ward I did not experience that sudden leap of the heart that new mums are expected to feel. Instead I sat down with a cup of tea and thought bleakly, ‘What have I done?’…

When Stuart was three weeks old, I pushed him in his pram to the shops for the first time with our red setter Amber in tow. Outside the baker’s I tethered the dog to the pram and left Stuart outside with Amber while I bought a loaf and cakes. It was not until I got home, made myself a cup of tea and started eating my cake, that I realised something was amiss. My dog wasn’t there waiting for her usual titbit. So the first thought that impinged on me was: where is Amber? I missed the dog before it even occurred to me that I’d left Stuart outside the shop. I can’t say, even then, that I was worried. I just rang the baker to check Stuart and the dog were still outside, retrieved them and came home.

The result of this method and attitude of parenting?

I don’t believe either that Stuart or Jo sensed any coolness on my part, although Jo once said, ‘You never tell me you love me, Mum.’ And I didn’t, it’s true.

So as we debate about the importance of marriage, let’s remember that it is, of course, a debate about what marriage is in its essence. We defend marriage not just because we have strong opinions only about who can be married; we want to defend marriage in all of its essential aspects, significantly the bearing of children.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Tim Shaughnessy is a cradle Catholic living in Shreveport, Louisiana with undergraduate degrees in economics and political science from Kalamazoo College, and a Master’s and Ph.D. in economics from Florida State University. He teaches economics at the undergraduate and graduate level, and is a faculty advisor for the campus Catholic student organization. He has worked at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and was the first managing editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality while an undergraduate. He also worked for Representative Harold Voorhees in the Michigan state legislature. He serves the parish RCIA program as a sponsor and lecturer, and is active in parish and diocesan pro-life activities.

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