It was about the twentieth time this year that I (Richard) had been drawn into a discussion about same sex marriage—at least the tenth time since the Supreme Court ruling—and I was getting tired of it.
Once, just once I thought, I would like to hear people discussing the much broader issue of why marriage is now thought of as irrelevant and even undesirable by most heterosexual couples.
Which is the bigger issue?
If we measure by the number of people directly affected, it is no contest. Estimates of the percentage of the U.S. population that is gay range between 2 and 4%. This leaves 96 to 98% heterosexuals, most of whom, seem to be devaluing or completely disregarding the value of marriage.
The largest threat to our society and to our economy is not the way people define marriage but how enthusiastically and committedly they participate in it. Sadly, particularly among the Millennial generation, fewer and fewer get married while more and more choose the lower-commitment option of cohabitation.
And that huge threat it is being largely obscured and ignored because of the smoke screen of Gay Marriage.
The big irony of course, if you judge by the headlines and the public dialogue, is that gays seem to be the only ones valuing, desiring, and jubilating in marriage.
As heterosexual marriage declines and cohabitation increases, children are the losers, and society is weakened. One paragraph from our recent book The Turning states:
“Cohabitation without marriage produces disastrous statistical results. Cohabiting relationships tend to be fragile and relatively short in duration; less than half of cohabiting relationships last five or more years and the divorce rates of women who cohabit are nearly 80 percent higher than those who do not. The major problem with cohabitation is that it is a tentative arrangement that lacks stability; no one can depend upon the relationship — not the partners, not the children, not the community, nor the society. In Europe, eight in ten people say they approve of unmarried cohabitation. In Scandinavia, 82% of firstborn children are born outside marriage.”
The justifications we often hear for the cohabitation option amount to tired old clichés like “You wouldn’t buy a car until you’d driven it,” or “Well, we plan to make the commitment of marriage after we are sure it is going to work.”
The problem with this logic is that what makes a marriage work is the commitment. Commitment is the start of a relationship that lasts, not the culmination of it. And the commitment of marriage is what lends security both to husband and wife and to the children that join them.
But back to the point of the smoke screen: If defenders of traditional marriage are consumed and preoccupied in fighting against same sex marriage, they are like a sports team that tries to shut down the opposing team but does not score any points for itself. People vigorously fighting gay marriage but doing little or nothing to advocate or promote heterosexual marriage are like a defense with no offense.
The best offense and the best way to make a difference is to celebrate commitment—the commitment of marriage.
The debate over gay marriage will go on, just as the abortion debate goes on. A Supreme Court ruling does not put an end to either issue. Society may still be divided over gay marriage in 50 years, just as we are still divided now on the abortion issue nearly 50 years after Roe v Wade.
The most extreme defenders say that gay marriage will destroy our culture and our economy and the future of our children. But in fact, what will have the greater adverse effect on all of these is the erosion of marriage among the other 96%
Personally, we happen to believe that the institution of marriage was instituted by God and that He defined it and continues to define it as a potentially eternal union between one man and one woman.
But whatever our personal position might be, each of us should ask the question of what threatens society most—the emergence of gay marriage or the disappearance of heterosexual marriage? Many will conclude that the answer is “both” but irrespective of politics or positions, those who consider themselves defenders of the traditional family may want to pay careful attention to the fact that most worthy efforts require an offense as well as a defense if they are to succeed.