Why the definition of marriage matters

A couple holds hands showing their weddi
A couple holds hands showing their wedding rings in a file photo from October 10, 2010.

By B. Gehling

B. Gehling, Plymouth, is a physical therapist and a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network. He and his wife are expecting their first child in October.

Marriage has always been understood as the union of one man and one woman. Now there are revisionists who argue that marriage needs to be redefined.

Revisionists argue that the definition of marriage — as being lived faithfully, permanently and exclusively between one man and one woman, and open to the raising of children — now has reason to change. I see no reason. On the contrary, I see numerous reasons to amend the Constitution to uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

My personal experience deeply affects my opinion on the proposed amendment. I grew up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota. If I was not in school or playing basketball, you would have found me doing livestock chores, hauling grain, baling hay or plowing the field.

I shared in this labor with my family, but most closely with my father, who was my role model. In fact, I was fortunate to spend a good amount of time with both parents on a daily basis. I was also raised Roman Catholic and willingly attended Mass every Sunday with my entire family. But none of these facts was as crucial to my development as this one: the marriage of my father and mother.

My biological parents lived and continue to live their marriage. Their marriage has had no purpose but to freely, permanently and exclusively give themselves to one another in love. For my parents, this mutual giving resulted in a tight unity for them, and they were gifted with three children. They love my brother, my sister and me as a natural extension of their love for one another.

Since my parents live a true marriage, my childhood and adulthood have been exceptional. Every unique marriage lived between a man and woman for the purpose of love, growth in holiness and openness to the potential of children is exceptional because true marriage, as God created it, is exceptional.

One does not need to be Catholic, or follow any religion whatsoever, to understand why true marriage is, and always has been, between one man and one woman for the good of children and thus the whole of society. What is marriage, objectively speaking? My response will particularly keep in mind children. Children are most at risk if not protected by marriage and are the very hope of a stable and thriving society in the future.

It is through bodily union, a complete giving of one's self, that marriage is established permanently and exclusively. True marriage is a free, total, faithful and fruitful giving of one to another, and this must necessarily include the body. Not only does a married couple share a union of hearts and minds that must not be broken, but the couple gives something unique to one another, something that no other friendship or relationship can give — their very bodies.

True union from a natural and biological perspective can only occur between one man and one woman. Thus marriage, defined from this perspective, can be nothing other than shared between one man and one woman.

We have to remember that what we are voting on is a definition of marriage that is objective. No one person is entitled to everything. A person may not have the absolute right to marry if the definition of marriage does not fit his or her situation, just as, for example, a man does not have a right to enter a woman's restroom even if he feels more comfortable to do so, because the woman's bathroom is defined and understood as for woman only, ultimately for the stability of society.

Let's look at the issue from another perspective — through the eyes of a child. After all, marriage is not only about true union of minds, hearts and bodies, but also is open to the possibility of children.

I love my parents — both of my parents. There is a place deep in my heart reserved for both my mother and my father. The presence of both of my parents was crucial to my development, as I related to each of them differently — my mother as tender, merciful and caring, and my father as an example to help me form my own identity as a man.

We all know that not every child is lucky enough to grow up with both Mom and Dad, for various reasons. This is indeed unfortunate, but not a logical reason for redefining marriage.

According to the Ruth Institute, on average, children from stepparent households have more emotional problems and worse school performance than children who live with their biological parents. The stepparent may also exclude himself or herself from discipline, as the dynamics can be complicated in the family. Loyalties between child and spouse can be more complicated in a stepparent household, whereas in biologically intact families, loving the child is an extension of loving the spouse.

Because the father has a unique role in his daughter's life, teenage girls without fathers are at greater risk for early sexual activity, multiple sex partners, sexually transmitted diseases and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Teenage boys without fathers are more at risk for violent behavior, criminal activity and incarceration. The list goes on and on.

If marriage is redefined, fatherhood becomes no longer essential or even important. When marriage is no longer exceptional, the costs are high, and the children pay the price.

The implications of not accepting the marriage amendment would affect everyone legally and possibly result in a further loss of basic constitutional freedoms. The true definition of marriage, as it has always been implied, would be changed. Since the state has now given us the choice to define marriage as it is already understood, it is our duty and privilege as citizens to vote yes for the amendment.

Make no mistake: A traditional marriage cannot stand side by side with a "same-sex marriage," because the new definition would make no distinction of sex. Traditional marriage would be replaced by other state definitions, and thus the implied traditional marriage definition would be eliminated forever. The new definition would be the only legally recognized definition of marriage. Any citizen, business or religious organization whose own beliefs disagreed with the new definition of marriage would face legal consequences, and a loss of our freedom of speech and religion would result.

None of my comments are directed toward homosexuals, or anyone else for that matter. Homosexuality and the marriage amendment are two very different things. This is not a personal attack on anyone, but rather a statement of objective truths for the defense of the definition of marriage as it has always been understood. That definition now needs to be upheld by our "yes" vote.