Protecting Traditional Marriage
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
The merits of protecting our country’s traditional understanding of marriage are being debated throughout our great nation today. This is a very complicated debate, and I have found that most people do not have a good grasp of the important subtleties of debate. If you happen to be one of these people, perhaps the following information may begin helping you acquire a more complete understanding of this debate.
However, before proceeding further, it should also be emphasized here that this article does not deliberately seek to discriminate against any group of people. But rather, for the reasons listed below, it is written to promote and protect our country’s traditional understanding of marriage.
Why Does Traditional Marriage Matter?
At a recent marriage enhancement workshop I was conducting, a workshop participant asked me the following questions. Why is it so important that we protect traditional marriage? And how does same-sex marriage affect traditional marriages?
How would you have answered these questions? Here is how I responded.
One of the most fundamental reasons why our country’s traditional understanding of marriage – that marriage is a one-flesh union between one man and one woman - is so important, is because men and women make babies, society needs babies to ensure its survival, and the institution of marriage protects babies’ well-being better than any other social institution. Moreover, regardless of race, creed or culture, societies across time have understood these basic assumptions and promoted some version of a one-flesh union between one man and one woman.
Traditional marriage is also important because it reduces the risk of poverty for children. Research indicates that the majority of children whose biological parents do not get married or fail to stay married experience at least a year of poverty. A high percentage will remain in a poverty stricken situation for much longer.
Research also indicates that boys in fatherless households are prone to become involved in crime. Boys who live without their biological father are two to three times more likely to end up in jail as adults.
Fatherless households also have a negative impact on their daughter’s well-being. For instance, girls living without their biological father are significantly more likely to be molested and become pregnant earlier than girls who live with their fathers.
When comparing married people, with singles, cohabitators and widowers, married people are more likely to live longer, healthier and happier lives. They are also more likely to enjoy financial stability. On average, married people are better off in virtually every measure of health and well-being.
Biological parents who do not marry, or marry and then divorce, put their children’s education at risk. These children tend to have lower grade point averages, are more likely to be held back in school, and be less likely to complete college, if they attend college.
Traditional marriage also matters because just living together is not the same as marriage, especially for children. Research suggests that children whose parents live together, but never marry, are at greater risk of domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect. These children are also three times more likely to experience their parents’ breakup by age five.
My own research (Interfaith Marriage Project) also indicates that children who live with both of their biological parents are more likely to attend church services regularly and identify with a faith group. This latter observation is particularly true of intermarried couples and their children.
And finally, when marriages fail, ties between parents and children generally weaken. One large national study suggests that 65% of adult children of divorce reported they were not close to their fathers.
What the Church Teaches
Together with the emotional, psychological, developmental and procreative benefits that spouses, children, families and society derive from marriage, our Orthodox Church also teaches that marriage between one man and one woman matters because it blesses spouses with a partner with whom they can struggle toward sanctification and salvation. It also serves to remind both individuals of the importance of community. Further, it reminds spouses that they are not islands, and that they are called into a community of marriage. It also teaches that marriages are embedded within a faith community that affords them a kind of safety net that protects intact families from the destructive effects of the secularization process permeating our society.
Lastly, what is our Holy Tradition’s position with regard to same-sex marriage? To assist me in answering this question I would like to quote from Father John Breck, a preeminent Orthodox New Testament and Ethics scholar. In his book entitled, The Sacred Gift of Life: Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics, he writes, “The fact that the homosexual orientation may be irreversible does not justify institutionalizing it and granting it social sanction by assimilating it to authentic marriage as God intended it (MK 10:6-9) and as Christ blessed it (JN 2:1-11).” Clearly, same sex marriage from an Orthodox perspective is one that simply does not fit into our understanding of marriage.
Make no mistake about it. There is a well organized, well funded vocal group in our country which is advocating that the definition of marriage be changed. Under the guise of Civil Rights law and charges of discrimination, this group is arguing both within and outside of our court system that the 21 st Century thing to do is expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
For the reasons I have cited above, and a number of reasons I did not list, as a result of certain divinely revealed truths embedded within Holy Tradition, our theology cannot support such an initiative. Further, should this nation determine that the gay community’s civil rights require protection – a decision I personally would not necessarily resist – I do not believe that the answer is to change the definition of marriage. As I have indicated above, the institution of marriage is too important to be tampered with any further. Moreover, in our divorce culture we should be doing everything we can to strengthen and protect the one-flesh understanding of marriage. This is part of our Holy Tradition and our great nation’s tradition. Yes, even to the point of supporting the Marriage Protection Amendment that is currently before Congress and is due to be voted upon by the Senate this summer.