Marriage Crossroads

Last Sunday, at a mostly-full Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, hundreds of couples from throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore came together to celebrate the sacred call that is the vocation to married life.

The special liturgy, occurring the same Sunday each February, marks our Church’s celebration of World Marriage Day and is an opportunity to recognize all married couples, from the newly-wed to the more seasoned married veterans among us!

It was my fourth time celebrating World Marriage Day here in the Archdiocese and the most important to date, given the many threats to marriage that exist in our society today.

Anyone who has paid attention to the news this past week realizes how much the media, politicians and others in our state are focusing on the institution of marriage. And it’s not just a local preoccupation, as the eyes of the nation are focused squarely on Maryland to see if it will become the sixth state in our nation, along with the District of Columbia, to redefine the most fundamental social institution our society knows.

I first wrote about the Church’s serious concerns about such a change to our state’s law about a month ago, just after the start of the 2011 General Assembly session. Since then, the first of several bills has been heard and a committee vote is expected imminently. Given that six of 11 committee members are sponsors of the bill, it is expected to reach the full Senate floor, where the fate of the bill is uncertain. Thus, our defense of traditional marriage must be vigorous and urgent.

It is precisely because of its importance to society that the Church and others of good will are working tirelessly in defending marriage.

Maryland’s law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not an arbitrary recognition of one relationship with many possibilities. This recognition – bestowed on marriage by societies throughout human history – originates in a simple biological fact. The union of one man and one woman is the only relationship capable of creating children and nurturing them together as father and mother.

In the view of the American Catholic bishops, marriage between one man and one woman, with a view toward family, is a basic human and social institution … indeed, the most basic of such institutions. True, the institution of marriage is regulated by civil law and Church law, but it preceded them both. It originated from neither, but from God. Therefore, neither the Church nor state can alter its basic meaning and structure.

Marriage, whose nature and purpose are established by God, can only be the union of a man and woman. The law should not have it otherwise.

Indeed, that marriage is a joining of man and woman, involving the gift of offspring, has been the cherished standard of Western culture, time immemorial. Of all human relationships, Western law has always regarded marriage with special significance and accorded it special privileges. In doing so, it has reflected the universally accepted understanding that healthy marriages require the protection of law if our culture is to promote the welfare of its future generations.

Pope Benedict XVI recently said passing legislation or adopting policies that recognize “forms of unions, which distort the essence and purpose of the family end up penalizing those who, with much effort, commit themselves to living a life whose bonds are marked by stable intimacy … ”

Stripping marriage of its unique connection to parenthood erases from law the right of a child to a mother and father, and ignores an essential question of why government favors marriage between one man and one woman over all other relationships.

As I pointed out in my earlier column, the benefits of healthy marriages to children and society are above reproach. Some of the statistics bear repeating. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children raised by parents in healthy marriages are:

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.