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Marriage is a natural institution that precedes even established society. Its main purpose is to provide a safe and stable environment to insure society of its only source of perpetuation: the creation of new individuals. Parents, moreover, are naturally charged with the rearing and education of their children.
Because of that mission, the institution of marriage has had a special place in society, spanning all times and all cultures. Our society grants married couples special privileges and recognition because of the fundamental service they provide.
Because of the purpose and mission of marriage, it is essential to it that it be formed of one man and one woman who donate themselves to one another and generously welcome the new life that results from their embrace.
Does the institution of marriage discriminate against individuals? Of course it does. Close relatives cannot marry; adults cannot marry minors and you can still have only one spouse at a time. No credible group labels those restrictions as discriminatory, even though in those cases the purpose of marriage could, in principle, be fulfilled. How is it, then, that preventing two individuals of the same-sex from marrying is a form of discrimination?
Those advancing the cause of the redefinition of marriage often characterize the position of the Catholic Church as discriminatory and bigoted against homosexuals. Nothing is farther from the truth. The Church's opposition to the redefinition of marriage is a principled one that confronts all attempts to weaken the institution no matter where those attempts originate.
As for individuals with a homosexual orientation, the Church shows love and respect for them and teaches that unjust discrimination should be decried.
But the challenge we are facing is a different one: the preservation of marriage as a meaningful institution that can effectively carry out its mission. Our culture increasingly presents marriage as an institution that exists to celebrate love between individuals, disconnecting it from its social purpose. According to what seems to be the prevailing view in western society, if two individuals establish a stable relationship, it should be granted all the privileges of and the title of marriage.
However, society bestows the privileges associated with marriage because of its interest in the creation, sustenance and education of their children. Even when the purpose of marriage cannot be fully fulfilled due to age, sterility or other factors, the icon of the complementarity of the sexes speaks of an inherent characteristic of marriage. The vision of marriage as based on adult relationships is in fact a distortion of the institution.
Defending the Defense of Marriage Act promotes the common good by preventing marriage from being emptied of meaning and thus becoming irrelevant. Catholics should not be fooled either by a sentimental concept of marriage as a rubberstamp for any kind of committed relationship or by the notion that opposing the redefinition of marriage is bigotry, even if that is what the current administration seems to be implying.