On Nov. 6, Maryland voters will decide on whether to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. The potential implications of this amendment for our society are profound. Same-sex marriage is a polarizing issue and, in some instances, has deteriorated into an "us against them" debate. We must respectfully consider all viewpoints, which evoke strong emotions from both sides, because we cannot afford to get this wrong. It should be less about who is right or wrong and more about what is best for our society today and going forward. Let us seek truth, not victory.
Before we talk about redefining it, let's talk about what marriage is and what it isn't. Marriage is an institution that predates our government, society and any religion. It legitimizes the only way to create, and the best way to raise, our next generation. Marriage originates from the unique relationship between a man and a woman, and their exclusive ability, grounded in nature, to conceive children and to nurture those children as a mother and a father. In short, marriage protects the source of life. Marriage is not simply something that validates the love that two people share for each other. It's much more than that.
Government has a vested interest in ensuring that our children, the next generation, are raised in the best way possible. Unfortunately, we all know that this isn't always achievable, but that doesn't mean that we give up and stop seeking the best. It means we try harder. We shouldn't dilute the institution of marriage by expanding its definition.
There are many studies that show a child's best chance for success in life is to be raised by both a mother and a father, but we don't need statistics or data to know this. Common sense tells us. We may not all be blessed with a mother and a father, but we know it nonetheless. We feel the void when one is missing. We know the roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable or genderless. Each brings something distinct yet complementary to the family unit. Mothers and fathers play with their kids differently, discipline differently and love differently. Children need and deserve a wholeness and completeness that comes from both a mom and a dad.
If marriage is only about recognizing the love between two people, then why shouldn't the government bestow the benefits of marriage on two elderly sisters living together? Or two heterosexual men who are college roommates? If Maryland dismantles marriage, then what is the rational basis for deciding which relationships the government will recognize?
The institution of marriage is under attack by many different forces in our culture today. But it is the basic foundation of our society. To further damage it will cause increased cultural erosion. Redefining marriage is not the answer during these hard times. Rededication to marriage and family is.
And keep in mind that we don't need to redefine marriage to give same-sex couples legal rights and benefits. Indeed, in the state of Maryland, same-sex couples already receive benefits, such as hospital visitation, medical and end-of-life decision making, state health benefits, tax breaks and many more.
Advocates of same-sex marriage have attempted to take ownership of some of the key language in this debate. I have heard that this about "love" — but you can love and commit to whomever you want until death do you part; the government is not involved in issues of love. Or, it's about "equality" — but right now, everyone has the same rights under the law, and it says everyone can marry one person from the opposite sex. Or it's been called a "civil rights" issue — but this would be laughable if it wasn't so offensive to the struggles that African-Americans endured in this country. And lastly, "discrimination" — but the government does not discriminate against same-sex couples when promoting the natural definition of marriage; it differentiates certain behaviors. There is a huge difference.
Although my Catholic faith is strong, and I do not apologize for this, marriage is not just a religious institution. Governments and societies have long recognized that the institution of marriage is foundational and gives societies order, peace and strength. Whether you are married or single, heterosexual or homosexual, everyone benefits from a culture that promotes the natural definition of marriage between one man and one woman.
To be for marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not to be against any one person or group of people. Supporters of traditional marriage did not seek this issue out. It came to us. But we can no longer be quiet, and we will not be intimidated.
We like to complain about our politicians being self serving, looking out for themselves instead of the common good. It is time for us, as citizens, to lead the way. Vote this November, and when you do, join me in voting against Question 6.
Matt Birk plays center for the Baltimore Ravens.