Worth protecting

The Baltimore Sun

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. The proposal presumes to invalidate religious opposition by exempting religious institutions from performing same-sex marriages - an unnecessary exemption, as no church can be forced to marry anyone. Proponents of same-sex marriage - as well as such marriage-equivalency arrangements as civil unions and domestic partnerships - claim that bills to legally create those relationships deal only with civil law and should be of no concern to people of faith.

Those assumptions ignore the contribution that religion offers to the public square, and the common interest of government and religion in marriage. That contribution is an understanding of the human person that compels a consistent defense of human dignity. That common interest is the acknowledgment that the union of one man and one woman is the only possible source of - and their married relationship the best possible environment for - the children who will become society's next generation.

The preservation of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not a social prejudice. It is a fact of nature, the recognition of which precedes both church and civil law. As the Maryland Court of Appeals commented last year in upholding the state's marriage statute, "In light of the fundamental nature of procreation ... safeguarding an environment most conducive to the stable propagation and continuance of the human race is a legitimate government interest."

That interest extends to legal relationships - often called civil unions or domestic partnerships - that confer marriage equivalency on unmarried couples. Those proposals reduce marriage to simply one relationship among many and, like same-sex marriage legislation, ignore the unique capacity of one man and one woman to create life.

Whether a heterosexual couple chooses - or is even able - to have children is a private concern, beyond the purview of the law. Again, as the Maryland court noted, "the fundamental right to marriage and its ensuing benefits are conferred on opposite-sex couples ... because of the possibility of procreation," inherent in the physical nature of the relationship.

It is upon this point that the comparison between interracial and same-sex marriage also falls apart. Unlike Maryland's current marriage statute, anti-miscegenation laws were purposefully discriminatory. They explicitly prohibited marriage between the races for one ugly reason: the desire to prevent the "mixing" of the races manifestly evidenced in the offspring of interracial marriages. Those laws violated the common humanity shared by blacks and whites and were overturned in recognition of the right of a man and woman of different races to bring children into the world. Loving v. Virginia declared that a black man is not different from a white man, but no court or legislature can declare that a man is not different from a woman.

Other parts of the law are likewise concerned with procreation. The prohibition on marriage between blood relatives is directly tied to concerns about the genetic background of a couple's children. Indeed, the Maryland court wrote that a "right to marry" exists only because of marriage's "inextricable link to procreation, which necessarily and biologically involves participation ... by a man and a woman."

The claim that the state should redefine marriage because same-sex couples are denied rights and benefits is unwarranted. Advance directives and power of attorney are already available to secure medical decision-making rights. Gay couples are permitted by regulation to adopt children in Maryland. Last year, the General Assembly mandated the extension of health and life insurance benefits to domestic partners at the request of an employer.

If there are other situations that merit extending certain rights and benefits heretofore limited to married couples, the legislature should consider doing so in ways that do not alter the definition of marriage or grant marriage equivalency to unmarried couples.

The purpose of civil marriage is not to grant legal status to a couple's emotional commitment but to foster an institution that in turn fosters new life. To erase from law the uniqueness of the relationship between men and women and the distinction of that relationship from any other - whether that union assumes the legal title of marriage, civil union or domestic partnership - would be to deny to future generations a recognition of the natural origin that lies at the core of our nature as human beings.

Whether or not we agree about the creator, we can agree that each of us was created through the union of one man and one woman.

Richard J. Dowling is executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. His e-mail is rjd@mdcathcon.org.

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