Traditional Marriage: An Endangered Species
by Mary Ann Kreitzer
In the past century the relentless attack on the institution of marriage has made it an endangered species. Individuals like Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, John Rock and Gregory Pincus, inventors of the pill, feminist leaders like Betty Friedan, gay activists and liberal politicians have all worked diligently to relegate traditional marriage to the ash heap of history. Unfortunately, some ostensibly Catholic laity and even priests and religious have joined them. In light of this, can the institution survive or is it in danger of extinction? Statistics paint a grim picture with more than 43% of first marriages failing.1 Failures rise with multiple marriages. And many cohabitating couples never marry at all. It’s not surprising that this should happen in the century which, according to a vision of Pope Leo XIII, God gave Satan free reign to do his worst.2 But statistics never tell the entire story and, for the Christian, anthropology is incomplete without recognizing God’s intervention. He always gives hope.
The History of Marriage
Marriage is as old as the human species. In fact, the union of man and woman in a monogamous attachment predates recorded history. The prominent 19th and early 20th century Finnish anthropologist, Edvard Westermarck, who was anything but a Christian moralist, and, in fact, admired Charles Darwin, wrote this in his landmark work, The History of Human Marriage:
This is the natural law of marriage which began at the dawn of human history when God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” and gave Adam a fitting companion in Eve. He directed them to “multiply and fill the earth.” The good of marriage and family is shown by the patriarchs – Noah and his family, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah. Although not perfect, their marriages showed fruitfulness and faithfulness to God and proclaimed married life as a blessing. The books of Tobit and Ruth and the Song of Songs graphically illustrate God’s approval and blessing of married love.
Jesus, however, raised natural marriage to the level of a sacrament. At the wedding feast of Cana when he performed His first miracle changing water into wine, he demonstrated clearly the sanctity of marriage and God’s pleasure in it – shown by His abundant generosity. St. Luke tells us the jars for ceremonial washing held 15 - 25 gallons each.4 Jesus didn’t ask the servants to fill one or two, but all six. And the water made wine was so superlative the steward expressed his surprise to the bridegroom for “saving” the best until last. This story shows how great the “wine” of sacramental marriage is compared to natural marriage which preceded it. The wine can also be seen as a metaphor for grace poured out on those joined in the sacramental covenant. Just as the wine was more than enough to keep the party going, God’s sacramental grace is more than sufficient to enable the couple to keep their vows and build a strong family.
The Impact of Margaret Sanger and Feminism
Is it any wonder that Satan attacks so viciously this sacrament, the building block of society? No! To attack marriage and family is to strike at the root of the kingdom of God on earth. And examining just a few of the attacks on marriage reveals the stench of the diabolical. The attack began with the fall of man, but in the past 100 years has become increasingly vicious.
Let’s begin the review of the 20th century by examining Margaret Sanger who, in 1921, founded the American Birth Control League, the forerunner of Planned Parenthood. She used its newsletter, The Birth Control Review, to expound her radical views against marriage. Sanger called the marriage bed, “the most degenerative influence in the social order”5 and considered adultery a right. She worked unceasingly for better means to prevent births writing that “[Our objective is] unlimited sexual gratification without the burden of unwanted children."6 Babies, she believed, are the enemy of marriage as she stated in her book, Woman and the New Race. In Chapter V, The Wickedness of Creating Large Families,7 Sanger made the absurd statement that the “most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children.”8 But she went even further writing that, “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” 9 What a paragon of motherly love!
Sanger herself was unfaithful to her husband, William, and had affairs with sexologist Havelock Ellis and author H.G. Wells among others. Ellis influenced Sanger with his practice of open marriage which drove his own wife to suicide. Sanger happily engaged in adultery saying that a woman’s physical satisfaction was more important than her marriage vows. It was also more important than her children, one of whom, daughter Peggy, died of pneumonia shortly after her mother returned from cavorting with her foreign lovers. Sanger reflected many of the views of her mentor, Emma Goldman, another birth control pioneer who was also an anarchist and a founder of the American Communist Party. Goldman often sold Sanger’s magazine at her lectures and speeches and called the younger woman her “dear girl” in correspondence.
It’s easy to see Sanger’s influence on her feminist sisters of the 60s. Like Sanger, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, Molly Yard, etc. considered marriage a prison. Friedan actually described the suburban home as a “comfortable concentration camp.” Her book, The Feminist Mystique has been called tame by later more radical feminist standards, but she certainly echoed Sanger’s disdain for motherhood as a vocation and set the stage for her bra-burning sisters.
Contraceptives Poison Marriage
Sanger’s philosophy was boosted exponentially by “the pill,” the first oral contraceptive, developed by Dr. John Rock and biologist Gregory Pincus. Sanger, who arranged early research funding, could be described as the mother of “the pill.” The FDA approved the drug in 1959 and it hit the market in1960, although in some states it was not legal until the Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut (June 1965) which overthrew the Comstock Laws banning sale of contraceptives. Sanger lived to see the landmark decision that paved the way for abortion on demand by raising “privacy” to a constitutional right.
Sanger’s birth control movement and the availability of “the pill” poisoned marriage by separating its two ends, the unitive and procreative. The love and unity of the couple and the potential for a given marital act to bring forth new life are inextricably bound together in total giving. The act, to be authentic, must say, “I love you so much, I give you everything I have including my capacity to create new life.” Obviously, every sex act isn’t fruitful because the woman is only fertile for a few days each cycle, but deliberately frustrating the possibility of life attacks the goodness of God’s gift and speaks a lie. Instead of saying, “I give all of myself,” the contracepting couple withholds their fertility from each other and deliberately frustrate the natural end of the act. Living that kind of lie is a marriage killer as statistics show. Professor Janet Smith in her talk, Contraception Why Not, describes the work of social scientist Robert Michael who in a random study of couples and sex found that as contraception became more widely practiced, divorce grew. In fact, the divorce rate doubled from 1965 to 1975 increasing at the same rate as contraceptive use.10
Government Policies Kill Marriage
While contraception destabilized and killed marriages, government action delivered another major blow. Welfare policies of the 60s and the no-fault divorce policy of the 70s and 80s rewarded the breakup of the family unit. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society fueled, with federal money, an explosion of births to unwed mothers, mostly minorities. The black family, already under siege as described in Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 Moynihan Report, was particularly impacted. Uncle Sam became Daddy to a generation of black youth growing up without fathers and often with immature girls as mothers. Prior to 1960, almost 80% of black children grew up in intact homes. By 1990 the number was closer to 33%. 11 Johnson’s expansion of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Act (mostly fatherless families) encouraged girls to set up house away from home and have numerous children out of wedlock to increase benefits.
The Impact of No-Fault Divorce
No fault divorce, which first appeared in California in 1970 and expanded to most states over the next 15 years, did to the white family what welfare did to the black family. It drove dads from the home and deprived children of two parents.
No-fault divorce is not, as many believe, a mutual agreement to divorce. More often, it’s the unilateral decision of one spouse, usually the wife, to end the marriage. It becomes the obligation of the higher wage earner, usually the father, to pay... and pay: the court, the lawyers, the court-appointed psychologists, etc. Dad is the cash cow who keeps the immoral system afloat. According to Phyllis Schlafly, the “system has produced a tremendous divorce-custody-child-support industry, with well-paying work for lawyers and non-parents who pretend to be experts. It's in their financial interest to minimize the father's custody, visitation and authority so that he will keep paying and paying to win time with his own children.”12
Political science professor Dr. Stephen Baskerville, author of The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family, says “no fault divorce is not eroding the family; it is quite deliberately dismantling it." 13 Baskerville believes that the movement toward same sex “marriage” is a “symptom of how debased marriage has already become, not a cause of it.” In no fault divorce, says Baskerville, "The innocent spouse generally loses his children, his home and property, and his freedom for literally 'no fault' of his own and for any failure to cooperate with the divorce." In fact, the courts often punish the recalcitrant spouse who dares to resist the divorce.
One of the most insidious realities of no fault divorce is that, in order to secure custody of the children, one spouse, usually the wife, often makes false charges of child abuse. The accused spouse is generally evicted from the home, forced to pay child support, and denied contact with his children. Sometimes the children are badgered until they “admit” falsely that Daddy did, indeed, molest them.
Mothers aren’t immune from persecution either. Bai MacFarlane, wife of Bud MacFarlane, Jr. of The Mary Foundation lost her children when her husband abandoned the family and filed for no fault divorce. The four children who were home schooled ended up back in traditional school and the youngest in day care. The spouse who defends the bond, as Bai did, almost always loses the children through the antagonistic court system. In fact, no fault divorce is an unqualified disaster for marriage and the family. So much so that many voices are calling for changes. In 1996, Emory University professor Michael S. Berger wrote in the Emory Report:
The original intention of relaxing the divorce laws was to allow individuals trapped in bad marriages to exit easily. However, as noble as this objective may have been, demographers' surveys have shown that the number of unhappy marriages has not dwindled; to the contrary, there are far fewer happy marriages. As Maggie Gallagher, the author of "The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love," recently reported in The New York Times, recent studies have linked no-fault divorce with the steep rise in the rate of divorce over the last 25 years. Even the effort to make divorce less bitter failed; Judith Wallerstein's studies indicate that five years after the divorce, 50 percent of all couples were still engaged in conflict.”
Berger goes on to say:
I think there are several reasons for raising the barriers to divorce. First, a society uses its legal system not only to punish but to convey its values, both to itself and to the next generation. By allowing marriage to be dissolved easily and unilaterally, we essentially state what sort of commitment we deem marriage to be….The hard work in a marriage is after the wedding, not before. An easy exit allows for people to run away from their problems, rather than face them or deal with them. This does not mean every difficulty in a marriage is soluble; but nor does it mean that every source of tension is grounds for divorce. We deprive our children of a basic life skill when we say that the solution to every problem -- or even just to boredom -- is to walk away from it. 14
Berger calls for a tougher approach to divorce:
Almost a thousand years ago, the Jewish tradition tackled this issue. Some, such as the Maimonides (12th century), favored granting women wider latitude in their ability to ask the courts to press the husbands to divorce them. Others, such as Rabbi Gershom (10th century), preferred to make it more difficult for the man to divorce his wife by requiring her consent. Ultimately, normative Jewish law came down on the side of Rabbi Gershom, suggesting that policies that foster stable homes are preferable to ones that facilitate divorce.15
The Impact of Gay Marriage
Is the push for same sex “marriage” a symptom of the current dissolution of the institution or the final nail in the coffin? Baskerville believes that “gay” marriage is only an issue because of the infidelity and divorce of heterosexual couples. He quotes gay activist Andrew Sullivan who told the New Republic, "The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates preceded gay marriage…. All homosexuals are saying…is that, under the current definition, there's no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is…a denial of basic civil equality." 16 There is certainly some justification in this accusation.
Nevertheless, same-sex marriage is a sham that diminishes traditional marriage by its assumption of equality with it. Such a distorted view of sex and marriage particularly impacts the young, confusing their ideas about human sexuality and tempting many to engage in dangerous sexual experimentation. Government approval can only add to the assault on traditional marriage, not just morally and psychologically, but economically as well. Marriage confers economic rights funded by the taxpayer, for example, pension, social security, and medical benefits. These will be paid for by taxation and higher prices, most of which will be paid by the married middle class who are often struggling to make ends meet already. That, in itself, will put further stress on traditional marriage since financial problems are a leading cause of marital discord. In view of the fact that most homosexual couples do not have children and are better educated and more prosperous than their heterosexual counterparts,17 the economic windfall will discriminate against families that must subsidize it.
The “Catholic” Betrayal
Perhaps the most egregious attack on marriage is the one coming from within. Among the voices raised against the Church’s traditional understanding of human sexuality and marriage are organized lay groups like Catholics for Equality as well as renegade priests and religious. A number of liberal Catholic parishes around the country, like Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco, St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan, and the Paulist Center in Boston support gay pride events, criticize legislation like Proposition 8 that defend traditional marriage, and even give a Church platform to homosexual advocates.
Fr. Richard Sparks, when head of Berkley’s Newman Center held an annual “Pride Mass.” According to California Catholic Daily, in 2005 “Fr. Sparks invited Protestants, Buddhists, and anyone else to receive communion. The Mass contained a ‘Reflections’ segment before the readings where a homosexual and a lesbian each gave a testimony. The lesbian described how she met her current same-sex partner at a retreat (presumably a gay Catholic retreat) and how their relationship progressed.”18 Despite numerous similar examples of shocking statements, Sparks, a Paulist, remains in good standing and continues to scandalize and undermine Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. He is among the heretics who regularly speak at Cardinal Roger Mahony’s scandalous West Coast Religious Education Conference that trains thousands of catechists.
Recently two Minnesota priests, Fr. Rene McGraw, a Benedictine at St. John’s University in Collegeville and Fr. Michael Tegeder, a pastor in Bloomington, publicly defied Archbishop John Nienstedt over his defense of traditional marriage. (See Millstone Awards.) And these examples of renegade priests are just a few among the many.
Can Traditional Marriage Survive?
In human terms it looks like marriage is finished. The culture accepts easy divorce, cohabitation, contraception, anti-life technologies like in vitro fertilization and cloning, the murder of the innocent, and is well on the way to accepting same-sex “marriage.” No society sinking into moral depravity to the degree we see in the U.S. has ever recovered. Nonetheless, even if the U.S. ceases to exist, marriage will survive among a remnant. Just as the early Christians, living through the collapse of the depraved Roman Empire, remained faithful to the laws of God, a remnant of today’s Catholics will continue to be faithful whether the laws and policies change or not.
Jesus gave us the prescription for living in an age of injustice when he spoke of the widow who kept nagging the unjust judge. The man finally gave in, not because of conversion, but weariness. Jesus used the story to encourage his followers to “pray always,” and so we must. But note, at the end of the parable he asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?” The answer for the serious Catholic must be “Absolutely yes! You will find me and my family doing our very best to pass on the faith emphasizing its beauty and goodness.” The pagans recognized the Christians by the way they “loved one another.” That must be true again!
The dissolution of marriage is a sign of the over-individualism of a culture whose motto is “I have a right to be happy!” The unspoken end to the motto is… “no matter who gets hurt.” Most marriages break down due to selfishness. Ironically, however, it is only in dying to self, picking up the cross, and following Christ that one can find true happiness. Every illicit pleasure turns to dust and ashes. Those who truly love God must resist the individualism of a plugged in, tuned out culture where people commune more with their i-pods and i-pads than with each other. We most reflect the image of God interacting in a community of love. That fundamental community is the married couple who images the relationship of the Holy Trinity where the love between the Father and the Son is so potent it generates the Holy Spirit eternally.
The attacks on marriage will continue as long as we muddle on through life in this “vale of tears.” The devil will continue to inspire new assaults little different from the old ones. And those with feet firmly stuck in the mud of the world will listen to its prince and see his lies as intelligent insights. They will call their chains jewels and their jails palaces. Those who recognize the slavery for what it is, must continue to work to free those imprisoned by sin fully aware that ridicule and persecution are their likely rewards. But the pain and sacrifice of fidelity to the truth is a source of grace that will finally make the devil’s conspiracy crumble to dust.
St. Paul tells us there are only three things that last: faith, hope, and charity. They are the rocks that support marriage, and those couples who build their lives firmly on them have nothing to fear. Their marriages will survive and their families thrive despite the snares and assaults of the world. And, by God’s grace, others will be converted through their witness. Remember the words of Joshua, “As for me and my house; we will serve the Lord.” That’s a prescription for a lifelong, happy marriage.
2 The vision of Pope Leo XIII took place on Oct. 13, 1884. The pope heard a conversation between God and Satan with the devil asking for time and power to destroy the Church. The Lord gave him permission to try. The pope responded by calling for the exorcism prayer of St. Michael to be recited in all churches.
4 John 2:6.
5 Margaret Sanger (editor). The Woman Rebel, Volume I, Number 1. Reprinted in Woman and the New Race. New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922
11 Linda Malone-Colon, Responding to the Black Marriage Crisis, Center for Marriage and Families, Research Brief No. 6, Future of the Black Family Series.
13 James Tillman, No-Fault Divorce a Greater threat to Marriage than Gay 'Marriage', LifeSiteNews.com, Sept. 2010.
Peter Sprigg and Timothy Dailey, Co-Editors, Keeping it Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality, Family Research Council, 2004, pp. 55-68.
“Do you think Joseph ever wanted to jump her bones?”, California Catholic Daily, Feb. 21, 2007.