Traditional marriage—the lifelong union of one man and one woman in love and fidelity—is good for couples, good for children and good for society.
That message was strongly conveyed during a panel discussion at which the keynote speakers were Archbishop Dolan and Johann Christoph Arnold, leader of the Bruderhof Church Communities, a Christian movement that is committed to Gospel values and traditional beliefs about life, marriage and the family.
Also discussed was the need to defend traditional marriage publicly and politically. Archbishop Dolan said that it is “not just a religious issue,” but also “an issue of responsible American citizenship.”
Arnold stressed that marriage is the foundation of any healthy civilization. “If marriage collapses, everything collapses,” he said.
The panel, titled “The Ring Makes the Difference,” took place Sept. 26 at the Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie. It was sponsored by Breaking the Cycle of Violence, a Bruderhof initiative. A capacity crowd of about 900 attended. Most were strong supporters of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
About 50 protesters stood quietly outside holding signs supporting same-sex marriage. During a question-and-answer session, several protesters came forward to speak in favor of same-sex marriage. When Archbishop Dolan responded to one person that there is no “right to redefine marriage,” the theater erupted in thunderous applause.
Traditional marriage is “antecedent to any political order; it’s written into the human heart,” the archbishop added.
Arnold said, “If we redefine marriage, we hijack marriage from our children.”
“Every child needs a father and a mother,” he added. “Every child longs to know, and be known by, the two people who brought them into this world, and to love and be loved by them. It is the two-parent family—which is not a human idea but a God-given institution—that must be cultivated, honored and protected.”
Also on the panel was W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, where he teaches sociology. He presented data from national studies showing that children fare best when they grow up in homes where their parents are married and living together.
He cited studies showing that marriage is stronger among better-educated Americans than those who are middle-class or poor. The reasons include the weak economy and unemployment, which put a strain on marriages. He also cited cultural factors such as increased acceptance of cohabitation.
Archbishop Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter Sept. 20 to President Obama urging him to end his administration’s “campaign against DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom.”
In his letter the archbishop noted that the Justice Department, which stated months ago that it will no longer defend DOMA in court, is now attacking DOMA’s constitutionality. He said that this move and “other troubling federal decisions” led him to express his “grave concerns.”
The U.S. bishops will support whatever the president does to strengthen marriage and the family, the archbishop said. He continued, “We cannot be silent, however, when federal steps harmful to marriage, the laws defending it, and religious freedom continue apace.”
Arnold, who is a German immigrant, expressed full agreement.
“I love this nation,” Arnold said, “but we are on a dangerous road. And we the believing people, the churches, we have to raise our voices and proclaim that God is still in control…We are here because we believe that marriage between one man and one woman, for life, is the bedrock of families in our civilization.” Archbishop Dolan made four points in his panel presentation:
First, the defense of traditional marriage is “a natural law issue” and “an American issue.”
“Our nation exists to defend natural law, not offend it,” he said.
Second, it is not “an anti-gay issue.” He said that those who attended the panel were not anti-gay but “pro-marriage” and opposed to cohabitation, divorce, adultery and polygamy.
Third, he cited “ominous threats to religious liberty,” including attempts to keep people of faith from bringing their convictions into the public forum, and dismissing religious faith as a personal matter with no bearing on public life. “America needs and depends on the vigorous free exercise of religion,” he said.
Fourth, those who support traditional marriage must not only defend it from outside attack, but also rediscover within themselves “the rapture, the awe, the challenge” that marriage offers. For many people, he said, “marriage has lost the luster of its God-given enchantment.”
Arnold spoke of the strength that husbands and wives give to each other.
“I am only here because my wife, Verena, stood by me for 45 years,” he said, and he gestured toward her, seated with the panel. “We’ve had difficult times, but we’ve had also very joyful times.” They have eight children and 42 grandchildren.
“The family as we know it has become an endangered species,” Arnold said. “So let us join hands to protect the family from further deterioration…Choose love, choose life.”
The Rev. Jesse V. Bottoms Jr., pastor of Beulah Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie, gave the invocation. Elizabeth Marquardt, vice president for family studies and director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, was the panel moderator.