By DONALD DeMARCO
President Obama on June 14 delivered a commencement address to some 8,000 members of the graduating class of the University of California at Irvine. During his presentation, although his principal topic was the environment, he wanted to impress upon the graduates how much “progress” has taken place under his administration and since they graduated from high school. To this end, he including the statistic that “the number of states where you’re free to marry who [sic] you love has more than doubled.”
While setting aside any concern for good grammar and common sense, he urged the members of his audience to fight climate change.
The president’s reduction of marriage to the alleged love one person has for an unidentified other is an echo from the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision granting the “right” to same-sex marriage. According to the wisdom of the court, “The right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one’s choice.” Did the court really believe that marriage does not include mutual consent? Does the president of the world’s most powerful nation really believe that anyone who declares his love for another, whether he is already married, under-aged, or related to another member of his family, can simply take another for his spouse?
Not only is Obama’s view of marriage at variance with that of virtually everyone else on the planet, it denies the right to say “No”! How can something be a “right” if it denies the “right” of another? Is the president aware of the implications of his rather loose understanding of marriage? Can one lovable person (let us say Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie) be required to marry any number of people simply because those people think they have the right to marry them? The implications of polygamy here are most apparent. Being shanghaied into marriage is hardly consistent with progress.
Obama believes that progress in marriage means moving into a dream world where anyone can happily marry any other person he chooses. One of the reasons that a real marriage — between a man and a woman who agree to take on the duties and difficulties of marriage — has been honored throughout history and the world-over is its intense realism. A successful marriage does not occur in a dream world. It requires far more than one person’s love. It also requires mutual consent, compatibility, commitment, openness to new life, the readiness to love and educate one’s offspring.
The world of dreams is devoid of obstacles or qualifications. An athlete need not train in order to be great, a person is a skilled surgeon without having to study medicine, and a musician achieves world prominence without ever having to practice. Marriage is not a dream; it is the fundamental cell of a civilized society. It demands the tempering of instinct, the cultivation of virtue, and the hard and faithful work that makes a house a home.
The road to a dream world is through extreme permissiveness. By making things increasingly easy, one reaches the point where one accomplishes nothing. It is reminiscent of the recipe for making instant water: All you need to do is add water. To reduce marriage to one person’s choice is not only to turn marriage into a travesty, but to destroy it and bring untold hardship to society.
As St. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families (1994), “No society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family.”
This dream world, however, soon becomes a nightmare. It is understandable why the Church vigorously and unceasingly defends the real identity of marriage. Given Obama’s take on marriage, it is disconcerting to read John Paul’s urging “political leaders and international organizations not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity.” The dream may initially appear to be more enticing, but reality will not allow itself to be ignored. It will return with a vengeance.
Political speeches, in general, aim to please. Therefore, they abound in popular sentiments, no matter how absurd these sentiments may be. It is ironic that Obama urged the graduates to fight climate change. He should be, if he were realistic, urging them to fight the kind of climate change taking place in culture in which the rigorous realism of marriage is being replaced by a permissive and self-indulgent mockery of it. We have seen progress over the past several years. Undoubtedly, it has taken place in the area of science.
But has there been a correlative progress in morality? As five-star Gen. Omar Bradley once said, “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”
In his Letter to Families St. John Paul notes “that concerted efforts are being made to present as ‘normal’ and attractive, and even glamorize, situations that are in fact ‘irregular’.” The former Pope is being tactful and restrained. The climate of extreme permissiveness that is a danger to the integrity of marriage and the family is not a sign of progress but an invitation to live in a dream world where the fundamental needs of society will be ignored.
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(Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.)