For all the damage the institution of marriage sustained during the sexual revolution, its recognized significance as the fundamental social unit remains intact.
If nothing else, this one conviction at least remains: that marriage should be strengthened. It remains our achievable ideal and the reason President Bush proclaimed Oct. 12-18 "Marriage Protection Week."
Yet the state of marriage today is fragile. Battered by divorce, eroded by rising rates of cohabitation and shaken by infidelity, marriage is now imperiled by a proposal to redefine it. This challenge has been advanced by gay activists in the culture and the courts.
Though we are the most open, tolerant, forgiving and embracing of people, it is important that the movement toward gay marriage be resisted. It would in no way strengthen marriage to redefine it by embracing gay marriage.
Marriage is rooted in the proper order of life. To be human implies purpose; human beings are set apart from the rest of the material world, even from other animate beings, by that purpose.
By way of contrast, the essence of a tree presents no moral limitations for the uses we may develop for it. But the nature of man does limit how we may treat him: This we have affirmed from the Declaration of Independence to today's human rights movement. It is why we should not clone humans, why we do not experiment on human subjects and why we oppose sexual subjugation.
Just as human nature has inherent purpose, so does human sexuality. There is a natural sexual order, a proper order for love -- an ordo amorum, as St. Augustine put it. We are made male and female, and these immutable characteristics define proper sexual behavior. Because this proper sexual behavior quite commonly results in childbearing, these characteristics also define the appropriate relationship for sexual behavior: marriage.
In marriage alone do men, women and children find the relationship that balances their sometimes mutual, sometimes competing, needs.
"Marriage is our attempt to reconcile and harmonize the erotic, social, sexual and financial needs of men and women with the needs of their partner and their children," says Maggie Gallagher, co-author of "The Case for Marriage."
The parameters of proper sexual behavior are not arbitrary, nor are they intended to evolve. If we depart from the natural order of sexuality and the proper behavior and relationships that ensue from it, we are left with no guiding principle but the prevailing mood of the age. We are currently on the cusp of doing just that: We must decide whether we will continue to reinforce the natural sexual order in our laws or whether we will let them cave in to arbitrary preference.
As the proponents of gay marriage are quick to point out, promiscuity, adultery, cohabitation, divorce and out-of-wedlock births have severely damaged the institution of marriage. But this is not an argument for the redefinition of marriage. That the family is struggling today is not because of a design flaw. The problem is our failure to live up to the design.
When our behavior does not live up to the standard, we have two choices: We can change our behavior or change the standard.
The homosexual movement would change the standard. This is a conflict of ideals.
The homosexual movement cannot tolerate the persistence of mores that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the marriage relationship as the proper context of sexual expression and the family as the unit formed around that nucleus.
To normalize homosexuality requires us to deny that man linked to woman is both natural and ideal -- that it is the purpose of our human sexuality -- and to affirm the aberrant view that sexuality is an arbitrary construct and choice.
The homosexual vanguard proposes to replace sexual identity -- that inescapable fact of nature that we are created male and female -- with sexual behavior as a fundamental organizing principle of society. And if sexual behavior is the determinant, then appetite is the guiding principle.
Without respect for sexual identity, sexual partners become nothing more than interchangeable parts, rather than complementary on the basis of nature. And if behavior and appetite are the only determinants of sexual conduct, what is the argument against polygamy, incest or any other imaginable sexual relationship?
For our custom and law, the implications of such a fundamental change are profound, but nowhere more than for marriage.
The last decades have sobered us about the consequences of the sexual revolution, which replaced the traditional marriage ethic with a code that has sought to free both marriage and human sexuality from restraint and commitment.
Faced with this, we must redouble our efforts to make our behavior meet the traditional standard. And that standard does not call for the redefinition of marriage or the reconfiguration of family, and it in no way translates into an argument for gay marriage.
What we now call a traditional family remains the safest place to raise children, the soundest investment in children's economic and emotional futures and the strongest safety net in our modern world. The evidence is overwhelming that no household arrangement can compare with an intact family. Conversely, the absence of such support will prove a lifelong deficit.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the ideal that we must continue to uphold in our law and our culture. What is broken should be restored, not redefined or destroyed.