Unlike Greg Forster , I find Matt Franck’s worries about the reshaping of our foreign policy to promote a very particular and controversial gay-rights agenda wholly understandable. The bending of American foreign policy to prosecute the culture war abroad has been taking place for some time, as documented by R.R. Reno in our February issue (subscribers only), and we need more clear-eyed takes like Matt’s, not just to counter the agenda of sexual libertinism, but also to preserve the integrity of our foreign policy.

What I want to object to here, though, was a response from Kevin Williamson arguing that the contest over marriage’s legal meaning doesn’t matter because, well, no-fault divorce has already rendered marriage unrecognizable. The unions most Americans enter into, Williamson says, have nothing to do with the thing described by St. Paul or by the doctrines of the Catholic Church: “Marriage has been shot through the head, and they are calling the dentist. What we call “marriage” today is certainly not the marriage of the New Testament, the Christian tradition, or our Anglo-European heritage.”

This is an impossibility. The Christian tradition which Williamson tries to characterize understands marriage precisely  as something whose meaning cannot be effaced by changing legal definitions. Despite the rise of no-fault divorce, most couples think of marriage as permanent. Despite the rise of swingers, most think of marriage as exclusive. And even if gay marriage is broadly recognized, most people will think of marriage, centrally, as involving a complementary sexual union. That’s why gay couples adopt. Because marriage just is  the kind of thing that leads to children.

I doubt Williamson recognizes the serious implications his view would have in the internal life of his Church. It would mean, for one, that almost any marriage entered into by your standard, inattentive cultural Catholic—-anyone who doesn’t take the time to read Elizabeth’s Anscombe’s Contraception and Chastity  or John Paul II’s Theology of the Body—-  is annulable. As John Allen just wrote in reporting on a conference in Rome:

Polish Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz, dean of the Roman Rota, the Vatican court that handles most marriage cases, told the conference that interpretation of canon 1095 must avoid an “anthropological pessimism” that would hold that “it’s almost impossible to get married, in view of the current cultural situation.”

“We must reaffirm the innate human capacity to marry,” Stankiewicz told the group.

The session during which Stankiewicz spoke was presided over by American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s equivalent of the Supreme Court.

Stankiewicz argued that Christian doctrine insists upon a “natural disposition to marriage” because the “gift of Christ is not exhausted in the celebration of the wedding. It extends to all of married life, supporting the spiritual growth of the spouses in the necessary virtues, duties and commitments of marriage.”

His conclusion was that church courts should not be quick to presume an inability to give consent.

I do not know what view of marriage Kevin Williamson holds, but it is not quite the Catholic one. For the Christian tradition, the meaning of marriage cannot be wholly effaced by the rulings of a legislature or a body of judges. Recent revisions to marriage’s legal meaning do not reflect a revolution in how we understand the institution so much as a false calculation of the tradeoffs between the liberty of adults—-say, for gays to call themselves married or for straights to declare themselves divorced—-and the needs of children for a mother and father. As the ill effects of our revisions to marriage become apparent, calls to tip the balance back will only grow. As Pope Benedict recently observed , we hold a great duty in charity to conform the legal definition of marriage to its natural meaning.

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