The thought suddenly occurs that whether people are defending the historically universal recognition of the dignity and sanctity of life, marriage, family or faith….they do happen to be on the defense these days.

Especially on marriage, the hottest of the hot-button cultural conflicts right now. So in that light, the same-sex marriage and civil union movement has won significantly more than the numerical uptick in states backing their agenda. Words matter, as Walter Lippman articulated so well in Public Opinion.

The president declares he no longer finds the federal Defense of Marriage Act defensible, so his Attorney General won’t be defending it in court anymore. Legislators in Illinois, New York and Rhode Island take the issue of marriage law out of the hands of voters and create new legal recognition of same-sex unions, conferring on them the same benefits of traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which the State has traditionally had a vested interest in upholding. They say it won’t infringe on rights of religious institutions, and yet it does, as the Illinois Catholic Charities adoption battle has quickly shown.

I recently had a conversation with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Vice-President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and until this year, head of the bishops’ committee for the defense of marriage and family life. He said many of the same things as in this interview.

Bishops, the Church, and society in general need to understand the public nature of marriage. Aspects of marriage are personal and private, but it is also public, because it affects society as a whole.

Many people assume that marriage is a right that the state can simply create. That is a dangerous direction in which to go. The majority of voters cannot create whatever rights they want. Marriage is a gift given to us by God and defined by him. We, as Catholics, must not be afraid to say so publicly.

We need to be forthright in speaking about the importance of defending and protecting the gift of marriage within our Church and society. We need to be able to speak forthrightly to our people on the importance of marriage, and make it clear that our respect for the individual should not be at the expense of marriage itself.

Archbishop Kurtz brought up the false claim that a majority of Americans now favor same sex marriage ‘rights’, and part of the marketing of that idea is that marriage is a human right open to any two people who seek it, regardless of gender or anything else.

Columnist Maggie Gallagher examines that carefully at Public Discourse.

Elites have sounded the death knell on the marriage debate again and again, but popular support for traditional marriage refuses to die. Americans at the ballot box have repeatedly shocked elite opinion by demonstrating that even in deeply blue states a majority of Americans continues to oppose same-sex marriage.

This May, a poll commissioned by Public Opinions Strategies for the Alliance Defense Fund found that 62 percent of those surveyed agreed with this statement: “I believe marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman.” Fifty-three percent strongly agreed, while just 35 percent disagreed.

Yet recent polling also reflects that Americans in the mushy middle are no longer hearing much about the opposition to same-sex marriage. Their willingness to express support for a traditional understanding of marriage is starting to shift, depending on how the question is posed to them and what other questions surround the polling question.

This shift means something: when the issue is framed as one of fairness or equality, Americans are now reluctant to disagree with gay marriage, but when it is framed as a moral or family issue, they continue to adhere strongly to traditional norms of marriage.

As Ken Blackwell recently put it, marriage is not a wedge issue but a bridge issue, creating strange bedfellow coalitions never before seen in American politics across lines of race, creed, and color.

Nonetheless, the campaign to silence opposition to gay marriage by reframing it as illegitimate hatred or bigotry is effective: those who defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman suffer consequences.

This is true.

Donate to pro-marriage organizations—or simply to a group that supports a candidate who also happens to support marriage—or ask a sitting Congressman who opposes gay marriage to address your business group—and you will meet with threats to your economic interests and your business enterprises from those who do not see same-sex marriage as an issue about which Americans of good will can and do disagree. Instead, you will be charged with failing to realize that same-sex marriage is today’s defining civil rights issue, opposition to which marks you as a bigot outside the American mainstream…

Advocates of gay marriage are not slow to use any lever of power, including government, to impose their new morality on America. The primary goal of the existing gay marriage movement is to use cultural, social, economic, and political power to create a new norm: marriage equality. The governing idea behind “marriage equality” is this: there is no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex unions. If you see a difference, there is something wrong with you…

So why is marriage, the one issue that the progressive left is energetically making too radioactive even to address, also the one issue that a candidate committed to American civilization cannot evade, avoid, or downplay?

The first reason is the nature of marriage itself.

Every human society has recognized that there is something special about the union of husband and wife. Amid the spectacular myriad of relationships that human beings create, marriage is unique for a reason: these are the only unions that can create life and connect those new young lives to the mother and father who made them.

For same-sex marriage advocates to make good on their promise of marriage equality, the very idea that children need a mom and dad must be delegitimized, rendered unspeakable in polite company. Same-sex marriage represents an intellectual and moral repudiation of the idea that marriage is grounded in any human reality outside of government, that government is obligated to respect and protect. Marriage is becoming an idea at the mercy of changing fashion, without deep roots in human nature.

Several days ago, I had a conversation with the new head of the bishops’ Committee for the Defense of  Marriage, Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. Another prominent and clarifying voice of the church in the public debate over not just marriage law, but the nature and definition of marriage.

He engaged some of the same points he made here, because they need to be repeated often.

Our people need to understand what’s really at stake here, and that’s the very concept of marriage itself. Is it a relationship to be defined by adults for their mutual benefit and enjoyment? Or is it a relationship to bring children into the world and to provide them with the best possible context for their well-being and education?

If it’s first and foremost about children, then we’ll want children to be connected to their mothers and fathers…

The optimal situation for children is to be raised by the man and the woman who brought them into the world in a loving, committed, stable relationship.

Many studies show the role of the father figure — just the presence of the father figure in the family — is especially critical. Children need that. When they don’t have it, they long for it.

As someone wiser than I put it, when a child is born, the mother is sure to be nearby. There’s no guarantee the father will be nearby. Society needs a cultural mechanism to connect fathers to their children, and that mechanism is marriage.

Recall the emphasis British journalist Melanie Phillips put on the social consequences of missing fathers, analyzing the recent outburts of violence on the streets of London.

For most of these children come from lone-mother households. And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit…

The result is fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them. Such children inhabit what is effectively a different world from the rest of society. It’s a world without any boundaries or rules. A world of emotional and physical chaos.

Bishop Cordileone told me that the person he referred to as “wiser than I” in his social insights (above) was Maggie Gallagher. Her commentary is provocative in the way that thinking needs to be provoked, and falsehoods dispelled.

Far from being a neutral or pro-liberty position, same-sex marriage amounts to a government takeover of an ancient and honorable institution. Here, there are deep similarities philosophically between the abortion and gay marriage movements. At the heart of each movement is the belief that by re-jiggering words, elites change reality itself. A human life can be redefined as a cluster of cells. Marriage can be remade to mean whatever the government decides. Reality itself can be re-mastered to accommodate sexual desires.

But in truth, government cannot create life, and did not create marriage, and government has no business redefining either…

The stubborn common sense of the American public in resisting same-sex marriage, even in the face of the mainstream media’s approval, provides a platform for presidential candidates to seize, and thereby not only resist a radical transformation of the American tradition, but also help build a culture committed to a core American idea: moral truth exists, and our rights (including our right to marriage) are not gifts of government, but are grounded in and bounded by Nature and Nature’s God.

They’re all saying the same thing, updating a biblical exhortation: Be ready to make a defense for what you believe. And if you aren’t so sure anymore what you believe, the US bishops are providing plenty of good resources to clarify.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....