The Vital Need to Rebuild a Marriage Culture


AUCKLAND, October 20, 2013 (NZ Catholic) – Do we need a civil institution that unites children with their Mums and Dads? That was the key question American marriage advocate William May put to delegates at Family Life International’s Rise Up in the Service of Life Conference in Auckland on September 28-29.

Mr May, who is the founder and president of Catholics for the Common Good in the United States (a lay apostolate for the evangelisation of culture based on the social teachings of the Church), said the answer to that question is an unequivocal “yes”.

Family Life International New Zealand

That is because of society’s duty to uphold the human rights of the child to be, where possible, raised in a family and by his or her parents. This is stated in articles 7 to 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by New Zealand in 1993.

“Really our focus has to be on rebuilding a marriage culture,” Mr May said.

New Zealand used to have a civil institution of the type Mr May’s question sought, and it was called “marriage”. But with the change in the law in New Zealand, with the passing the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act, there is no such institution in law.

Redefining marriage is not so much about expanding participation in the institution, as proponents of so-called same sex marriage claim, but it is really about obliterating the human rights of children in connection with marriage, Mr May said.

He asked his audience to “break the habit of referring to this issue as same-sex marriage”.

“Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the issue here. There isn’t anything called same-sex marriage in the law. What they do [in the legal definition] is they take out ‘man and woman’, and they put in ‘two persons’.”

The “man and woman” definition creates an institution that unites children with their mothers and fathers. The “two person” definition eliminates it, Mr May said.

“By focusing on gays, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, we are really obscuring what is going on here. We are falling into a trap. And it makes us sound like bigots, that all we are against is gays marrying.

“We are not bigots. The question is, do we need an institution that unites kids with their mums and dads? It is so easy.”

 “And in the course of that debate [on this question], the truth about the true meaning and purpose of marriage will be revealed,” he said.

Just because the law has changed its definition of marriage, does not mean marriage has disappeared.

“Marriage is a fact that can only be recognised, and it can’t be changed.  I will say this right now: They can remove it from the law, but it still exists in New Zealand. The word isn’t attached to it anymore.

“The reality of marriage is still there – that’s unchangeable. It is more than just the public recognition of a committed relationship.”

But an adult-centric view of marriage – that it is nothing more than the public recognition of a committed relationship – has widespread public currency, Mr May said. 


Mr May, who has written for the United States Catholic Bishops Conference on marriage, said his organisation has proposed an authentic definition of marriage.

“Marriage (by free choice) unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.”

“That little phrase expresses complementarity, procreation. It expresses motherhood and fatherhood, it expresses irreplaceability, something people don’t even think about in connection with marriage, irrevocability, non-substitutability, family and kinship.”

Mr May said the definition is true, can be known to be true and can be verified by our own human experience.

“We can verify it, by our own experience of our own connection with our Mum and Dad, even if we never knew them, if they were lost to death or for some other reason. We still have that desire to know. That curiosity, that is part of our origin. That is an experience of God’s plan for creation that is stamped in our very nature. That’s reality and no-one can deny it.

“We don’t have to beat people into submission. We have to plant the seeds of truth and let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting.


But in doing this, Mr May warned against using religious language that will mean little to the wider culture. The focus has to be on reality and truth of what it is to be human.

He posed three further questions that “reveal reality” and change the nature of the debate.

1. Do children have a right to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by their mother and father?

2. Do we need an institution that unites kids with their mums and dads?

3. Does anyone have the right to create a child (using egg/sperm donation or surrogacy) with the intention of depriving them of knowing and being cared for by their mum, dad or both?

Mr May also discussed the problems of developing an appropriate language with which to engage a relativistic, subjective culture. He proposed Our Lady of Guadalupe as a model for evangelisation.

Our Lady spoke in the language of the local Mexican culture and she manifested gestures of humility that were instantly recognisable in that culture.

“Within 15 years, 9 million people came into the Catholic Church, in communion with her son and the Church.”

Getting back to a proper understanding of marriage has implications for the whole of society.

Mr May showed several United States measures that illustrated both the decline in marriage over recent decades and the worse social outcomes for children from single parent homes.  For instance, the percentage of families with children living in poverty is 36.5 per cent for single parent families and only 6.5 per cent for married two parent families, according to Robert Rector’s Heritage Study using US Census data.

But although sociologists are calling for social marketing campaigns to encourage people to have children only after they are married, legislatures are redefining marriage to eliminate, in law, the institution connecting children and their parents, Mr May said.


So what should the marriage movement’s response be?

“Our faith calls us to be in solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, the victims, not focusing on the sins of the victimisers,” Mr May said.

“Who are the victims? Who are the poor and the vulnerable with the breakdown of marriage? The children who are being deprived of married mothers and fathers. It is privation.”

Mr May said the marriage movement should not stigmatise and oppose single parents, who might be in their situation for many different reasons.

“Anybody who is parenting today, we have got to assume that they are doing the best job they can, and they are doing an important job and we want to support them, we want to acknowledge that.

“However, we are talking about the future. We have a problem. There are too many kids who are deprived of married mothers and fathers, and those kids are at risk. And the trend is increasing.”

Mr May also warned against redefinitions of family that are associated with the redefinition of marriage.

He pointed to a Pew Center study showing 46 per cent of United States 18-29 year olds saying it is a good thing that there is a growing variety of family types.

“The only problem is, every alternative family has one thing in common, a child that is deprived of a married mother and father. How can this be a good thing?” Mr May asked.

“You see the way our children are being poisoned by this kind of thinking. This I know is being taught in schools in California now, and if it isn’t already, it will be taught in schools in New Zealand, because it is part of the agenda.

“It is not just redefining marriage, it is teaching the kids that marriage is simply a lifestyle choice unrelated to children and families. This is coming to a school near you, I can guarantee it.”


In a workshop at the FLI conference, Mr May referred to his book Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide to Effective Dialogue which is a pocket guide of steps to take in engaging with others. He also suggested ways in which people can get begin, starting from meetings of small groups of friends.

Using the right word in the right place can change hearts and minds – not necessarily of opponents, but of onlookers.

“Our target audience isn’t the people who disagree, it is the people who agree with us, who don’t know how to talk about it,” Mr May said.

He shared one conversation he had with a student who didn’t know how to put into words her feelings about marriage.

He told her: “Marriage is when a man and a woman freely choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other. Until that time, everybody is replaceable. But they are making a choice, a commitment, to make themselves irreplaceable to each other.

“That is what prepares them to receive life as a gift. To receive you as a person of equal value and dignity to them.

“Because, in fact, you are irreplaceable to both of them, and they are irreplaceable to you. Their marriage started that circle of irreplaceability that is called the family.”

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