The Common Good

Christians and Marriage After the Election

Minnesota, famously, has just rejected a proposed constitutional amendment which would have barred same-sex marriage. The battle raged for a year, with Christians on both sides. The Catholic diocese was a primary proponent of the amendment, but many Catholics posted “Another Catholic Voting No” signs on their lawn.  Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists were also found on both sides of the battle, in leadership roles and at phone banks. Rarely did the discussion of the amendment stray too far from a discussion of faith issues, because it was faith that drove so many to either reject same-sex marriage or move to embrace it as a part of our larger community.

By Ken Kressin / Flickr
Minnesota marriage amendment signs at St Pius V, Cannon Falls, Minn. By Ken Kressin / Flickr

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There were bruises and scars, of course, within congregations, families, and neighbors. To some, on both sides, it was a deeply personal fight.

Now, though, it is done. The amendment failed. Though my side won, the divisions created trouble me. As an Episcopalian working within a Catholic law school, I saw the pain of those on both sides.

I saw more than just pain, though — I also saw common ground. I think that most of those who worked to pass the amendment genuinely are concerned about the decline of marriage in our culture, and sincerely believe that children are often advantaged by living in a stable, two-parent home. The people on my side believe, for the most part, in those same things. It is well-verified that though single parents can be great parents, they face challenges that stable couples do not, and no one I know would deny that marriage is on the decline.

If we share these values, this common belief that marriage is to be encouraged, it would seem that we have more to accomplish than the battle now completed, and that we can work towards it together.

For example, I work in the office next to one of the most effective and spirit-filled proponents of the amendment — a woman of great and good conviction, who truly does care about her faith imperatives and the integrity of the family.  As the debate over the amendment went on, I agreed with her less, but respected her more.

Together, we serve a community of students who are about to be launched into a world, legal practice, that can be very hostile to family life and good parenting. Associates typically work 10- or 12-hour days, and rarely get a break from work entirely even on weekends. Things don’t improve much when (and if) they become partner, and women often feel forced to choose between having children and continuing their career. None of this is very good for traditional families, or any families, and it certainly is not good for the children of these lawyers.

Our highest and best use, moving forward, might well be to reform that legal culture in the name of Christ and our nation. As law professors, we are in a position to train our students to expect a balance between work and family, and to demand nothing less. We might also want to de-emphasize the focus on income (and the resulting long hours) that too often invades career plans. In the larger community, perhaps, we are called to be proponents of a better financial model for law firms, one which takes less of a toll on families.

I don’t regret that my side defeated the marriage amendment. I will regret it, though, if that is all that we do. Part of healing can be, and should be, moving towards a goal we can share with our former opponents.

Mark Osler is a Professor of Law at the University of St, Thomas Law School in Minnesota. A graduate of the College of William and Mary and Yale Law School, Prof. Osler is a former federal prosecutor whose work has consistently confronted the problem of inflexibility in sentencing and corrections.

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