"We Love You And We Want You To Be Happy": Scenes from the March for Marriage

Before Triduum silence begins I wanted to post an eyewitness account of Tuesday's March for Marriage -- an effort to follow the French lead (I never thought we'd be taking moral lessons from the French -- at least not positive ones! ) and demonstrate support for traditional marriage. The timing coincided with oral argument at the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of California's Prop 8. The following day, Wednesday, the Court heard oral argument in a second marriage-related case -- this time about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Marchers gathered on the Mall in front of the National History Museum, marched up to the Court and past it, then came down the other side of the mall back to the original spot for a rally.

Marchers on the way to SCOTUS, shamelessly pinched from here.

I wasn't able to be there early enough to march. I arrived at the rally spot before the crowd returned from the Court, but friends I met up with told the same tale as described here: that marriage supporters vastly outnumbered the marriage re-definers.
Both sides of the debate were out in force, with Christian opponents easily outnumbering advocates for gay marriage.
The Daily Mail story focuses on one particularly strident gay marcher so as to make the demonstration seem violent and more colorful than it was, but folks on both sides were well-behaved -- though weirdos love a demonstration, don't they? I had this sickening thought Monday evening when trying to decide whether it was worthwhile to attend the March that Westboro Baptist (an anti-gay hate group for you non-Americans) would show up and the press would make it seem as if all the marriage defenders were of a piece with them. Well, they did show up, but fortunately the gay marriage protestors surrounded and isolated them from the rest, so their impact was minimal.

Tell you what? If you agree that Westboro Baptist is an outlier not representing the typical marriage defender, I'll agree that this guy doesn't speak for everyone on the other side. 
 AFP/Getty images, shamelessly pinched from here.

I had mixed feelings about the March for Marriage. It's important not to be cowed into silence on an issue of such importance for plain old civilization, and there's a place for public manifestations to stand for principles.

What left me uncomfortable was marching on the day of oral arguments. The premise of our constitutional order is that the Court is supposed to be relatively untouched by outside pressures -- so deliberately attempting to bring outside pressures to bear (even if there's not much pressure involved -- the justices are in court, not looking out their windows) strikes me as wrong-headed. Everyone now does it, but is participating just contributing to the further demise of constitutional order?  Plus, by the time a question like this gets to the Court we're all in God's hands and there's nothing more anyone can do. The time for demonstrating and arguing was during the election cycle, not now, when nothing anyone says or does is going to change the minds of any of the justices. A good argument can be made that everyone on both sides was just making noise. (And the fact that this is Holy Week definitely contributed to my impression that all of the energy of the past two days has been just that: the unruly mob crying "Crucify Him, Crucify Him" and Christ looking with pity on us all and uttering, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.")

On the third hand, when people try to do a good thing and they're doing it against the zeitgeist, you stand with them, you don't nitpick all the things you would have done differently and better. The third hand argument won out in the end.

As I said, I arrived for the rally before the rally-ers returned. There was a Christian rock group playing and I snapped a few shots of people beginning to gather:

Then the marchers started to return, led by a TFP marching band:

And they started to fill in the rally space:

Note the little French group. When the French rallied a week or two ago in Paris, French citizens all over the world were invited to gather and send pictures of themselves in virtual support of marriage. That's what this was about -- a few Frenchies joining us and virtually joining their confreres. (I want to think more about why it is the French, for all their corruption, turn out to be better defenders of marriage than the anglos, whether Brit or American. Suspect it has something to do with Anglo puritanism and fear of the body -- we have a hang-up about the Incarnation. "Vive la difference" turns out to be a powerful cultural anchor. But that's too much for this post.)

There were between 10,000 & 15,000 pro-marriage demonstrators in the end.

Mixed feelings about the rally. I am glad it took place -- I participated for heaven's sake!-- and I am grateful to the organizers for putting it on. There's a risk at the start of a movement, when it is fragile, of being so critical you crush a tender plant and I don't want to be Negative Nellie. I liked the peaceful, prayerful, friendly spirit of the crowd. The rally was well-organized, nicely paced and they kept the tone positive.

On the other hand, this is a debate over CIVIL marriage -- and many of the speakers did not seem to understand that. They talk about biblical marriage and God's plan -- things I affirm, but which are not directly relevant to the civil law. It's quite difficult to make the case to our non-believing fellow citizens that we are not simply shoving our religion down their throats when most of the speakers at the rally had only religious arguments to offer.

While the crowd was welcoming, I'm not certain passers-by would have thought so. At one point, Bishop Harry Jackson, an important leader among the black churches, a man I admire and who is terrific in insisting that a marriage culture is the key to relieving most of the problems of the inner city -- the poverty, the crime, etc.-- He had us chant three times from a Psalm: "Let God arise and may his enemies be scattered!"  The crowd knew from context that it was a prayer for the wisdom of the justices. But any gay person or persuadable person walking by would surely have thought we were calling on God to smite the homosexuals. Was that helpful when the Obama administration is arguing that the ONLY reason for not granting gay marriage is anti-gay animus: that traditional philosophical, rational humanist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist thought is all out to get the gays and nothing more?

Moreover, most of the speakers talked about marriage as if most Americans are married and never divorced. Nothing hateful was said, but I didn't hear a lot of reaching out to persuade. Maybe that's not really the point of a rally, which is to strengthen troops, but it would be good to give people better arguments.

I have been shocked over the past year to see that no one understands civil marriage any longer -- which is why the past few days many, many of my Catholic and Christian friends on facebook have "come out" for gay marriage. They haven't necessarily changed their moral opinion of homosexuality (tho' many have); but they see it as a private religious opinion. What they've adopted is the libertarian view that marriage is an exclusively religious act and the law should stay out of it altogether. There is ZERO understanding of the legal chaos and the harm to children that will be done by the redefinition of marriage, or that marriage is a civil institution that pre-dates the Church. And there is ZERO understanding of the threat to religious liberty and federalism by the courts stepping into this matter -- libertarians should be horrified, not going along. (It felt like everyone on FB changed his avatar to those pink equals signs on a red field; then the marriage defenders started putting up crosses in the same colors...which I think actually makes the gay marriage case for them: this is not a civic issue, this is you imposing your religious belief on me. So I was just disheartened by EVERYONE yesterday. If we lose the cultural battle, it will be because of the stupidity of the marriage defenders, and the inability of anyone on either side to examine honestly the legal implications of the cases here. How many of the people who changed their avatars to equals signs or crosses yesterday could articulate the legal questions involved in either of the two marriage cases? Doubtful anyone could. Everyone was just enjoying the feeling of righteousness, whatever that happened to be for them.)

Some of the speakers did understand this -- the "professional" marriage defenders like Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute, for example. But I felt their message was drowned by the religious speakers. There were more state and local political leaders than clergy addressing the crowd, but their arguments were religious, not secular or legal -- and therefore not accessible to people who disagree.

The only speaker whose message and tone I thought was pitch-perfect was the very first one: Archbishop Cordileone, the RC bishops' point man for defense of marriage. Here's the text of his address. 
He was the only one to my mind who:

  1. made a civil case for marriage, showing that it is a public good that serves the unmarried and homosexuals as well 
  2. was loving to homosexuals
  3. spoke within the real context of marriage in America -- where heterosexuals have already made mincemeat of the institution
A fine example, in other words, of how one begins to re-build a marriage culture in the midst of a people who have no idea what that is even in the cases where they support it!  His opener:

I want begin with a word to those who disagree with us on this issue and may be watching us right now: we love you, we are your neighbors, and we want to be your friends, and we want you to be happy.
Please understand that we don’t hate you, and that we are not motivated by animus or bigotry; it is not our intention to offend anyone, and if we have, I apologize; please try to listen to us fairly, and calmly, and try to understand us and our position, as we will try to do the same for you.


Why, really, are we here? One simple reason: marriage matters to kids. It’s the simple principle that children deserve a mother and a father, and that society needs an institution that connects children to their parents. What could be more beautiful, or even more sacred, than a man and a woman coming together to create new life? Marriage is the only institution that does this, that connects children to their parents and parents to their children and to each other.
Sometimes that isn’t possible, sometimes due to circumstances beyond people’s control the ideal doesn’t happen. Those parents, too, need and deserve our love and support. This isn’t about parenting skills, though; we know that sometimes kids can do well in less-than-ideal circumstances. Rather, it’s about rebuilding a marriage culture, which begins – certainly doesn’t end! – with preserving in the law the principle that children deserve a mother and a father, and that society should do everything it can, and offer all necessary support, to help insure that children get what they deserve. Only a man can be a father and only a woman can be a mother, and children need both, and no matter how happy their childhood may be, to grow up without one or the other is always a deprivation. This is not discrimination; on the contrary, marriage benefits everyone, including those of us who are not married and those who disagree with us.

That's how we have to talk, seems to me. And forgive me for saying so, but our Protestant brothers and sisters are not much help where rhetoric is concerned. Not trying to write anyone out of the movement - all hands on deck! And certainly Christians and other believers need to look inward and ask themselves some hard questions about how they themselves are living out their creed. It's appropriate for Christians to motivate Christians to give a better testimony. (See Msgr. Pope for a stern jeremiad, for example -- but he's talking to Christians about their Christianity, not making a public argument.) But you simply can't defend the civil institution of marriage by preaching about Christian matrimony. They are separate phenomena -- and conflating them actually hastens acceptance of gay marriage, because it further undermines understanding of the importance and value of civil marriage. 

Then there was this footage of the 11-year-old girl testifying before the MN legislature, which played for the rally too. It's been making the rounds on social media and people seem to think it proves something. She asked the legislators: which don't I need -- my mom or my dad? It's a good question, but I can't decide whether this is an instance of being wise as serpents (fighting emotionalism w/ emotionalism) or our side stooping to be as manipulative as the other side. She's 11. Will she still be pro-marriage after college? What would we think if the other side used an 11-year old child of a same-sex marriage couple to complain that if her bio-parent died, the law would take her from her "other mommy"?

There were some young people in the crowd. Maybe 20%? And the organizers are young --it's their intiative. But the crowd skewed much older than, say, the March for Life and we are fooling ourselves if we think otherwise. It's heartening that the heads of all the pro-marriage groups are young (even the Gray Lady has noticed!), but there was a lot of gray hair and middle-aged spread in the crowd.

Not saying that to be a downer. Considering this was thrown together in about 6 weeks, it was an excellent first effort. I'm just saying we have to build, and we mustn't fool ourselves with pieties about the youth really being with us but the press won't cover it.

Some excellent links on this topic:

George Weigel at his best: on Reality and National Policy. He says better what I was getting at here.
Rich Lowry on how the court may create another Roe by circumventing the political process.
The Red Herring of Marriage Equality
Transcript of oral argument in U.S. v. Windsor (DOMA case)
Transcript of oral argument in Hollingsworth v Perry (Prop 8 case)
What is Marriage?

Update: See also Pushing Catholics Out the Door. Don't agree with it in every respect (the gay man's complaint that his mentors let him down is true and poignant, but it also says too much. It is asking too much of anyone that he never have a low moment, a thoughtless moment, a blind spot -- and his conclusion, that you can't rely on anyone but God is, properly understood, not a cause for disillusionment, but a purification of faith and an opportunity to be more loving and understanding of everyone -- rigid people are wounded and need love and understanding as much as homosexuals! ), but I completely agree with this:
The media has loved framing this as a Gays vs. Christians debate. I just don’t understand why Christians are so eager to frame it the same way.