I won’t presume to try to understand the legal and societal ramifications of the upcoming plebiscite on gay marriage. All I can tell you is we in the United States were in turmoil over gay marriage, too, not so long ago. We quickly discovered that our best arguments were on shaky ground. It was almost impossible to persuasively defend the importance and sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, because hardly any straight people were playing by those rules.
Newt Gingrich, for instance, has been a prominent American conservative politician for decades. Gingrich almost wore out his hand signing and endorsing anti-gay marriage pledges and legislative proposals. Gingrich, who is Catholic, is currently married to his third wife, with whom he was having an affair while married to his second wife. He also had an affair with his soon-to-be second wife while married to his first wife. He visited one wife in the hospital where she was recovering from cancer surgery, to ask her for a divorce so he could marry his mistress.
He was also having an adulterous affair while leading the push to impeach then-president Clinton for lying about having an adulterous affair. And, while all of this was public knowledge, American conservatives still handed Newt Gingrich a megaphone so he could make himself hoarse defending the sanctity of marriage.
I point this out not as proof that Christian conservatives are all hypocrites, or as evidence that it’s futile to try and save marriage. I’m not even saying that only sinless people may argue in favor of virtue. If that were true, the world would be quiet indeed.
But I recall arguing and arguing that marriage is special because the whole of society depends on its strength and integrity; and I recall my gay friends rolling their eyes and pointing to statistics about heterosexual marriage—statistics on fornication, on out-of-wedlock births, on domestic abuse, on adultery, and on divorce—and letting them speak for themselves. Straight people have not made a good case for marriage. We, as a nation, have not behaved as if it’s worth preserving.
And that is truly the only defense we have: our behavior. I urge you not to despair for your country, no matter which way the vote or the country goes. But even more strongly, I urge you to act on what you say you believe. Ideologies are not worth fighting for unless they are also worth acting on. Society is made up of individuals. If you don’t like the way society is going, take a look at what you, as an individual, are contributing to it.
If you are married, ask yourself:
Have you stopped trying to serve and delight your spouse? Have you become lax about letting your eyes stray? Do you know what your spouse’s main worries are? Do you give your spouse reason to consider you an ally? If you have children, are you modelling respect for spouses? Are you using artificial contraception? Are you using pornography? Are you willing to work on your own mental, physical, and spiritual health so you can contribute as much as possible to the health of your marriage? Do you pray for your spouse regularly?
Do your words and deeds make it obvious to friends and family that you care about your marriage?
If not, you won’t be able to persuade anyone that you care about marriage in general.
One person alone can’t fix a marriage in trouble. Unless both are willing to put in the effort, commitment, and self-sacrifice, a marriage will not be happy, healthy, or whole. But in many cases, marriages falter and languish because a couple simply stops trying. They think that as long as they are more or less faithful and living more or less together, then they have done what they are required to do.
But marriage can and should be so much more than this. Being heterosexual is not enough. Being monogamous is not enough. Having once stood in a church together long, long ago is not enough. The fight for marriage needs heroes, but so does each and every marriage itself. Marriage warriors, look to your own homes first.