Defending marriage for the sake of children

April 21, 2004|By Rev. Dick Richardson

BOSTON - As an African-American who remembers the civil rights struggle our people went through in the 1960s, I am usually honored when other groups draw inspiration from our experience. I say "usually" because every now and then some folks will come along who want to claim that their cause is an extension of ours when it just isn't so.

That, sadly, is what's happening in our country with same-sex marriage.

Like most Americans, I believe gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose. But they don't have a right to redefine marriage for our entire society, especially since the age-old institution of marriage is not about discrimination.

Marriage was not created to oppress people or as a way to discriminate against certain groups. Marriage was created, largely, for children - because children do best when they grow up in a home with a mother and a father.

Like many in my community, I have seen the benefits that children typically derive from growing up in a family with a married couple, and I have seen the results that often occur when a child is raised in a home without the benefit of a mother and father.

In fact, over the course of our married life, my wife and I have been foster parents to more than 50 children. And while we obviously do not disparage those trying to raise kids in less-than-ideal situations (single parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles), we recognize that there is an ideal model for family life.

The foster children who have come through our home know this, too. These children yearn to know the love of their parents - they yearn to know the love of the man and the woman who gave them birth.

Given our experiences, my wife and I do not understand why anyone would want the laws of our country to pretend that it makes no difference whether a child is raised in a home headed by a mother and a father. And it boggles our mind that some folks today want to compare the time-honored institution of traditional marriage to the despicable institution of slavery.

Lest we forget, slavery was about the oppression of a group of people based on skin color. It was about the oppression of a race whose members were once considered only three-fifths of a person.

Unmarried people today - gay or straight - are considered whole persons. They have all the rights that go with citizenship. They do not lack the right to vote (as my people once did), nor do they suffer under the kind of Jim Crow laws that kept my people down even after we had been granted our constitutional rights.

I regret that folks like me have found it necessary to get involved in this debate. To be honest, those of us who are a part of the Alliance for Marriage would rather be spending all of our energies on the many problems in our communities, including problems that have resulted from real discrimination.

But the time-honored institution of marriage is under attack. And activists pushing for same-sex "marriage" (including those that sit on the Supreme Judicial Court in my own state of Massachusetts) will prevail unless people who know the value of traditional marriage put up a resistance on behalf of children.

So, I hope that more and more Americans will come to see that the defense of marriage is not about discrimination.

It is not about keeping anyone down.

The defense of marriage is about children. It is about lifting them up.

It is about acknowledging that the needs of children are more important than the personal interests of adults.

Most of all, the defense of marriage is about preserving the institution that is central to our nation's most important social challenge - seeing to it that more and more children are raised in a home with a mother and a father.

The Rev. Dick Richardson heads an African Methodist Episcopal congregation in Boston and is a member of the National Board of Advisers at the Alliance for Marriage. A shorter version of this article appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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