It could be your neighborhood. It could be mine. But it is not a new story.
There’s a young husband and wife with one kid on the ground and another on the way. The guy lost his job in this rotten economy, and the wife is bartending at a local dive to get by.
And the word is out. The whole neighborhood is worried about them. Free baby-sitting offers are routine. The men are keeping their ears to the ground for at least part-time work and to make sure the dad doesn’t slip into despair or into too many beers.
Everybody looks out for the kid, while packages containing everything from clothes to vegetables are placed on their doorstep. It’s that “takes a village” thing.
Everybody is invested in family. The unspoken understanding we all share is that the future in microcosm is in the hands of a struggling family. As that family goes, so will everything else somehow go.
Which gets to the heart of the matter. If that family falls apart, we are all a little worse off, and the ripples from that collapse will go on for decades.
That’s why marriage belongs to us all; that’s why each of us has a stake in its definition. How we define marriage in our culture can’t be left to some live-and-let-live shrug, because that definition is critical to each and every one of us. It defines who we are and who we are going to be. And we know that in our bones.
When New York state recently legalized same-sex marriage, it became part of a radical redefinition of marriage. Marriage in New York is now a self-defined relationship with little or no bearing on society.
The loudest supporters of same-sex marriage have screeched that a marriage should be nobody’s business but the couple’s alone. They argue — and are arguing in courts — that the state of marriage means nothing to anyone but the couple involved. No one else has any standing, they say.
They are exactly right. Same-sex marriage doesn’t mean much of anything to anyone else. And that’s the point.
But we all have a stake in marriage intimately and biologically linked to family. When a marriage falls apart, everything else gives way, and we know it. We know it in our lives. We know it in our neighborhoods.
While New York legislators were busy passing same-sex marriage, New York City has an abortion rate of two dead for every five children born. Nationally, 40 percent of births take place outside of marriage.
Behind those hard statistics is a laundry list of social pathologies. We know that a kid born outside the traditional family has a far greater chance of growing up in poverty. Drugs, crime — pick your poison and you can link it almost directly to the breakdown of marriage.
Instead of doing all that can be done to rebuild marriage, we are busy insisting that it is less and less. Marriage in New York is now officially incidental to the raising of children, incidental to society. Marriage is now just, well, whatever.
Years ago, secular society stripped marriage of permanency and grace. Now the argument is made that it has no meaning at all to a culture, to a society, to a neighborhood.
But nobody except the zealots really believes that. Marriage means everything to who we are, and when we define it without openness to life, we subvert our own humanity. And we do so at our peril.
The one thing we know for certain about life is that it is bigger than us. When two become one in marriage, it means much more than just two folks going about their business. They have become something far more important.
Marriage, truly defined, means that God still smiles on the world. And believes in our future.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.