Russell Shaw is a veteran journalist and author of more than 20 books. He was secretary for public affairs of the U.S. bishops’ conference from 1969 to 1987 and director of information of the Knights of Columbus from 1987 to 1997. He has BA and MA degrees from Georgetown University and an honorary doctorate from The Catholic University of America.
These have not been healthy years for marriage in America. This new entity seeks to change that.
There’s a glimmer of hope for the embattled natural family emanating suddenly from a source that lately has been anything but family-friendly — I mean the federal government. But before getting into that, consider some landmarks in the family’s decline during the last three decades.
The high point was in 1996 when Congress enacted and President Bill Clinton reluctantly signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA declared marriage to be the union of one man and one woman and empowered states to decline to recognize same-sex civil marriages from other states.
The years after DOMA was marked by an all-out effort by the LGBTQ lobby, supported by a media blitz, to turn that around. The Supreme Court got on board in 2015 by affirming a constitutionally protected right to same-sex civil marriage. Then, last December, Congress passed a horror called the Respect for Marriage Act repealing DOMA and insisting on across-the-board government recognition of same-sex marriage. President Joe Biden, a pro-DOMA vote as a senator, happily signed it into law before Christmas.
Needless to say, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was among the groups that opposed the measure. Deploring its enactment, Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, chairman of the bishops’ family committee, said social and legal developments over several decades had produced the result of separating sexuality, childbearing, and marriage from one another in many people’s thinking. “Much of society has lost sight of the purpose of marriage and now equates it with adults’ companionship,” he said.
Numbers bear out the conclusion that these have not been healthy years for natural marriage in America. In 2020 both the marriage rate and the birth rate fell to record lows. While COVID likely was part of the explanation for that, the figures have risen only marginally since then.
So what’s the good news?
March 7 saw the establishment of a Congressional Family Caucus to protect and promote the interests of the natural family. In a letter to fellow legislators, co-chairwoman Rep. Mary Miller, an Illinois Republican, explained the new entity in refreshingly uncompromising terms: “The natural family, a man and a woman committed for life to each other and to their children, was ordained by God as the foundation of our society. The natural family is essential for a nation to prosper because the family is the root of self-government, service, community, and personal responsibility.”
Joining Miller, a grandmother and second-term congresswoman from a rural Illinois district, as co-chairmen of the new group are Republican Reps. Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee and Brian Babin of Texas.
According to Tom McDonough, executive director of a group called the American Family Project that has advocated for such a body, well-intentioned members of Congress “often lack the language and sometimes the courage to confront the anti-family, anti-natalist narrative of the progressives.” He said the Family Caucus would provide a “platform” for pro-family thinkers to provide them with information and ideas and be a place for developing pro-family legislation and strategizing opposition to anti-family proposals.
Andrew Cannon’s recent book Mere Marriage (Alphonsus Publishing) — an analysis of Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching in relation to Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae— contains this sentence: “When the dragons are slain and the curtain falls on our culture wars, a stronger and more confident faith will emerge.”
The Congressional Family Caucus gives members of Congress who support natural marriage a badly needed rallying point. It hasn’t yet slain any dragons, but it is good to know it’s there and sharpening its sword.