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Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

We've already redefined marriage, by accepting contraception

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 01, 2015

In a must-read column for the Wall Street Journal, Rev. Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister from Tennessee, argues that acceptance of same-sex marriage “will not cause the degeneration of the institution of marriage; it is the result of it.”

Understand that Rev. Sensing is not happy with the situation as he sees it. “I believe that this state of affairs is contrary to the will of God,” he writes. But he argues persuasively that the public understanding of marriage was doomed when society accepted the Pill, and thereby severed the link between marriage and procreation. Marriage, he observes, had traditionally been recognized and protected by society as the only institution in which sexual intercourse—and, therefore, child-bearing—was sanctioned.

”Society's stake in marriage as an institution is nothing less than the perpetuation of the society itself, a matter of much greater than merely private concern,” Rev. Sensing writes. But once contraception became the norm, and procreation was deemed incidental, the fundamental reason for legal protection of marriage was obscured.

Today, marriage is generally understood as a social and legal contract between two people: nothing more. (In fact marriage is the only legal contract that society does not enforce; either partner can break the bond with impunity.) “But what weddings do not do any longer,” Rev. Sensing remarks, “is give to a man and a woman society’s permission to have sex and procreate.”

In today’s America, an increasingly large proportion of young people believe that they have permission to have sex whenever they want, with whomever they want. As for procreation, that too is taking place, more and more frequently, outside the bounds of wedlock.

But public attitudes could change, as they have changed in the past 50 years, and a change in attitudes could lead to another change in laws. So consider Rev. Sensing’s insight from a different perspective. Imagine that, sometime in the future, our society decides that some permission should be required before couples have sex and procreate.

Reflect on that possibility for just a moment, and you realize that, while our society is very unlikely to impose new restrictions on sex, it isn’t nearly so far-fetched to imagine restrictions on the right to have children. A government that is arrogant enough to re-define marriage is surely arrogant enough to require licensing for child-bearing. And if the marital contract means nothing more than what the government says it means, then marriage does not ensure the right to have children.

Do you want to live in a society in which the government decides who should have children, and when, and how many? If not, you should worry about the future of marriage law. As Rev. Sensing demonstrates, you should worry not only about what the Supreme Court may do, but about what has already been done.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: jslabonik53 - May. 04, 2015 8:31 AM ET USA

    Shades of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World... China has had 1 child policy for decades, so government controlling reproduction is old stuff.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 03, 2015 3:58 PM ET USA

    Sensing wrote in his article: "Marriage is primarily a social institution, not a religious one." Wrong. Marriage is a religious institution and vocation. Cf. Humanae Vitae: "The transmission of human life is a...role in which married people collaborate...with God" (n. 1).... wise and provident institution of God (n. 8).... Let Christian husbands and wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation...made more explicit by the Sacrament of Matrimony" (n. 25)

  • Posted by: hitchs - May. 02, 2015 9:17 PM ET USA

    What a tragedy that we need a non-Catholic minister to explain a Catholic truth. Well done, Rev. Sensing. Of course, while SSM while not actually cause the degeneration of marriage, it will undoubtedly accelerate it even further.

  • Posted by: Victoria0101 - May. 01, 2015 4:53 PM ET USA

    This post reflects on what I thought was my own interior conversation. Society considers sexual behavior to be 'recreation'. Divorce sexuality from reproduction and it is just one more way to spend time. There seems little reason to connect it with the common good, and thus little reason to consider that society should have a voice in such matters.

  • Posted by: ILM - May. 01, 2015 3:40 PM ET USA


  • Posted by: shrink - May. 01, 2015 3:33 PM ET USA

    The concept of licensing child bearing has been in currency within the university child development departments for over 20 years. There is a strain of gay thought (such as it is) that looks to heterosexuals as mere breeders, implying a kind of polluting or dangerous behavior. I can envision in the not-to-distant future, the state mandating vaccinations that sterilizes youth, until such time as they get a license to "breed." Think gun control, of a biological variety.