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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Marriage gives strength to families

By Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 11, 2005

Almost half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and almost a third of the children in this country are born outside of marriage. No wonder there's such concern about the status of the family in America! Keeping in mind all of this rather depressing information, I found it heartwarming to attend a recent conference intended to nurture strong families.

Hundreds of Twin Cities families gathered for workshops on raising healthy children, the mechanics of adoption, the effect of pending legislation on families and, finally, children and their grandparents. Attendees and presenters talked about how to handle bullies at school, single parenting and healthy sexuality for their sons. Other issues addressed pertained to parents of color, older parents, helping children work through divorce and the connection between faith and family life.

I was happy to see some St. Olaf alumni at the gathering. One was giving a workshop about being a "doula" (a kind of midwife); another was instructing how to speak up for one's family values.

Teenagers of various shapes, sexes and colors ate lunch together in the cafeteria of the middle school hosting the conference, while their parents visited nearby.

I ate my box lunch with yet another Ole alum, now a seminarian, attending with her psychologist spouse.

I enjoyed seeing all the babies and little kids, for whom rooms had been set aside for care or age-appropriate activities. Some seemed to have been adopted, and I appreciated that their families had chosen children that others might have overlooked (in favor of healthy, white babies) .

This scene might have seemed uplifting but unremarkable – except that nearly all the families at this "Rainbow Families Conference" had one or more gay or lesbian members.

Each family present knew that a significant number of Americans believe such families to be unhealthy, and that such relationships or marriages should not exist or be recognized.

They knew that an amendment to the Minnesota state constitution is pending in the legislature which would not only declare "gay marriage" illegal but also outlaw "legal equivalencies" like domestic partnerships.

A woman who has been with her spouse for 20 years, and has raised children with her, would no longer be eligible to visit her critically-ill spouse in the hospital if only "family" were allowed. This is an example of other privileges which legally married heterosexuals, such as my wife and I, currently enjoy.

I know there are some who fear that government recognition of "gay marriage" would weaken heterosexual families. And I can sympathize with those who feel that marriage and families face tough challenges – they do.

But the irony is that the families I saw this weekend love each other, want strong families and work hard to bring up their children well.

They have made families despite of the roadblocks society has set in their paths.

These families have all of the values – responsibility, commitment, love, hard work and faith – that most of us would agree characterize families at their best. Yet some in Minnesota wish to enforce discrimination against them through our state constitution.

Some see this as a religious issue. People of faith do hold strong views (on both sides) about homosexuality, and some major denominations are torn over it. But no one's arguing that religious communities should not be able to make their own judgments about homosexuality, or decide for themselves whose marriages they will bless or consecrate.

This is about state (not religious) recognition of marriage. It's the part of the wedding ceremony where the pastor or priest or rabbi says "and now, by the power vested in me by the State of Minnesota" before pronouncing the couple married.

It is at this point of state recognition that the couple acquires all the hundreds of legal privileges available to married people in our society. That's one reason why many of us believe that civil marriage is a civil right.

As I left the conference, the February sun was low and the air was growing chilly. But I felt warm all the way home.

Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb is a professor of sociology and anthropology.

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