The phrase “talking past each other” surely applies to the “debate” in which we are supposedly engaged over the meaning of marriage as it relates to divorce, redefinition, cohabitation, unwed parenting, etc. On one side, there are discussions of the channeling function of the law, the importance of upholding ideals in the face of real-world tragedies, and the rightful expectation of children to know and be raised by their own mother and father or a very close alternative.
On the other side, the message is simpler: I hurt because of you.
The subtext is that if the laws are changed to be more inclusive or if standards are relaxed, then pangs of conscience will be alleviated or thoughtless people will stop saying unkind things.
As Maggie Gallagher noted recently, it seems that there will always be the potential for unmet desires, but the call for a truly civilized society is to prioritize our response to the hurt this situation engenders. Will we respond to expressions of pain in a way that increases it for another person?
Specifically, in our desire to ease discomfort (sometimes very acute) for adults who would like to deconstruct family ideals, do we make it less likely that children (whose vulnerability ought to make a greater claim on us) will experience the things they need, like a married mother and father? In our desire not to offend sensitivities, will we risk the possibility that some who desperately need moral teaching will not receive it?
A core problem is that our laws and policies can only mask consequences, not prevent them. Like a person who has lost feeling in one part of the body might not realize the damage being done by scalding water, consequences follow our choices whether we want them or not, even if someone else assures us they are not really there. The law can say that ending a marriage is a painless matter of filling out a form online and waiting for a judge to say it’s over. In reality, things will just not be that easy. The government can mislead or even lie about what marriage is, but the realities that underlie it will not be so easily dismissed.