This Sunday is Mothers’ Day. Like countless other people, I shall send a card, buy some flowers, and made considerable efforts to express my gratitude and love for both my own mother and my wife, the mother of our three children. What I once watched one of them do through the eyes of a child, and now daily see the other do through the eyes of an adult, is an indescribable labour of love and diligence and hard work and pain and patience and endurance and devotion. We all owe our mothers a debt of gratitude which few, if any, of us ever adequately return.
Our government is set upon a course of redefining marriage so that same-sex couples can now ‘marry’. Whatever else may be said about this, and whether one is in favour or opposed, it seems undeniable that at the very least this change in what we consider marriage to be includes the assumption that mothers are not essential for families. That should not be controversial; it is I think a fair statement of part of what the planned legislation is seeking to change. Two men will be able to marry, as well as a man and a woman; so will two women. Neither the man or the woman will be an indispensable part of what marriage is; both can be replaced with someone of the opposite gender without cost or even effect on what the marriage is. Which means that a family will be just as much a family even if it has no mother.
Because marriage is all about families. Marriage is about the founding of families. To change our definition of marriage is to change our definition of family; and if marriage is redefined to allow two partners of the same sex then family is being redefined to allow two parents of the same sex. Again, I do not think that proponents of same-sex marriage would disagree.
Which is, then, to say that mothers can be dispensed with. Perhaps the government also plans to redefine ‘childbirth’ so that we can say that men can give birth to children; even if they do, it will not change the facts of where human beings come from. My mother carried me in her womb for nine months, endured the agonies of labour to deliver me, and nursed me at her breast. And that was just the beginning. She changed countless nappies, broke her back lifting me and wore out shoes pushing my pram. And more significantly still, she made a home where I was loved and nurtured: cuddled me when I was happy, comforted me when I cried, slaved over a stove and a sink and a washing machine, listened patiently to her irritating boy, endured her moody teenager, and all along gave me the immovable certainty (even when I was pig-headed enough not to realise it) that this woman to whom I owe my very being was absolutely committed to my wellbeing and healthy development, as much as a fifteen or twenty year old as she had been when she first felt me stirring in her belly. My father was and is a wonderful man. But in no way could he have done what my mother did or been what my mother was. Not because of anything lacking in him; but simply because he is not a woman. He was and is a great father; no child could have asked for better. But he was not and could not have been a mother. And neither could any other man. Today I see the same with my three young children, and their remarkable mother, my wife. I hope and pray that I am, despite my failings, a good father to them; but in no way could I or any other man do what my wife does or, more importantly, be what my wife is to them. Their mother is irreplaceable. And so is every other mother in the world.
The government’s consultation on same-sex ‘marriage’ last year stated that ‘the personal commitment made by same-sex couples when they enter into a civil partnership is no different to the commitment made by opposite-sex couples when then enter into a marriage’. This is a statement so foolish as to beggar belief. Physical intimacy in marriage leads to children, while that in a civil partnership does not. so the ‘commitment made by opposite sex couples when they enter into a marriage’ includes, for the man, a commitment to fatherhood; for the woman, a commitment to motherhood. It is a commitment not only to each other, to society, and to God; but also to the children that their union will (barring medical problems) produce. That of course is why marriage is such a valuable and essential part of human society. It is what gives children the two parents, so very different, but both so very essential, that they need. Of course death can and does deprive children of one or both parents, and some children with bad parents are able to rise above their upbringing. But this is not to say that either parent can simply be dispensed with at will. The assumption that they can is a clear demonstration of how atheism ends up destroying everything about us which is distinctively human. When motherhood is judged to be dispensable, we should know that something has gone seriously wrong. If we cannot give any significance to what it means to be a mother, it is a strong sign that we have forgotten what it means to be human. If ever there were a reason to question the adequacy of atheism as a system of thought, this must surely be it.
Most people know that they owe their mothers an incalculable debt. To admit this is to admit that mothers are not merely one family option which can simply be replaced without loss with another man. Biologically, it cannot be done; but what makes a mother a mother does not stop with the cutting of the umbilical cord. To say it did, and that mothers, once the midwife has departed, are not necessary, is not only to ignore an obvious fact of human nature. It is to insult the mothers of each and every one of us.