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Alliance for Marriage
Dedicated to promoting marriage and addressing the epidemic of fatherless families in the United States.

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Saving Marriage: An Interview with Matt Daniels

Matt Daniels grew up poor and fatherless in Spanish Harlem. Now he’s one of the leading advocates for the traditional family, who’s built a multicultural coalition around his Alliance For Marriage, and the campaign for a federal amendment to preserve marriage as a union between a man and a woman. We spoke to him recently about his work, and why children should have the right to be raised by a mother and father.

Matt Daniels

You recently wrote in the Washington Times that the Battle to Protect Marriage was "the preeminent cultural challenge of our generation." Can you explain why?

Matt Daniels: It's preeminent because the institution of marriage is so central to our social, legal, and moral order. A radical transformation of marriage—what we'd call the destruction of marriage—will have far reaching affects we can't even foresee. This is part of the problem. What we're contemplating here is so radical that very few people understand what the long term fallout will be.

Aside from the immediate harmful effects on children, which we'll discuss later, what sorts of far-reaching effects do you think would result from legalizing so-called "same-sex marriage"?

Marriage is the most multi-cultural and universal social institution in the world. It’s deeply imbedded in reality and human nature.
A critical area has to do with the rights of conscience of those who continue to believe in the natural law understanding of marriage. Think about it this way. If as Christians a sacrament of our faith is declared to be a form of hatred under lawand this is the political and legal logic being employed in this debate—then this leads to silencing individuals and institutions that adhere to the concept of marriage as the union of male and female.

We're already seeing this in Canada. Bishop Henry of Calgary is facing hate speech charges before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for expressing in a lettera letter to his own congregation—the Catholic view of marriage. We've also seen mandatory so-called same-sex marriage curricula in all Canadian public schools. If you don't teach that curriculum, you're fired. Canadian children are taught that their own parents are bigots and racists if they believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

This in my view is the goal of the communities who are behind these laws. They don't really have a high regard for life-long, monogamous marriage. That's just a ruse. It's really about seizing the supreme high ground in our society and then from there launching an assault on all communities who disagree with this new norm. I don't think most communities of faith—including certainly Evangelicals and Catholics—see it coming.

Why do we need a constitutional amendment to protect marriage when the problem is not so much legal, as it is cultural and social?

Everyone involved in the Alliance for Marriage acknowledges that marriage suffers from all sorts of corrosive forces within the heterosexual mainstream community. We've suffered from divorce, out-of-wedlock childbirth, and problems like this. But what we're facing now is an unprecedented attack on the legal status of marriage. Practically speaking, this will utterly destroy the institution of marriage for future generations.

Gays and lesbians are free to live as they choose. But they do not have the right to redefine marriage for all of society.
For those in the Catholic community, there's a short hand way to get to the bottom line. The culture of death devalued unborn human life. It's now moving upstream and seeking to destroy and devalue the incubator of human life. And it's choosing the same channel: the courts. There's not one word in the constitution about marriage or the family. If our courts were functioning as courts, it would be utterly unnecessary to amend the constitution to protect marriage. Nonetheless, as we've seen with the issue of human life, the forces that want to advance the culture of death have learned that the most potent tool they have is to allege that the Constitution of the United States mandates their social policy goals and their own vision of society and morality. Then they can force it on the entire nation. They've already done it once in a massive and stunning way. Now we're on fair notice that they'll do it again. They're deadly serious. We're almost there.

You say we're almost there. But it's already begun, at least on the state level.

On the state level, yes. We've already seen marriage destroyed in one state. The federal courts in Nebraska struck down a state marriage amendment. With the stroke of a pen, a single federal judge appointed by Bill Clinton invoked the United States Constitution to strike down an amendment to the Nebraskan constitution. Although the amendment had passed with 78 percent with Republican and Democrat support, the court decided it was an expression of hatred. That's a vision of things to come.

I saw this years ago when I was doing my PhD on judicial activism. I was certain that the courts would destroy marriage. It was only a question of how fast. Things have actually moved faster than I expected. Ironically, therein lies our opportunity.

What do you mean?

This institution is fundamental to the experience and values of most people on planet earthbe they people of faith like Muslims, Jews, Christians, you name it, or of no faith at all—because it's woven into the fabric of reality, it's part of the Natural Law. The opportunity lies in the fact that the forces behind this have overreached themselves by maybe twenty years. Maybe in twenty years this wouldn't be so radical. But today it is still very radical.

The Washington State Supreme Court is poised to possibly legalize so-called same-sex marriage. Since Washington state will issue marriage licenses to non-residents, what do you think will happen if it passes?

Canadian children are taught that their own parents are bigots and racists if they believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
What will happen is what the activist groups have always wanted to happen: you'll get lawsuits in every state of the nation. They will appeal to unelected judges who as a rule tend to embrace the logic that traditional marriage is a form of bigotry and hatred. Then the courts will trump the social policy judgment of the American people. The only questions are how fast this will happen and whether or not we can amend the federal constitution to stop it.

What is the Alliance for Marriage doing to stop this happening in Washington state?

We've filed an amicus brief and appealed to the handful of unelected lawyers who will decide the future of marriage in Washington State, that's about all we can do. I fully anticipate that the appeal will be futile. This is the point, when you take these things to the courts, you shove the people out of the process.

You grew up without a father. Can you talk about that?

What you have in my experience is a microcosm of what happens when families disintegrate, especially in an economically disadvantaged community like the one I grew up in. Four guys mugged my mother when she got off at the wrong bus stop coming home late from work. They broke her back and she ended up disabled and on welfare. If we had a father in the home we probably would not have ended up on welfare. My mother's condition wasn't just a physical disability, but also an emotional and psychological depression. She had no backup or support. When you have an intact family you have a support network.

Well, in an imperfect world, isn't it better then to have two people, two gay men or lesbians, providing economic and emotional support for children?

The answer to that question, I suppose, is that in some cases they could. But the obvious problem with a motherless or fatherless family, whether it's a single-parent home or a gay or lesbian household, is that role models are missing for half the human race.

What was your own experience of not having a father as a male role model like?

I had no example to help me learn how to deal with anger. Studies show that one of the things fathers do for boys is to teach them socially appropriate ways to deal with anger. You don't just pick up a gun and kill somebody, like they do in the inner city neighborhoods.

Another thing fathers model for boys are the behaviors and ideals involved in commitment. You don't use women for sexual pleasure and then abandon them and not take responsibility for the children that result. Part of your role as a man is to remain committed to the women who bears your children and remain committed to the kids. But that has to be learned.

You mean there's no fathering instinct to keep men connected to their children?

Yes. Sex between men and women comes naturally. Fatherhood as an institution is more of a social construct. Every society on the face of the earth has to face this great challenge: how do we keep men connected to the children they bring into the world? Women will typically remain connected to their children. But men won't unless there's some sort of institution, some sort of structure that goes beyond biology. That's what fatherhood is.

So what happens when the institution of fatherhood starts to die out in a society?

The death of fatherhood is a disaster for kids. All of the most serious social problems that our nation faces—violent crime, youth crime, teen pregnancy, welfare dependency, child poverty—all of these problems track more closely with fatherless families and family breakdown than they do with any other social variable, including race and economics.

This is why the urban underclass remains trapped in poverty in the richest nation on the earth. They watch one generation of immigrants after another, like the Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian communities, many of whom face racial and language barriers, who in one generation go from poverty to being doctors and lawyers. The only variable where they differ from the urban underclass is that they have intact families.

Would you agree that it's hard to talk about this topic without seeming to demonize single moms? Do you think you have added credibility because of your experience?

I used to get more questions about bashing single moms. But it is easier for me to address the issue since I come from that kind of a background. I'll tell you, though, most kids who grew up in a single-parent family will be the first to tell you that they really feel the pain of not having a mother and a father in their life. Ditto for single moms. Most of them will tell you they really do wish their children had the benefit of an intact family. So the notion that we're demonizing these people is fallacious.

We're simply holding up a standard to which we as a society should aspire. We understand full well that there will be lots of cases where children will not have intact families. Nonetheless, it's a dream that we dream. We have to dream. Societies and cultures live and die on the dreams they dream and the things they aspire to. Even if they never achieve them perfectly, they really do set a course for a nation and a people. We have to dream this dream that children do best with a mom and a dad because it's true. I believe kids have a fundamental human right to know and be loved by—if at all possible—a mother and a father.

Along the same lines, how important is it to present the issue of protecting marriage in a way that doesn't demonize gays and lesbians as individuals?

One of the themes we constantly stress is that gays and lesbians are free to live as they choose. The Alliance for Marriage as an organization has no position at all on any issues related to homosexuality or the gay and lesbian community. However, they do not have the right to redefine the fundamental institution of marriage for all of society. The gay and lesbian community is not the only one that would take issue with the definition of marriage as it is now under American law. Polygamists, for example, would take issue with it, but we as a society have made a judgment that we want to embrace marriage as being between one man and one woman. That judgment is not motivated not by hate, but by love for children.

It's not necessary or productive to transform this into a debate over homosexuality or the homosexual life-style. There's a "bait and switch" that goes on in the media. We stand up to debate the merits of the question before us. But our opponents always change the subject and imply that somehow this is about being unfair to gays and lesbians. We have to keep the debate focused properly on the question: what is the definition of marriage.

What about the argument that restricting marriage to a man and a woman is a form of unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians?

The African American community understands the devastation that follows from the disintegration of marriage.
Gays and lesbians in this country currently enjoy all the same rights and freedoms as other Americans. In fact, if you look at various indicia of prosperity, such as wealth or educational level, their community is thriving. They have none of the indicia of a persecuted class. They have to allege this false analogy to segregation in the south. They're seeking some sort of constitutional or legal peg on which to hang their argument that marriage should be destroyed. They allege that our marriage laws are the equivalent of the Jim Crow laws in the south. That analogy of course suffers from one major disability: it's historically, legally, socially, and morally false.

The analogy with racial discrimination is false because race is irrelevant to the creation of new life or the parenting of children. Therefore, laws banning inter-racial marriage were inherently unjust and were in fact the extension of a brutal system of racial apartheid in the south which was in turn an extension of slavery. All of this was properly struck down in the 14th amendment. Most Americans understand this. Unlike southern racists, Americans are embracing marriage out of a commitment to the welfare of children. By the way, it's no accident that the highest support for our cause is found in the black community.

How has your own close relationship with the black community, from your brother to your conversion to Christianity, affected your sense of mission to protect traditional marriage and married fatherhood in particular?

The African American community understands the devastation that follows from the disintegration of marriage. It's been living it for a couple of decades now. Walter Fauntroy, the civil rights activist who organized the March on Washington for Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my mentors and a leader in our coalition. One time a black lesbian activist was harassing him at a press conference. She stood up and asked him how he could support discrimination against gay and lesbians of color. His response was something I've heard in various forms from the black community across the country. He said, "You know, I stood next to Lyndon Johnson at the White House at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s side when Johnson signed the Rights Act that outlawed segregation. The ink on the document hadn't even dried when we started to see the blood of young black men flowing in the streets of urban America because so many of our young men had no fathers to teach them how to be responsible men. Back in 1964 illegitimacy was 23 percent. Today in urban America it's 80 percent. If this doesn't stop then we're back to slavery when no one knew who their dad was. That's why I support the Marriage Protection Amendment." That's the kind of passion you get from this community.

Many people would assume that the founder of the Alliance for Marriage would have to be a stereotypical red state conservative. But you and the alliance you've built are anything but typical right-wingers. Why has this cause attracted so much support across the political and social spectrum?

It's simple. I realized six years ago that the effort to destroy marriage through the courts offered an opportunity to create the broadest and widest social movement ever seen in modern American politics. Marriage is the most multi-cultural and universal social institution in the world. It cuts across all racial, cultural, political, and religious boundary lines. I realized it is a profound error to think that somehow this is a conservative cause. Marriage wasn't invented by conservatives or by people on the right or the left. It is an institution deeply imbedded in reality and human nature. We need to think very broadly about a movement to protect marriage. If you start speaking in categories that come out of the more narrow realm of ideologies and politics then you miss the point.

The media doesn't get it. They always deploy the categories of right and left, Republican and Democrat, to try to simplify reality. Often this works, but sometimes it breaks down. Issues come along which are so significant that they blow away the categories. This issue is a challenge for a lot of the existing structures. For example, it's a profound challenge for the Democratic Party.

If working class and poor people of every race and ethnic group are a natural constituency for traditional marriage, especially since it has social justice implications, why hasn't the Democratic Party responded?

On behalf of all the Democrats in our coalition, Latino, African American, Catholic and the communities they represent, I'm here to say that it's our hope and our prayer that far from being the death of the Democratic Party at the polls, the marriage issue could be its redemption. The Democratic Party could move back to the center and get in touch with its base.

The marriage issue could help the Democratic Party move to the center and get back in touch with its base.
Within the Democratic Party there are many people who have enough sense to understand that their party is out of touch with their base. However, a lot of money is solidly behind the determined effort to destroy marriage through the courts. There's this fundamental illogic at work. You talked about a lot of people in Manhattan who would assume a cause like ours was emanating from a trailer part in a red state. They think that because they're ignorant. That's the profound irony. The sophisticated folks of the blue states are the ignorant ones. They're the ones who don't understand America. They have no idea what they're up against. They think they're being beaten in the elections by ignorant, illiterate bible thumping people from trailer parks or something. They're getting beaten by the American mainstream, by people who are black, brown, white, yellow, Democrat, Republican, whatever, who are just not going to budge on their belief and love for the institution of traditional marriage.

You're Presbyterian, but you have many supporters from other faiths and Christian communities. Have you found much support for your amendment in the Catholic Church?

I've been very impressed with the clarity and courage of people in the Vatican in regards to this struggle for the future of marriage. The cardinals I met with on my five trips there, and I think this is true of the Holy Father, understand that as goes the battle for marriage in America so goes the battle for marriage in the West. Just as the conversion of the Roman Empire was responsible for the conversion of Europe, so too what happens in the debate over marriage in America will decide the debate for future generation in the West.

"Gay marriage" was seldom mentioned in the recent Supreme Court nomination hearings. Will the Supreme Court have much bearing on the fight to protect marriage, and if so, how have the recent changes on the bench affected prospects for protecting marriage?

In the short term, we need to see another significant change to the court, at which point we might begin to see something happen. According to a friend of mine who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and not given to hot-headed rhetoric, the Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas already created a federal constitutional right to so-called gay marriage. That's how close we are.

In the long term, the Supreme Court as an institution tracks with trends of opinion within the elite sectors of the American legal profession. If you want to understand where Roe comes from, simply look at the elite opinions of the top ten American law schools. That opinion shifts from the American legal elites and then inevitably becomes law. I went to a top ten law school and at all them it's considered axiomatic that marriage is a form of bigotry and hatred.

How do you hope to fight the power of these legal elites in our society?

We've come so far down the road of legal challenges to marriage, plus the onslaught in some centers of the media, that unless we appeal to the American people to protect marriage at the level of the federal constitution, it cannot be protected. That is the only place you can ultimately hope to see this institution protected for future generations. The political will is there in the American people. The real question is whether we can get our marriage amendment out of congress. If we can get it the states, I believe we're going to win. There are very few issues in American politics where you see this kind of vehemence from the pubic.

In this battle, activist judges and the "legal elite" are the bad guys. But they didn't come out of nowhere. What are the roots of their anti-marriage bias? 

What we're facing is the logical last gasp of the sexual revolution of the 1960s that has caused untold human and social damage. Its central tenet or premise was that the uncensored exercise of human sexuality would bring happiness to all. This logic leads necessarily to the deconstruction of marriage as inherently oppressive. Any reasonable and rational person should be able to conclude that the sexual revolution was a massive net negative for children and society. The problem is that the forces we face have made a commitment that transcends reason. They believe that anything less than the total deconstruction of marriage is intolerable and oppressive. In a sense, they're like sexual Marxists. They're as radical in the realm of sexuality and the family as Marxists are in the realm of economics. They fully intend to take all their premises to their logical conclusions and it's up the common sense of the American people to stop them because we're the ones who are going to have to live with the fallout of this disastrous social revolution.

What advice would you give to young people—and to young men in particularwho grew up in single-parent homes and find it difficult to become mothers and fathers themselves?

When I was faced with the choice of getting married my initial emotional reaction was similar to that of many men who grew up in fatherless families. I had a sort of despairing pessimism, a sense that it would be impossible for me to ever make and keep a life-long commitment to someone in marriage. No one ever showed me how to do that.

I'm not a trained psychologist, but I think one of the reasons men in this culture have such a struggle with commitment is because they're afraid they're going to fail. The answer for me was being part of a community in which I was around male role models, men who were committed husbands and fathers. You find out that, gee, this guy isn't Superman, he's a normal guy with all of the disabilities and struggles that come with being human.

But every day I get up in the morning as a husband and father, I'm constantly confronted with scenarios where I sure wish I'd had a father in my life to teach me how to deal with things I have to deal with now every day. So it's still extremely helpful for me to hang around guys who are good mentors. It's much easier to learn from a good example than to learn from a whole series of bad mistakes when you wish you could do it all over again but you can't.

March 28, 2006

JOHN ROMANOWSKY is executive editor of Godspy.

©2006, Godspy. All rights reserved.

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03.31.06   Godspy says:
Matt Daniels grew up poor and fatherless in Spanish Harlem. Now he’s one of the leading advocates for the traditional family, who’s built a multicultural coalition around his Alliance For Marriage, and the campaign for a federal amendment to preserve marriage as a union between a man and a woman. We spoke to him recently about his work, and why children should have the right to be raised by a mother and father.

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