If you’re like me and you have friends who experience same-sex attractions, you know that this is a deeply personal and sensitive issue. Although some people who experience these attractions are opposed to re-defining marriage, others who wish to marry often feel that the Church is discriminating against them and is unfairly opposed to their desire to simply love one another. However, the issue of same-sex marriage isn’t ultimately about equal rights, bigotry, hatred, or even about homosexuality.
The issue is about the definition of marriage and who has the authority to define it. For example, if a woman wanted to marry two men, the Church does not believe it has the authority to redefine marriage in order to accommodate her wish. Similarly, if a husband decided he no longer wished to be married to his wife, but instead wanted to marry another woman, the Church does not have the authority to pretend he could be validly married to anyone other than his wife. As Jesus said, ‘‘Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery’’ (Luke 16:18).
The Church recognizes that Jesus’ teaching on marriage can be a cause of suffering for those who desire to live otherwise. But by upholding God’s original plan for marriage, the Church is not expressing hatred toward any group of people. Rather, the Church believes that although some things in the Gospel are difficult to accept, we will only find fulfillment by trusting in God’s plan for our lives.
The reason why people of the same sex who love each other and are willing to be faithful for life cannot get married is because there is more to marriage than love and faithfulness. These are necessary elements, like two legs of a four-legged chair, but they are not the only ones.
One reason why our modern culture doesn’t understand why two people of the same gender cannot marry is because contraception has divorced procreation from sex. If heterosexual couples engage in sexual activity that is opposed to the transmission of life, why can’t members of the same sex do likewise?
To understand why marriage requires the union of a man and a woman, we need to define the essential characteristics of marriage and sex. When a man and woman make love, they are renewing their wedding vows and promises with their bodies. Such a concept is easy to understand when you consider the essence of marriage.
For a valid marriage to take place, the union must be free, total, faithful, and ordered toward procreation. All these characteristics are necessary. For example, who would consider a marriage to be valid if the husband forced the woman to marry him? What about a couple who agreed to marry and have children, but refused to be faithful? According to the Church, these would not be real marriages, even if the couples had legal marriage certificates. Similarly, if two people cannot have the kind of sexual relations that are designed to give life, they are incapable of marriage.
Because of this, some argue that the Church is ‘‘discriminating against gays.’’ This is an understandable reaction, but realize that the Church is not singling out same-sex couples. In fact, the Church also believes that heterosexual couples are incapable of marriage if they are impotent. Not to be confused with sterility (a condition in which a couple is able to have intercourse but unable to have children), impotency means that a person is incapable of having intercourse.
Ever since the beginning, the marital embrace has been an essential and integral part of marriage. In Genesis we read, ‘‘A man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh’’ (Gen. 2:24). In marriage, the total gift of one’s self becomes indissoluble through the total gift of one’s body. This is how a marriage is consummated.
Just because two people are engaging in some kind of sexual embrace, it does not make them one flesh. For example, if a husband and a wife only engaged in the kind of sexual activity that a same-sex couple engaged in, the husband and wife would not have consummated their marriage.
The reason why only male and female bodies are capable of becoming one is because they are made for each other. Of all the biological systems in a person’s body (circulatory, nervous, digestive, and so on), only the reproductive system cannot fulfill its purpose without uniting to a member of the opposite sex. Consider what happens when the cord of a lamp is united to a power outlet. Because the two were made for each other, light is created. The same is true with sexual complementarity and the creation of human life.
Because members of the same sex have bodies that are not created to receive one another, they physically cannot express the vows of marriage. This inability of the bodies to become one expresses the deeper reality that they were not meant to give themselves to each other in marriage. Therefore, the Church has no authority to marry a couple who cannot speak their wedding vows through their bodies. A nonmarital relationship cannot be declared a marriage. This is not easily understood by a culture that separates sex from marriage. Not surprisingly, the culture that first demanded sex without marriage now demands marriage without sex.
Some advocates of same-sex marriage point out that the Church allows opposite-sex couples to marry even if they can’t have children. However, if a husband and wife are unable to have children because of sterility, they would still be truly married because they are still capable of becoming one flesh. The validity of their marriage does not depend on what happens in the woman’s womb several hours or days after they become one flesh. Although children are the possible fruit of their union, their union is still real even if conception does not occur.
The comparison of homosexual couples to sterile heterosexual couples falls short because sterility is a dysfunction for heterosexual couples, but is natural and necessary for the homosexual couple. If you’re looking for similarities between heterosexual and homosexual couples, look at the couple using birth control. Their sexual acts, just like homosexual acts, are ordered against the transmission of life. Many people don’t know this, but if a couple gets married and intends to use contraception and never have children, the Church does not recognize their marriage as valid. If they set their wills against life, then the Church says that no marriage ever existed between them. They walked into the church as two singles, and they left as two singles. In the eyes of the Church the same would be true of a homosexual “marriage,” even if it was recognized by the state.
Marriage is not something that was invented by the Catholic Church—or by the government. In fact, the traditional view of marriage (as the life-long, faithful union of one man and one woman) pre-dates Christianity, and can be found in civilizations throughout history. The reason for this is simple: Couples have intercourse, intercourse makes babies, and babies need parents who stay together. Whereas a mother has no choice but to be present at the birth of her children, one of the historical purposes of marriage was to bind a father to his offspring publicly. Although that might not sound romantic, cultures have always known that the stability of every civilization depends upon the stability of its families. Thus, the institution of marriage has always been intrinsically ordered toward procreation and family life. In fact, the word ‘‘matrimony’’ literally means ‘‘the duty of the mother.’’
Let us assume, though, that marriage doesn’t need to be ordered toward bodily union and family life. If marriage were redefined to be about emotional union and cohabitation, why would it need to be permanent? Why would it need to be sexually exclusive or restricted to two people? Many same-sex couples agree that faithfulness and permanence are essential to marriage. But the fact remains: If the traditional view of marriage discriminates against same-sex couples, then won’t the mere recognition of same- sex marriage discriminate against others who wish to have ‘‘marriages’’ that aren’t monogamous or permanent? How could those who favor same-sex marriage legally refuse marriage to them?
The Advocate, a popular gay-advocacy magazine, explained this well when it stated:
“Anti-equality right-wingers have long insisted that allowing gays to marry will destroy the sanctity of ‘‘traditional marriage,’’ and, of course, the logical, liberal party-line response has long been ‘‘No, it won’t.’’ But what if—for once—the sanctimonious crazies are right? Could the gay male tradition of open relationships actually alter marriage as we know it? And would that be such a bad thing? . . . perhaps now is the perfect time for the gays to conduct a little marriage makeover.”
In God’s eyes, marriage is supposed to be a sign of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church (cf. Eph. 5). As young people today know, marriage is already broken enough. A redefinition of marriage would further obscure and contradict this sign of God’s free, total, faithful, and life-giving love. As one professor and proponent of same-sex marriage wrote, ‘‘conferring the legitimacy of marriage on homosexual relations will introduce an implicit revolt against the institution into its very heart.’’
Another consideration that needs to be made is the issue of children and their well-being. If a person is in favor of same-sex marriage, then he or she will necessarily need to approve of genetically engineering motherless and fatherless children. After all, same-sex married couples want to have children of their own biological makeup. To do this, they use techniques such as in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogate motherhood.
Deliberately creating motherless or fatherless babies is a social experiment that shows a lack of concern for children. Approving of this is equivalent to saying, ‘‘Being raised by your biological mother really isn’t any better than being raised by your dad’s male partner.’’ Granted, it’s not always possible for both biological parents to raise a child. Some children need to be adopted. But a mom cannot be replaced by two dads, or even by two hundred of them! Just ask anyone who has lost his or her mother to divorce or death. Likewise, dads don’t make good moms. Both are unique and unrepeatable.
One man who was raised by two moms said of the experience, ‘‘I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it, as an amputation.’’ He is not alone. One famous lesbian celebrity adopted a son, and was asked what she’d do if he wanted a dad. She replied that when he was six, he said, ‘‘I want to have a daddy.’’ Her answer to that was, ‘‘If you were to have a daddy, you wouldn’t have me as a mommy because I’m the kind of mommy who wants another mommy. This is the way mommy got born.’’ He said, ‘‘OK, I’ll just keep you.’’ The son was made to feel that if he wanted a dad, he’d be rejecting her. She also shared that her son now knows that ‘‘There are different types of people; that he grew up in another lady’s tummy, and that God looked inside and saw there was a mix-up and that God brought him to me.’’ In other words, because God didn’t want him to have a dad, he intervened to prevent such a mistake. Another case of a boy adopted by a gay couple was published in The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. In the article ‘‘Recreating Mother,’’ it explained that one of the dads hired nannies to care for him, but fired them when he became too attached. This happened three times, and the boy was seeing a therapist for his psychological problems by the age of four because he wanted to ‘‘buy’’ a mom.
Same-sex parents undoubtedly care for their children. They cheer for them at their kindergarten plays, comfort them in times of sorrow, and make many sacrifices for them. The same could be said of single parents, stepparents, or adoptive parents. None of this changes the fact that kids do better when they live with their own mom and dad. It seems that the only people who refuse to admit this are those who lobby for same-sex marriage. If it’s biologically necessary for men and women to cooperate in order to create children, shouldn’t we believe that both parents are equally necessary for the developmental well-being of those children?
Although the world has taken this for granted for thousands of years, some modern sociologists have attempted to show that same-sex parents are just as capable as biological parents of raising happy children. But consider the following facts: If a girl does not grow up with her dad, she’s more likely to suffer sexual abuse and experience out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy, while fatherless boys are more likely to become involved in crime and end up in prison. Extensive research has shown that children raised by same-sex parents don’t do as well as those raised by their married biological parents.
Some homosexual activists object to these findings, arguing that other studies have shown the opposite. What they don’t realize is that their conclusion is inexplicable: Long before the same-sex marriage debate ever surfaced, decades of extensive research showed that children do better when raised by their biological parents than in any other arrangement (stepparents, single parents, and cohabiting heterosexual parents). Why should one expect same-sex unions to offer a parental benefit that heterosexual adoptive parents can’t even offer their children? Furthermore, if two dads can raise a child just as well as one mother and one father, then why couldn’t one father and two wives raise a child better than anyone?
Many people who have same-sex attractions yearn to become fathers and mothers, and these desires are healthy, good, and understandable. But in the end, a child’s right to live with his father and mother should take precedence over anyone’s desire to have a child. Simply put: The rights of children should come before the right to children.
All the issues mentioned above are emotionally volatile and often ignite heated debates. Those who argue in favor of same-sex marriage claim that others need to learn to celebrate diversity and become more tolerant. But at the same time, such advocates will not tolerate those who believe in traditional marriage. Laws are enforced against those who do not agree with the alternative lifestyle, and same-sex marriage is portrayed in the media as a human-rights issue, equivalent to interracial marriage. But if belief in traditional marriage is on par with racism, then those who support it will be viewed like racists. They will be scorned and looked down upon as close-minded, hateful bigots.
Because young people are especially aware of the harm caused by social isolation and bullying, many of them dismiss the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. They mistakenly assume that the Church’s message contributes to hatred and unjust discrimination. Largely because of the media, teenagers today experience overwhelming social pressures not to ‘‘hate gays’’—as if the invitation to chastity involved anything other than profound love and respect. Young people, perhaps more than others, realize that everyone experiences an ache to satisfy the deepest desires of his or her heart. We not only have right to that fulfillment, God has destined us for it. No one should prevent another person from finding it! However, our ultimate fulfillment cannot be found in any human relationship. If God created us to experience perfect fulfillment, perhaps we ought to trust Him when He says that it can only be found by following Him.
What is often overlooked amidst the heated rhetoric is that the Church is calling all people—regardless of their sexual attractions—to love. As surprising as it may sound, the Church today does not forbid people who experience same-sex attractions to love one another. In fact, the Church seems to be the only institution that is inviting them to love. We are created for love, and our lives make no sense if we don’t experience it. However, we often need to grow in our understanding of what love really means. If two members of the same sex love one another, they will do what is best for each other. They will encourage one other to identify themselves as beloved children of God who happen to experience same-sex attractions, rather than people who are defined by their sexual urges and happen to believe in God. They desire union because of their love, but true love desires more than physical and emotional union; it desires the good of the other. It desires heaven for the other person and will encourage him or her to embrace the virtue of chastity. This is not a renunciation of love, but a profound and courageous expression of it.
. ‘‘I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage,’’ by Doug Mainwaring, Thepublicdiscourse.com; ‘‘A Gay Catholic Voice Against Same-Sex Marriage,’’ by Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times, (June 4, 2010).
. Ari Karpel, ‘‘Monagamish,’’ The Advocate, July 7, 2011.
. Ellen Willis, ‘‘Can Marriage Be Saved? A Forum,’’ The Nation, July 5, 2004, 16.
. Jean-Dominique Bunel, as quoted in ‘‘French homosexuals demonstrate against same-sex ‘marriage’,’’ by Wendy Wright, Lifesitenews.com.
. Rosie O’Donnell, ‘‘ABC Primetime Thursday’’ interview with Diane Sawyer (March 14, 2002).
. Eisold, B. K ‘‘Recreating Mother,’’ The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 68:3 ( July 1998): 433–42.
. Kristen Anderson Moore, et al., ‘‘Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?’’ Child Trends Research Brief (June 2002): 1–2, 6.
. Mark Regenerus, ‘‘How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,’’ Social Science Research 41 (2012): 752–70; Marriage and Public Good: Ten Principles (Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute, 2008).
. Susan L. Brown, ‘‘Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation,’’ Journal of Marriage and Family 66, no. 2 (2004): 351–67; Wendy D. Manning, et al., ‘‘The Relative Stability of Cohabiting and Marital Unions for Children,’’ Population Research and Policy Review 23 (2004): 135–59; Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994).