Thursday, 29 November 2012

Same-Sex Unions

Sappho: fresco from Pompeii
The latest issue of Humanum is dedicated to the theme of Same-Sex Unions and the question of gay "marriage." Humanum is the online journal of the Center for Pastoral and Cultural Research, at the John Paul II Institute in Washington. It contains articles and book reviews on a different theme every few months, intended to be useful to people working in the field of marriage, health care, bioethics, and moral theology. In the case of Same-Sex Unions, of course, we are dealing with a hot topic that needs careful thought and has wide political and cultural implications.

Marriage is a particular kind of bond, partly supernatural in origin, between a man and a woman open to a child (or children), its nature being to create a family that will serve as a solid foundation of civil society. In order to achieve the right degree of unity, marriage must be indissoluble, exclusive, and open to procreation (even if children never come). Each of these elements has been under concerted attack for some time. The final stage
of the campaign is to redefine marriage to include sexual union between members of the same sex. The result is not (as the common argument goes) to open up marriage to wider participation, but to remove from everyone the possibility of experiencing marriage as previously defined – in other words, to destroy the previous institution and replace it with something else, something less permanent and no longer supernatural.

As Fr Stephen Wang puts it, "If marriage is redefined to include gay marriage, it means that the core understanding of marriage will no longer include that aspect of sexual difference and complementarity, and that aspect of creating a family where one’s own children may be conceived and raised (even if this doesn’t happen for every couple). The definition of marriage will be narrowed (or perhaps we should say widened) to a relationship of love, friendship and mutual support. This is not just an addition or a minor change; it is a radical undoing of marriage as it is commonly understood." William B. May asks, "Do we need an institution that unites kids with their moms and dads?" Marriage is the only institution that did this. What will become of us if it does so no longer?

In the Summer 2006 issue of Communio, David Crawford argues that the proposed legislation advocates a form of "compulsory homosexuality", because it refuses to encompass the intrinsic otherness of sexual difference, replacing it with a gay anthropology.

In France, Jean Duchesne points out that the debate is simply not taking place, because one side refuses to answer the other. He writes:

'Much is being heard in France these days about gay marriage. Does this mean a genuine debate is developing? Not at all. Critics of the government’s bill on “marriage for all” put forward all kinds of excellent reasons to reject it, and no one replies.

'Government ministers say they are happy to allow everyone to make their points. But the advocates of families with two daddies or two mommies simply don’t bother to argue back. They apparently believe that a self-evident right does not need to be justified. It ought to be acknowledged, they say, not discussed.

'This is why no official or defender of the bill has stooped to comment on the elaborate case made against it by cardinals, bishops, imams, rabbis, and also non-religious individuals and organizations. The media generally find such rational analysis too sophisticated. It cannot be reduced to bold headlines. The general public would get bored.

'By contrast, the notion that anyone should be able to marry anyone else is based on simplistic ideals that any honorable person allegedly will grasp and adopt at once. Shying away from actual dialogue first rests on the principle that any form of discrimination is bad. Denying gays and lesbians access to marriage if they feel like it then amounts to refusing to consider them as human beings. It is therefore morally unacceptable, a form of “homophobia,” which has been declared a hideous crime that toddlers are now warned against in kindergarten.

'It is also argued that several American states and some European countries have already opened marriage to gays and lesbians, and that France must catch up in order remain among the world’s most advanced countries. (We are, of course, supposed to be the exemplary standard bearer of equality and justice.)

'Another excuse for declining to deal seriously with objections is that gay marriage was part of candidate François Hollande’s platform. Since he was elected president, the conclusion is that a majority approved this idea, and that it is undemocratic to challenge it now.

'Opponents (and especially Catholics) are now beginning to stage mass demonstrations. Because rational debates have proved impossible, yet another form of indirect rebuff is taking shape. Mass popular political pressure is branded as unnatural, because marching down boulevards chanting slogans belongs to progressives and defenders of the oppressed, not conservatives and reactionaries.

'All this is highly paradoxical indeed. It would be rather unusual for a leftist government to have to yield to protesters peacefully invading the streets. There has been a precedent, though. In1984, after a million people demonstrated in Paris, another socialist president whose first name was François (Mitterand) was forced to fire his prime minister and entire cabinet and to give up his party’s plan to nationalize all private schools, most of which are Catholic.

'Hollande is by no means sure to do better than Mitterrand. His promise to legalize “mercy killing” has already been postponed – the official explanation is that he wants to give a panel of experts time to investigate the matter in depth and to write a comprehensive scientific report whose conclusions no one will dare disagree with.

'The supporters of euthanasia are obviously more patient than the champions of gay marriage. The latter’s blind determination is another paradox. At a time when marriage is no longer very popular, with boys and girls marrying later or not at all, even if they have children, and divorced more often, it is ironic to see the avant-garde claiming the right to take advantage of such an old-fashioned institution.

'There’s more: no unanimity exists on the left, and even among gay and lesbian groups. Their traditional bisexual and transsexual allies obviously have different priorities, so the LBGT lobby is falling apart. Meanwhile the socialist rank and file, who have higher priorities on their agenda, are perplexed and divided. And to be honest, a few voices in favor of gay rights have also made themselves heard in the Gaullist opposition party.

'It appears that a small “enlightened” elite have persuaded themselves (and a handful of politicians who would be ashamed of being left behind) that same-sex unions are the inevitable next step in the modernization of social life and the growth of civil liberties, a logical continuation of universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the repudiation of racism and sexism, divorce, and birth control.' 


  1. The implication of your thesis is that those of us who have married but find ourselves unable to bear children have not got a valid marriage - which is clearly not your intention Strat!

  2. Of course not! Sorry for not making that clear. I may rethink the way this is put when I get a chance. The point is openness to procreation, not actual procreation. That is sufficient to create the kind of bond we are talking about. And such a marriage can be spiritually fruitful in a myriad ways.
    But I think the teaching is that if a couple deliberately closed off the possibility of procreation, for example by a physical operation or the use of contraception, that would call the sacrament into question. But of course this is controversial.