Last week’s judicial decision striking down the marriage law of Wisconsin has all of us thinking, talking and praying. The questions surrounding marriage, family and homosexuality are often complex and challenging.
How does the church respond doctrinally and pastorally to this profound social and legal shift? Certainly, increased pressure will be put on the church to acquiesce to this fundamental redefinition of marriage.
Local media have been filled with images of same-sex couples marrying at the courthouse, amid hugs, kisses and tears, and we readily acknowledge the human dignity, good will and loving intentions of these couples. As Catholics, however, we know there are deep values at stake in this same-sex marriage debate that need to be affirmed.
The Lord Jesus calls us to love, serve and accept everyone as brother and sisters. Any prejudice or hatred against anyone for any reason finds no place in the Gospel or in a disciple’s heart. This call to love obviously includes anyone with a same-sex attraction.
Many homosexuals have probably perceived more judgment and exclusion from us than love and acceptance. We need to accompany each other in support, prayer, charity and sacrifice, so that the first and fundamental message anyone hears from us is, “God loves you, you have an inherent dignity and worth as a person and we respect and care about you.”
We can all work to be better at that. I know that I certainly need to. So, the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage is not rooted in prejudice, hatred or intolerance of homosexual persons.
I recommend a very interesting book, “What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense,” written by Robert P. George, a professor at Princeton University and visiting professor at Harvard Law School, Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson, which uses strictly non-religious reasons in advocating for the restoration of traditional marriage, including, but not limited to, the maintenance of marriage as between a man and a woman.
The essential thesis of the book is as follows: society has always seen an intrinsic link among sexuality, marriage and the pro-creation of children. Marriage and family have always served as the essential basis and organizing principle of any human society. The life, health, safety and education of children are best guaranteed by loving and dedicated marriages.
A wife and a husband, bound to each other in a permanent matrimony, would most naturally provide the best environment for their children to flourish. Hence, the state regulates marriages because it has a vested interest in their stability and success. Marriage has always been a public and social institution, unlike a personal friendship.
Due to a multitude of reasons, including the sexual revolution, the contraceptive pill, the sky-rocketing divorce rate, the legalization of abortion and changing social norms, the intimate and logical connection among sexuality, marriage and the rearing of children came apart in recent decades.
With easy access to contraception and abortion, people started viewing sexual relations as a pleasurable recreation, not a consummation of a marital love open to new life. Sex outside marriage has become the new norm; those who do not indulge in it are considered odd. With no-fault divorce, couples can as easily and readily end their marriage as they began it. Children have become an intentional choice, not a logical fruit of marriage. So now, we have sex without marriage and marriages planned without children.
In this cultural climate, marriage has become a private, sexualized friendship that may bear children or not, that may endure or not, that exists solely for the personal, emotional and sexual fulfillment of the partners. This redefinition of marriage, which has been in process for decades, makes same-sex marriage appear logical, just and necessary.
After all, if marriage is simply about finding a partner whom one finds emotionally fulfilling, what difference does gender make? As the reader can surmise, the authors argue for a return of the traditional understanding of marriage, reaffirming the necessary connection among sexuality, marriage of a man and a woman and the pro-creation of children. The current disconnection among these three human goods has had disastrous social consequences. Thus runs the fundamental premise of the book.
In addition to these sociological arguments, the Catholic Church has always theologically defined marriage as a sacramental expression of the love between Christ and the church. The monogamous union of one woman and one man, bound in the love of Jesus, open to the gift of children, is an icon or window expressing the inner life of the Trinity, whose self-emptying love expresses a unity in a diversity of persons.
God’s plan for man and woman is inscribed in the physical and psychological complementarity of the sexes. Woman and man are created for each other. Thus says both natural and divine law. God’s plan for human sexual love is two-fold: the growing unity of a man and a woman, bound in matrimony, and the pro-creation of children. Any sexual expression outside of this definition falls short of God’s purpose and therefore is sinful.
As we experience the rapidly shifting cultural and legal norms concerning same-sex marriage, these sociological, philosophical and theological points expressed above will seem archaic, prejudiced and unjust to many. As Catholics, however, we cannot disregard or redefine 2,000 years of moral belief, built on the authority of the Scriptures, the traditional teaching of the magisterium and the wisdom of natural law.
Part of authentic love is speaking the truth, even when that truth is difficult to hear or is rejected. This moment calls all of us to study, pray, discern and love more, always with respect, civility and charity for everyone, especially for those who disagree with the church’s teaching.