UPDATE: This post may make more sense with this post as its partner.
Catholics are in a unique position in regards to the gay marriage debate, one ignored by Catholics themselves and those lobbying for redefinition. Granted, it’s a position more nuanced than the culture would like, and it may very well mean involving oneself in intellectual discussion that transcends Facebook profile pictures with all the influence of Kony2012, so beware. I’m going to try my best to express this position, with the full understanding that it will nevertheless be assumed into the nauseating, all-consuming Zoroastrianism of Us Versus Them.
First of all, no Catholic should hate gays. Hating people is a sin, and if a person refuses to repent of it, he’ll go to Hell for it. Of course, it’s no hatred of the human person to disagree with the attempt to redefine marriage into a genderless institution, a rather obvious fact nevertheless lost upon a culture insistent upon categorizing all philosophies between Agreement and Burning Fire Hate.
Secondly, when the Catholic speaks of marriage he refers primarily to the sacrament of marriage. The sacrament has nothing to do with the vague acknowledgment of unity by a government agency called civil marriage. It has everything to do with the erotic union of male and female, who — by the very reason of their difference — become one flesh. This comes from Holy Scripture, when Christ dishes out a stinging, clearly-not-hip-and-with-it, insensitive Rabbi-slap:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?
Thus marriage — leaving the father and mother to be united to a wife in the physical union of sex that creates another living, breathing “flesh” — is inseparable from being made “male and female.” “For this reason” says Jesus Christ, and how we wished that left wiggle room for other reasons, like marriage for money, convenience, politics, status, or tax breaks! As usual, God disappoints our modern sensibilities.
Nevertheless, the Church holds Christ’s reason-for-marriage as unchanging truth. If the sacrament of marriage were to change its definition, there would cease to be a Catholic Church, for such a change would indicate that the Holy Spirit has left the Church, and that what the Church binds as true on earth is not, in fact, bound in Heaven. A change-of-mind means she is not built upon a Rock, not safeguarded against the ever-changing tides of fashion and culture. She would be revealed as a merely human institution, flowing with the tide of the world.
To put it another way, those obedient to the Catholic Church, down to Pope Francis, would be obliged to accept lethal injection before changing the sacrament, for it is better to die than break a covenant with God, and to ignore the words of his Son, Jesus Christ.
I do not say this to try and convince you of the truth contained in the Catholic view of marriage. If anything, I imagine I’ll scare people off, because — for the sake of clarity — I need to draw lines in the sand. The Catholic is a person set apart in the marriage wars. He does not act of a knee-jerk sense of self-preservation. How can he? Marriage has been preserved by God. The question becomes far more nuanced: What is the Catholic’s relation to civil marriage, legal marriage — marriage as it is recognized by the state?
I speak only for myself, but it seems to me that I am already in opposition to our legal institution of marriage, regardless of whether it later becomes redefined into a genderless institution.
The state recognizes no-fault divorce and subsequent remarriage. The Church does not. If a Catholic spouse marries with the proper Canonical Form and with at least the semblance of the necessary intentions given through the marriage vows, their marriage bond cannot be dissolved, even if the civil government, through divorce, no longer recognizes that a marriage exists. This is not the place to explain the details of why the Catholic Church follows Christ’s teaching when he says “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” This is merely to point out that the Catholic faithful to the Church is already in opposition to the practice of civil marriage.
So too with prenuptial agreements. Entering into a marriage while planning for divorce is a contradiction in terms. From Canon 1096:
“For matrimonial consent to be valid it is necessary that the contracting parties at least not be ignorant that marriage is a permanent consortium between a man and a woman which is ordered toward the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.”
So again, I find myself already opposed to our culture’s current practice of legal marriage. To be clear, the love and commitment of husband and wife maybe awesome and true, but the government recognition of that awesome and true union amounts to an uncommitted tax break.
This bureaucratic nicety, this business transaction — I can’t support it anyways, regardless of whether the government later chooses to nod its abstract head in agreement to the marriage of three people, two men, a woman to her self, or a woman to a building. (As an aside, it also seems that, in general, something as awfully bad as the American government should bear no weight on the truth, goodness, beauty, fidelity, or worth of a marriage.)
So when the Catholic opposes the redefinition of marriage in the public square, he cannot act out of a desire to “maintain of God’s plan for marriage,” that bumper-sticker cry so many Christians are intent on yodeling. Not unless he simultaneously opposes — with equal vigor — a culture of kid-screwing divorce, prenupts, and contraception. Do we really think that if we maintained our civil definition of marriage as between “one man and one woman” we’ve saved the day and now we marry according to “God’s plan”? How little “God’s plan” respects God’s actual plan, the union of man and woman before Him, the intentional choice to become an icon of fruitful self-gift that reflects the love of the Trinity and the love Christ has for his Church, that others may look upon man, woman, and child and know there is a God, that he is love, and that he makes all things new!
(As another aside: I don’t think it’s a very good argument to say that if we redefine civil marriage so that it becomes a genderless institution, churches will be forced to perform gay marriages. It amounts to the heresy of consequentialism. That an action might have a bad effect is no proof that an action is bad in itself. All it means is that an action might have a bad effect. At best it’s a good reason to consider the possibility that an action is bad. All “they’ll persecute churches!” means is that the world will continue to expect the Church to conform to its standards, and will continue to persecute and martyr Christians for refusing to conform. What else is new?)
So why should a Catholic oppose the redefinition of civil marriage into a genderless institution? I try — and fail, usually — to take a page from the book of Pope Francis: In regards to the gay marriage debate, the Catholic should oppose the redefinition of civil marriage out of love for others.
For me — saved by Catholicism from the Adam-and-Steve argument, hatred, and all the rest — the question of redefining civil marriage ultimately boils down to this: Do children have the right to a mother and father? If the answer is yes, then I oppose the redefinition of marriage on the grounds that such a redefinition would restrict a child’s basic, human right. Genderless marriage means the creation of new, intentionally fatherless and motherless family structures. This is not a question of religion, nor a conservative position upheld for the sake of conservatism, and it certainly isn’t hatred. It is concern for human families and their children. It is a view shared by men and women who are gay themselves, proving — once again –that no matter how hard our culture tries to objectify gays and lesbians into emotion-driven creatures that couldn’t possibly think for themselves, they turn out to be — shock! — unique human beings who exist outside of our political brushstrokes.
Xavier Bongibault is an atheistic homosexual protesting a bill to legalize gay marriage in France, and if we’d actually listen to gay people who oppose gay marriage instead unleashing our vitriol and lambasting them as self-hating, we’d probably learn to respect each other a little more:
Jean Marc, a French mayor who has lived with a man for 20 years, is of a similar mindset, saying that “the LGBT movement that speaks out in the media . . . They don’t speak for me. As a society we should not be encouraging this…The rights of children trump the right to children.”
From the same article we hear that:
66-year old Jean-Dominique Bunel, a specialist in humanitarian law who has done relief work in war-torn areas, told Le Figaro he “was raised by two women” and that he “suffered from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it, as an amputation.”
Closer to home, the article by Doug Mainwaring, I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage says it quite clearly. Speaking of his homosexual lifestyle, he says:
I dated some great guys, and was in a couple of long-term relationships. Over several years, intellectual honesty led me to some unexpected conclusions: (1) Creating a family with another man is not completely equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.
There are many gay voices speaking out against the redefinition of civil marriage and the subsequent degradation of children into things we have a right to, and this wouldn’t be surprising if we would stop treating people like the Platonic Form of Gay Man.
The study Xavier Bongibault refers to is Mark Regenerus’ “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study”, and it points out the flaws in the methodology of previous research that have claimed that homosexual parenting is the same or even better than other kinds of parenting, pointing out that you can’t get adequate samples by advertising for your study in lesbian bookstores, nor by using a grand total of 17 couples. The study has been well defended against a lot of emotionalism, but just to be clear, it’d be foolish to use it to make the claim that “this proves homosexual parenting is bad.” Regenerus claims no such thing. However, he does show that the claim that there is “no difference” between the children of mother-father parenting and father-father/mother-mother parent is a similarly foolish one.
What we do know points to the immense value of being raised by a mother and father. The study Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It? shows what common sense already comprehends: A mother and a father give themselves to their child, and the child thrives under the influence of both sexes. The excess of one, the lack of another — this is what makes the child’s life difficult.
We may very well require alternative family structures out of necessity, but this is not the same as the creation of alternative family structures out of desire. Such creation does not respect what I believe to be a basic right of children: The right to a mother and father. To defend this right must always and ever be an act of love.
So this is not to question the love a gay couple has for one another, nor do I seek to exclude a gay couple from an institution on the basis of them simply being gay, nor do I argue from the basis of religion. This is to join hands with gay people themselves in defense of the right of every child to have a mother and a father. If the world wants to annihilate this discussion and the gay voices leading it in favor of the tired dichotomy of Bigot vs. Abomination and Hater vs. Sinner — let them. I — speaking as a Catholic — return my ticket, for I am going to try, with every ounce of myself, to love everyone, and to desire for them their ultimate Good.