A reader asks…

I was wondering if there are any particular books out there that you would recommend arguing against abortion and gay marriage from a sound Catholic perspective. Over the past year, I’ve started to come back to the Church, but not without some challenges. One of the challenges that seems to surface most is truly understanding key parts of Catholic social teaching, which clash with pop culture, without getting distracted or put off from the pseudo-science or simple polemics put out by conservative groups to justify their position. I just don’t find that very compelling. Moreover, too often my attempts to learn more are stymied by the hyper-partisan nature of the issues. Its hard to discuss and debate an issue with some of my hysterical friends. While I would describe myself as someone with pro-life sympathies, I can’t say I have ever heard or let myself hear a deep argument for the sanctity of a human embryo. Personally, it just feels wrong, but I don’t really have a strong philosophical or theological argument on which to base a strong conviction. Likewise, I have a personal feeling that there is nothing wrong with same sex marriage. However, I admit that being someone raised in 21st century America, I have a strong bias in favor of arguments that rest on notions of individual liberty. So I’d greatly appreciate any recommended texts that argue for the Catholic position on these two controversial issues from a thoughtful philosophical or theological position.

Maggie Gallagher has written extensively on marriage, but I don’t know any titles off the top of my head. On abortion, Peter Kreeft is good.

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  • James H, London

    There’s a very good presentation about gay ‘marriage’ here:

    Yes, I know, it’s Anglican, but it’s nicely bulleted, with references.

  • For abortion, Kreeft’s “Unaborted Socrates” is great, as is his “Three Approaches to Abortion.”

    On gay marriage, I’d turn first to Robert George’s fantastic 40-page article in the Harvard Journal o Law and Public Policy titled “What Is Marriage?” Read it free here:


    Then there is a nice book by Dale O’Leary titled, “One Man, One Woman: A Catholics Guide to Defending Marriage.” You’ll also find wonderful chapters refuting same-sex marriage in Austen Ivereigh’s “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” and Dr. Chris Kaczor’s “Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church.”

    Finally, I’m working on a big 4,000 word section for the Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly on “The 10 Best Arguments for Same-Sex Marriage…and Why They’re Flawed” which should appear in a couple of months both in print and online. Be on the lookout for that.

    • Zeb

      I really look forward to that. I agree with the Church on the sacramental aspect of marriage and don’t recognize homosexual unions as true spiritual sacramental unions, but I don’t understand the Church’s position against civil unions or against simply redefining this one word in the English language that is already used very differently than the Church uses it anyway. I especially don’t understand the urgency and primacy of the issue even assuming, as I do in humility, that the Church is right despite my failure to understand why.

      • “I especially don’t understand the urgency and primacy of the issue even assuming, as I do in humility, that the Church is right despite my failure to understand why.”

        I commend your attitude of humility. The reason it’s so important is that it strikes at the heart of the family, which is an image of the Trinity. The reason it’s so hard to defend the Catholic position is that society in general has long ago given up the game on contraception and divorce. The reason the state has a vested interest in marriage is because marriage is the stable environment which future citizens of the state (i.e. children) need to grow up in a healthy way.

        However, since we didn’t fight nearly hard enough against contraception or divorce, we’re struggling to find a foothold with our arguments about children, stability, etc. For most people, sex and marriage is now about pleasure and bonding. If marriage ceases to be pleasurable and warm and fuzzy, then it’s time for a divorce. Children are simply optional, and don’t figure much into most peoples idea of marriage any more.

        It’s important because any warping of the societal idea of the family is going to have grave consequences back in reality. As Mark says, first you have the “what could it hurt?” phase and then the “how were we supposed to know?” phase.

  • If one recognises a parochial preference for ‘individual liberty’ wouldn’t it be wiser to address that, and leave things like abortion and gay whatever to be dealt with once a more complete understanding of what the Church teaches about human freedom and the basis for judging morality of actions has been established?

    I have a cultural bias in favor of balancing forces. Until I can accept what quantum mechanists claim about force itself, why argue against or for the Higgs boson?

  • Ted Seeber


    Why go for the commentary when you can go for the original source? That and Bl. Pope John Paul the Great was a truly gifted speaker.

  • Melissa

    It isn’t a book, but Jennifer Roback Morse gives a good summary of the natural law arguments against same sex marriage here:


    Start about 8 minutes in– the first minutes are taken up with housekeeping and promoting her website.

  • On abortion, I found both of those really impressive because they became pro-life after providing abortions for years.
    Abby Johnson, Unplanned
    Bernard N. Nathanson, The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind

    On the nature and importance of marriage:
    Jennifer Roback Morse, Love and Economics.
    William May, Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family Is Built
    Carl Anderson and Jose Granados, Called to Love
    Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
    Melinda Selmys, Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism

  • Rachel K

    “Women, Sex and the Church” (ed. Erika Bachiochi) has some excellent material arguing the pro-life point of view from a feminist perspective, although it doesn’t touch on same-sex marriage at all. One warning: a few of the sources in the actual abortion chapter are utterly ancient (in science terms, anyway), and while it may be that no one has disproved certain studies from the 1970s, she never says something like “While this study is 40 years old, it has yet to be disproved.” It damages the essay’s credibility a little. It’s only about three references in a 30-odd page essay, though, and they’re for minor supporting points, so the VAST majority of the chapter is excellent.