A catechetical response to same-sex marriage Using a logical argument, the author explains the Church’s position on a difficult issue
By John Cavadini
Why does the Catholic Church oppose same-sex marriage? This question is a burning one for many Catholics.
The recent outpouring of local support for Mark Zmuda, former vice principal at a Catholic high school in Seattle, is an example of how the emotions involved in addressing this question cross our own hearts.
Zmuda resigned from Eastside Catholic High School in December after failing to honor his contract — which states he must follow the Church’s teachings — by marrying his same-sex partner in July. Since Zmuda’s departure, the school’s students have staged a walk-out, spoken out on social media and collected signatures for a petition to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
As is evident by these actions, the Church’s position seems especially inexplicable to young people. Anyone reading this may him or herself be same-sex attracted, and certainly all of us know and love people who are. Why, then, should there be any difficulty for the Church with same-sex civil marriage? Isn’t this a simple matter of civil rights?
Read entire story.
THE “WE CAN’T REDEFINE MARRIAGE” ARGUMENT
The definition of marriage is not really a thing. This is a hard thing for a lot of religious people to accept, because they are so into everything having dogmatic labels, but there isn’t some set definition to an abstract concept like marriage. Countless societies and countless religions and countless nations have created their particular official definition of marriage, but how the nation of France and the nation of Sweden define it might not be the same; the way the Catholic Church and some Hindu religion defines it might not be the same; the way ancient Rome and ancient Greece defined it might not have been the same, etc, etc. You could probably find thousands of “official definitions” of marriage throughout world history. Some of them specify that it is limited to man and woman, others do not, and some have depicted adults marrying children, polygamy, gay marriages, etc.
The Catholic Church as an individual organized religion is free to hold whatever definition they want for the word marriage, and nobody is going to force them to change it, or force them to perform marriages in their churches. While individual Catholics who like the standing definition and the decision to not amend it probably aren’t concerned with the prospect of lots of young Catholics, more liberal and moderate Catholics, homosexual Catholics, and family members of homosexual Catholics leaving the religion for a more tolerant one I’m sure the Vatican is. The organized religion itself isn’t a person who views their Catholicism as a personal thing. Rather, the organized religion is an organization concerned with growing their numbers, maintaining their old members, and presenting a good public image. Given that the Catholics who are okay with not modernizing are mostly straight, older and/or very conservative Catholics, when we consider that such is not a majority of Catholics I wouldn’t be very surprised if at some point in the next 5-15 years the Catholic Church does finally switch its view on gay marriage.
If they don’t do that it will quickly become a religion of the developing world. European and American Catholics are soon all going to be living somewhere where gays are openly accepted and allowed to marry (many European countries and American states already are like this, with the momentum swinging towards full coverage very fast), so if the Vatican doesn’t change very soon it’ll probably become a fringe right wing sect of Christianity in the old western world and hold its big numbers in Central America, South America, and Africa where social progress is still much further behind on this issue, and Catholicism is widespread.
THE IDEA THAT MARRIAGE IS A BABY MAKING EXPEDITION
Obviously it’s ideal to have your kids within a marriage, because married people are, at least in theory, committed to stay with each other for the rest of their lives, so the kids are more likely to have two parents and two incomes taking care of them throughout their childhood. Yet, it doesn’t mean that people don’t have kids outside of marriage, and it also fails to mean that everyone who gets married needs to have kids. The idea seems to be that people’s primary duty is to make babies, so if they aren’t in the business of doing so, they don’t belong in a marriage. People can absolutely be in love with and committed for life to their sexual partner without desiring to make babies with them. Most people just naturally end up wanting to have kids, so they go ahead and do that with their spouse. Yet, this idea that marriage was made for baby-making instead of committed love which oftentimes results in kids is very marginalizing to the notions of love and commitment. The idea is that you love and committee for the sake of making babies, rather than you sometimes make babies because you are in love and committed and wanting to make babies. That seems pretty messed up.
THE “FORMATION OF SOCIETY” STUFF
This was a little all over the place, but it seems to start off by suggesting that the Catholic Church views marriage as “the baby making institution,” and that this “baby making institution” has to be given some sort of special prestigious social recognition as the “right way” to make babies. It’s probably not a big leap to say that most people view marriage as being about way more than making babies, and that there’s nothing wrong with a couple deciding they want to have kids even if they don’t have some legally and religiously recognized marital status. It’s also not a big leap to say that while everyone recognizes that unplanned pregnancies are not ideal, allowing gay people to get married isn’t going to somehow lead to more unplanned pregnancies. Somehow people who can’t make babies (homosexuals) having legal and/or religious marriages is going to cause unmarried straight people to have more accidental babies? That doesn’t make any sense.
Then it goes off onto railing against technological alternatives for procreation. I’m not really sure what the discomfort with babies coming from something other than good old fashioned intercourse followed by 9 months and a birth is, but there seem to be a few things in play. The first of course is that technology is making it possible for homosexuals to have kids. People that are uncomfortable with homosexuality and would like to see homosexuals be lesser people within society don’t want to see them become parents, as being a parent is rightfully seen as a good thing, a tremendous responsibility, and something to take great pride in. By opposing things like gay adoption they thought they could avoid gay parenthood, but with technological developments like in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination we now have situations where gay and lesbian couples can end up holding legitimate claims to a particular child because it actually holds the DNA of one of them. If homosexuals become parents many in society will come to see them as more normal, more human, more loving, more responsible, and more admire once they prove to be good parents like any straight couple. Furthermore, homosexual people will obtain more joy, purpose, and fulfillment out of life as parents. Technology is basically threatening to make homosexuals more accepted by others and happier themselves, which are the last things in the world people who want to both hold up a nasty caricature of homosexuals and simultaneously keep them away from opportunities for happiness would like to have happen.
Beyond the fear of them becoming parents and all that such would entail for public perception of homosexuals, there’s obviously this fear that technology is breaking down gender roles. In particular there is probably a great fear of lesbians getting kids without a man, because the idea had always been that women will give men the sex and children they desire because without a man the woman wouldn’t have access to the kind of life they wanted. Well, then there was that whole pesky feminism thing where they started going after money and power on their own without men, but still women who wanted families could be pegged as holding the role of baby maker and child rearer, while the man was free to do whatever. Now with technology the great fear is that women will go get kids on their own without the help of a husband’s dick, thus leaving them no motivation other than genuine love to be with a man. There’s this great male insecurity often found in western religions, amongst other places, that men won’t be able to get what they want out of women if they can’t hold the leverage of money and sperm over their heads. Of course, it’s not that women won’t still be with men if they really love a man; it’s just that the men feel scared of actually having to earn that woman instead of just being like, “well if you want money and/or babies I guess you are going to have to deal with me and keep me around.” And of course it’s not like men couldn’t conceivably go get their own kids without a wife via technology, it’s just that they won’t, because a man wouldn’t want a kid by themselves, while a woman could very easily see that as a workable situation. So, there does seem to be a fear with reproductive technology that “today it’s the lesbians, tomorrow it’s our wives.”
It then concludes with this emotional appeal to the horror of the idea of children as commodities. This idea seems to be attempting to do two things. First, it appears to be trying to define children belonging to gay parents as “commodities,” compared with the real, human children made by and raised by straight couples. It’s basically an attempt at dehumanizing the humans that are around homosexuals, even if it’s a child-parent relationship. Then there’s this attempt to sanctify sex. The idea of a child made without sex between a man and woman being a “commodity,” makes the sex between a man and woman trying to make a baby within marriage somehow more special and holy because only through that sort of creation can a “non-commodity” baby be made. It’s trying to glorify some sexual relations as holier than thou’s sexual relationship.
THE “HUMAN PRODUCTION” STUFF
Here they seemed to get more into this idea of sex for babies inside marriage being this sanctified endeavor that produces worthwhile results, with other ways of making babies somehow taking away the “special” status of humans or something. I’m not really sure what all this obsession over the way a baby is made and with whose DNA has to do with gay marriage, but I guess it’s because marriage is viewed by Catholics as the place for people to reproduce and the reproductive process being something “special” because humans are “special,” and to allow gays into marriage is to allow them into the world of children and families, which could potentially serve the purpose of humanizing them and their sexual orientation, which is very scary to these people. It’s sort of some long domino affect they seem to be afraid of. Letting gays get married=they will want kids (because duh, that’s all married people want…)=technology will make them kids=human reproduction will move away from sex=humans and sex which are special and sacred will become less special and sacred.
Overall, it seems like gay marriage is being opposed for a lot of the same reasons the heliocentric model of the solar system was opposed in the past or evolution through natural selection is still oftentimes rejected today. It’s all about human beings needing to be this special centerpiece of the universe, purposefully made by a supreme creator who favors them over all other creations, and has created a glorious, meaningful journey for their individual lives and their existence as a collective species. The heliocentric model was opposed for the simple reason it took our home (earth) away from the center of the known universe. It was unacceptable to think that we were sitting on one of many rocks revolving around this one ball of gas, and that there were lots of other balls of gas with rocks going around them in our galaxy and lots of galaxies in the universe. It made us and our existence seem a lot less important being just one piece of some puzzle and not at all the centerpiece of it around which everything else revolved. Evolution was/is unacceptable because it says that humans aren’t one of many species that were created unequally with separate points of a finger from the supreme creator, but rather that however the initial living cells on this planet came to exist, be it through a creator or some other process, it was from those cells that all kinds of species eventually sprung up and separated from one another due to sexual choices they made. This makes your ancestors ape looking things, fish looking things, bacteria looking things, not some man and woman that a god made above all other things.
Now, the gay marriage thing is unacceptable because it’s this reminder that human evolution is driven by humans not some intelligent designer, because the fear is that as gay people start making kids with their DNA that “God didn’t intend” (because they weren’t made from sticking a penis in a vagina) you can literally see new generations of living things that you know were made because of the sexual will of the previous generation, not the will of some supreme creator. A generation of men and women who didn’t like the opposite sex using tools humans made to create kids containing their DNA while not having sex with the opposite sex takes away the mysticism people yearn to believe in where they think they are driven by a deity to a “soul mate” with the opposite sexual body parts as themselves in order to make kids because a deity is driving the future of reproduction, aka driving evolution. This is really fucking scary for people that need to hold onto some self-created rationalization of how the science of things like evolution are still compatible with their religious beliefs by subscribing to an idea such as that “intelligent design” is driving evolution. It’s starting to make a little more sense to me why the idea of gay marriage is so scary to religious people. It’s more about its existence and the inevitable results of it existing seeming to chip away further at ideas they have about the universe than it is about holding onto literal interpretations of OT passages (although that’s still a big part of it).
THIS SHOULDN’T BOTHER YOU
When you ask most people what marriage means to them, it’s really one of those subjective, abstract questions like “what does love mean to you?” or “what does family mean to you?” But most people would give some answer that talks about being in a loving relationship with someone whom they are committed to spend the rest of their lives with, often times being sexual partners, oftentimes having children, oftentimes obtaining legal rights from their state/country, and oftentimes obtaining religious recognition from the organized religion they belong to. To suggest that gay people cannot actually get married is really to say that gay people can’t be in a loving, exclusive, sexual relationship they’ve decided to remain committed to for the rest of their lives. That’s how most people see their relationship with their spouse, so to say that marriage of gay people isn’t a real thing because various religions and governments don’t feel same gender couples should be in these loving, sexual, lifelong commitments with one another, and thus refuse to write up an “official definition” that includes same sex marriages is really just a bunch of subjective silliness. Just as the Catholic Church as one particular organized religion doesn’t have to think same sex couples in such a relationship who obtained a legal or religious marriage certificate from a government or religion that does recognize them, no individual person has to think in their hearts that gay people who are married are “actually married,” but it’s also not their job to try and persuade governments and religions that do recognize these loving life-long commitments to not do so. You don’t have to belong to a nation that recognizes gay marriage, or belong to a religion that recognizes gay marriage. If you come to disagree with and dislike such governments and religions enough, you are free to leave them or avoid living under their rule/joining them.
The really crazy thing about all this is that it doesn’t hurt anyone. This isn’t something like the abortion debates people have. If you don’t agree with gay marriage, don’t belong to a religion that acknowledges them, and just pretend all the married gay couples your government recognizes aren’t really married. It doesn’t hurt you. All this outrage that the world is progressing and is recognizing gays as equals to straight people is something I’ll never understand. We get it, you clearly don’t feel bad that they used to be treated as lessers who couldn’t obtain the same rights as heterosexuals and you feel really, really upset that they are now allowed to obtain marriage rights in many states and many churches, and that’s fine, we all see and acknowledge your feelings. But now that most people are becoming okay with what you aren’t okay with, what’s the big deal? Nobody is forcing you to become gay and have a gay marriage; just let the gays be, and let the people who do feel bad for them and do fight for equality for them continue to do so, and understand that this is now, and forever will be, a majority opinion in advanced nations like America; there’s no going back, just like there’s never going to be some reversal of the legal and social progress black people or women made decades ago.