Monday, January 9, 2012

When it comes right down to it

Pope Benedict XVI says that gay marriage is one of several threats to humanity's future:

The pope made some of his strongest comments against gay marriage in a new year address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican in which he touched on some economic and social issues facing the world today.

He told diplomats from nearly 180 countries that the education of children needed proper "settings" and that "pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman."

"This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself," he said.

The Vatican and Catholic officials around the world have protested against moves to legalize gay marriage in Europe and other developed parts of the world.

I was rather pleased with the Reuters article for getting so much of the following right:

The Roman Catholic Church, which has some 1.3 billion members worldwide, teaches that while homosexual tendencies are not sinful, homosexual acts are, and that children should grow up in a traditional family with a mother and a father.

"The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and states; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue," Benedict told the diplomats.

Let's just look at that one sentence's main points again: the Church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful; that homosexual acts are sinful; and that children should grow up in a traditional family with a mother and a father.

Those should really be the talking points of every Catholic on gay marriage. This is what our faith teaches us, and it's really very much in line with our Catholic understanding of the value of respecting human persons and their innate dignity regardless of sin on the one hand, and protecting the most vulnerable members of society on the other.

The Catholic opposition to gay marriage is not because Catholics think that people who live an active same-sex lifestyle should be shunned and excluded from some kind of modern human social structure. It is because we think that marriage is an ancient human social structure that means something at its core which can't be replicated by a same-sex union. That core meaning has always related to children and what is best for them. It is best for children that marriage continues to mean the union of a man and a woman both of whom are at least capable of the act of sexual intercourse. Whether or not the conception of a child can or does occur is not the point; the point is that the act is intrinsically ordered toward the sexual unity of two different-gendered people, which sexual unity is the only thing that can actually bring about children in a morally sound way which protects the dignity of the child as well as that of his or her parents. Manufacturing children in a laboratory is just as affronting to their dignity as requiring them to pretend that two "dads" are the same thing as having a mom as well as a dad, or that two "moms" are the same thing as having a dad as well as a mom--they are not the same thing and never will be.

Two men can live together and have a sexual relationship; two woman can live together and have a sexual relationship; a man and a woman who aren't married and/or who can't validly be married (such as a father and daughter) can live together and have a sexual relationship--but none of these arrangements are morally good arrangements in which to raise a child. This is why they don't deserve to be called marriage--because, quite simply, they aren't. The red herrings about infertile couples marrying (as if a test of fertility ought to be required of engaged couples) or about elderly couples marrying (as if being elderly automatically causes them to lack the gender complementarity and ability to engage in the physical union of sexual intercourse) are red herrings precisely because either of these couples are still quite legitimately husband and wife, and could act as a mother and a father to a child--perhaps an adopted child, or perhaps a grandchild they find themselves raising in the second case.

No matter how hard they try, two men can't be husband and wife to each other or mother and father to a child they are raising. Two women can't be husband and wife to each other or mother and father to a child they are raising. And if a cohabitating opposite-sex couple isn't free to marry, then they can't really be husband and wife to each other, either, and can only act as a facsimile of fatherhood and motherhood to any child they might bring into the world--and this example should show us how bad that might be for the child or children.

That example also shows us that those within the Church aren't immune from sin. But you won't see people parading around with signs demanding the right of concubine marriage for supposedly "celibate" bishops--because sinful arrangements, whatever they might be, just aren't marriage, when it comes right down to it.


Jared T said...

i realize the science of homosexuality isn't generally the Catholic Church's field, but for all the homosexual/heterosexual strict dichotomy i don't know that it's always all-or-nothing like that. people who want kids introduced to the concept as early as elementary school mock the idea that anyone can "turn gay," and for the vast majority of people that's true, but plenty of pieces have been written about so-called college Lesbians Until Graduation and women who previously were in long-term lesbian relationships and later ended up with a man, without "conversion therapy" or feeling religiously compelled to.

the problem is no one really wants to talk about the science behind homosexuality cuz the mainstream Right has basically ceded the argument that it's all innate, all the time, and therefore have a hard time objecting to the concept being introduced to young kids on any principled grounds

Barbara C. said...

Just sitting back and waiting for the comments about "Wouldn't it be better for a child to be a with a nice gay couple than an abusive straight couple?" "Gay couples can good people, too. Didn't you see that video?" blah, blah, blah...

Anonymous said...

I have some mixed thoughts on this topic. Regardless, I think this battle can now be declared officially lost. I know I read this somewhere else and I can't remember where or I would mention it, but the best we can hope for now is conscience protections and I think that is where the focus should be.

~ Ann Marie

Jared T said...

well part of why the argument gets lost is when one side thinks they're civil rights heroes (partially because they've been educated that this country was completely rotten before the 1960s and therefore everything is seen through the Holy Civil Rights paradigm) and the other side has strong opinions on what marriage is but is afraid to say anything.

are people gonna have this same defeatist attitude when young kids are given the A-OK to identify/take hormones to shift to another sex? after all people claim Science says it's easier for them to change young prior to puberty, and no kid/parent could ever possibly end up being wrong about something like this...

James T said...

actually "uncool" understates it. i'm sure plenty of currently pro-SSM folks such as older Democrats would have previously reacted the same way to the idea in much the same way people still do today, but they've rationalized that it's just an inherited prejudice they had to do away with. they don't seem to realize that it's not as though we pass SSM and the whole issue goes away, but it's going to be increasingly normalized throughout culture to stamp out any vestigial discomfort with it. "Glee" to the thousandth power.

not to mention in the future more taken-for-granted sexual mores are going to have to be justified and, like this issue, people're initially going to be at a loss because they've never had to marshal detailed arguments for them before. what're the odds, for instance, that in the future we'll see people going "well i'm personally against polyamory, but if it helps a couple's marriage to get a little extra on the side who am i to judge?" it doesn't necessarily directly follow from homosexual marriage, but when you have prominent homosexual columnists arguing in favor of "agreed non-monogamy..."

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Jared makes some excellent points. If I were designing sex education curriculum, I would start with the baseline that sexuality is, by origin, whether divine or utterly random happenstance, heterosexual in nature. I would then note that for many reasons in human history, individuals sometimes feel a surge of sexual emotions and hormones drawing them to individuals of their own sex, rather than the opposite sex.

This may be a passing incident, or result in a long term preference. Many religions, not all, teach that it is fundamentally contrary to the laws or purposes of God to act on homosexual emotions. But it is, in an objective mathematical and biological sense, a deviation from the norm.

Some people are so uncomfortable about it that they start teasing, or throwing rocks at, or murdering, people they believe to be homosexual, which may or may not be true. This is bullying, assault, or murder, and it is not OK.

Its not so much that everything in the country was rotten before the 1960s (the civil rights struggle was going on in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s... but that once one set of laws that badly needed to be challenged fell, people had the notion that "whatever else I want, I have a constitutional right to."

I don't think the battle is over. I think the questions need to be reframed. Nobody is going to "win" the battles as currently defined. For instance, no matter what it may do to the egos of gay couples, it is a reasonable axiom that human children are better raised on one parent of each sex the human race comes in.

Sheldrake said...

As I've thought about the custom of marriage in general, I see it as being based on a number of factors, not just (or even mainly) about procreation or the possibility of it. When I examine marriage, it seems to me that it answers many needs:

1. A healthy sexual outlet
2. Financial security
3. Existential security (of a sort)
4. Social support and responsibility
5. An optimal way to raise children

The only one of these items that same-sex marriage cannot directly address is the raising of children as I think the best thing is for a child to be raised by a mother and father. I think it is important that, if possible, a child has healthy role models of each gender in their lives. But even that is moderated by the actual reality - children are not soley raised by the parents alone but they grow up in a communal context that relies on schools, grandparents, churches, etc...

"It takes a village to raise a child" is somewhat of a cliche but I think it is more true than not.

Thanks for sharing your blog with us. I enjoy reading it.


Tony said...

It is because we think that marriage is an ancient human social structure that means something at its core which can't be replicated by a same-sex union. That core meaning has always related to children and what is best for them.

Unfortunately, in modern American society, I submit, your premise is incorrect.

There once was a time when marriage was a lifetime union of one man and one woman for the production of the next generation of citizens who were raised in a stable loving home.

Then with the advent of widespread use of birth control, it became "the lifetime union of a man and woman to allow them to enjoy sex licitly".

Then with the advent of no-fault divorce, it became: "The possibly temporary union of a man and woman to allow them to enjoy sex licitly".

So in light of this last definition, how can we legitimately say our same sex attraction afflicted bretheren are ruining marriage when we've done a pretty good job of putting it on life support and they are just "pulling the plug".

Don't take this as support of gay "marriage" because I don't. What I would like to see is the government getting out of the business of marriage altogether.

Why should I require, under penalty of law, permission (license) from my government to receive a sacrament in my church?

Seems like a bit of a separation of church-state problem to me.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

That's one solution Tony, and it may not be a bad one - or government can register civil unions of any combination of people who want to share property and visitation rights (whatever they are or aren't doing with each other in the privacy of their shared domicile), while churches handle marriage. That leaves open that government does have a legitimate duty to see that parents are responsible for their children...

But your argument reminds me of the pro-life people who try to discredit the pro-choice position by offering insidious and oblivious arguments for summary execution of five year olds. I can offer many factual differences between aborting a 12-week fetus and killing a 5 year old child. It is hard to fathom how a pro-life person can so blithely argue for killing five year olds.

The fact remains, that a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Whether we like it or not, these are not mere lifestyle choices, but organically different states of being. The reason a woman can now study to be an engineer is not because she is really a man, but because the assumption that all women are constitutionally incompetent to function as engineers has turned out to be unsustainable.

Two men getting together is simply not the same human relationship as a man and a woman getting together, or even as two women getting together. These three human relationships are not similarly situated, whether or not any one of them is or is not a life-long union.

Oh, and why should you be required to obtain permission from the government to receive a sacrament of your church? It depends on whether receiving that sacrament will lead to children, who might become a burden on the state.