“Gay marriage” is of course a hot topic of the moment, with David Cameron actively backing its legalisation and online campaigns both for and against being launched (see button on our own sidebar). It is a topic pro-lifers must take seriously, because like the fundamental right to life, it concerns our very nature and identity as human beings. That’s not for a moment to say that gay people are anything less than human: of course they are no different from heterosexuals in their personhood and dignity. But a gay relationship cannot be equated with a heterosexual one and called a marriage. They are essentially different beasts.
The purpose of sexual intercourse is not only for procreation, but procreation is an essential dimension of it, as the Catholic Church teachers teaches when it states that the unitive and procreative aspects of sex must not be artificially separated. That’s why, in order to answer man’s deepest need for companionship and intimacy, God created a woman. Their relationship – not a petri dish or artificial insemination – is the loving, sexual context in which children were intended to be conceived and born. Over the millennia this committed, fruitful, life-giving relationship of two biologically and psychologically complementary persons came to represent first God’s relationship with His people Israel, and then Christ’s relationship with His Church. Finally it was raised to the dignity of a sacrament, a vehicle of grace and a participation in the internal relationships of the Holy Trinity (which the human family mirrors). In marriage between man and woman, then, we can read the spiritual as well as biological DNA of the human person, his nature, his dignity and his relationship to His creator. It’s what we’re all about on a multitude of layers.
Sexual activity between a same-sex couple is something different. It cannot be procreative and thus cannot co-create with God. There is no biological complementarity to reflect the initiatory love of the Creator with the receptive love of His creatures (even if the couple assume roles). Should children be desired – and this is particularly important from the pro-life point of view – then they will have to be conceived by artificial means (which at the very least will mean conception outside of the act of marriage, and at worst can mean IVF treatment with consequent loss of embryonic life). In short, sex between two men or two women is just a different thing altogether.
One does not need to rely on religion - which of course will not bear weight with everyone - to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Marriage, defined as the “voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life” (Hyde v Hyde 1866), has been a constant of human societies in all ages and all parts of the world. Our own British society was founded on it and until recently held together by the familial bonds resulting from it. This is recognised by the UN Declaration of Human Rights in article 16 which allows that the family, headed by a man and a woman, “is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. Gay marriage will tend to undermine that because it cannot give rise to a family with the usual natural network of extended relationships around it; blood aunts and uncles, grandparents and so on.
The civil partnerships into which gay couples may legally enter bestow virtually identical legal rights to marriage already, so there is no practical reason to redefine marriage in order to include them. A gay relationship may be loving and stable, but it is a partnership, not a marriage.
Christian Medical Comment carries an excellent post which brings together 24 articles on the legalisation of same-sex “marriage” in the UK. I am indebted to it for the definitions of marriage and family quoted above, and it is a mine of useful information and arguments to draw upon when debating this foundationally important topic with those inclined to support “equality in love”. Do go over and read.
I have posted before on the difficulty of separating out the ethical wheat from the darnel in so many of the situations the modern world presents to us. That isn’t to say the basic moral principles aren’t clear, but they are entwined with so many other hurts, challenges and considerations that they can be hard to tease out. Coaxing the knots apart can be a very painful process and this whole debate is a case in point, because we are asking homosexual people to make a sacrifice, even if for the sake of receiving greater blessing and even if it is one we also ask of some heterosexual people, for example priests, religious and unmarried singles.
Being gay is not a sin (although it is a mis-orientation, a particular sharing in the state of disorder each and every one of us suffers from in one way or another); loving someone is not a sin; but the genital expression of that love is a sin outside of marriage, because it constitutes a distortion of what sex is meant to be for and about... and homosexual love can never constitute a marriage. This is a hardship for those with same sex attraction. However much we point out that our society gives too much weight to sex as the only means of complete human fulfilment, however much we draw attention to the myriad other types of loving and intimate relationships there are other than sexual ones and point out that celibacy can have positive value, it remains a hardship. I think it was Michael Voris who said that homosexuals who remain celibate for love of Christ and His Church are “moral giants” amongst us, carrying a heavy cross, and I wholeheartedly agree.
One of the unhappiest aspects of this whole scenario is that, it seems, either you support “gay marriage” and active gay relationships generally, or you are labelled homophobic, unjust and a hater of gay people. You are allowed no leeway to say “I love and respect my gay brothers and sisters just as I love and respect anyone else, but I believe that gay sex is wrong”. That will simply arouse anger, disbelief and accusations of hypocrisy or arrogance. I find that understandable... but very, very sad.