Monday, 21 January 2013

Same sex marriage - why we must act urgently

Today two members of our parish pro life group, Stella and myself, had the good fortune to attend one of SPUC's Information Days for clergy and laity which are to be held around the country on the subject of the same sex marriage Bill that the Government wishes to introduce imminently.  We were spoilt in that the meeting was held in our own church hall - other delegates had to brave icy roads and snow-delayed trains to attend, but I'm sure they thought it was worth it.  An inspiring and informative day which has, I'm sure, left us all convinced of the necessity of urgent action.

The first speaker was Anthony McCarthy, a bioethicist and Philosophy tutor who now works for SPUC overseeing their educational work and publications and their website.  His talk, Protecting Marriage - Protecting the Unborn, set the whole day in context by illustrating just why the issue of same sex marriage is so important for all of us and why an organisation whose primary concern is protecting the sanctity of life had got involved in the issue.  He pointed out that one doesn't have to be "religious" in order to believe that marriage, defined as an exclusive and committed union between one man and one woman, should be protected.  As Catholic Christians, yes we believe that Jesus Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, but the very existence of that sacrament depends on a prior reality - natural marriage, as inbuilt into our very natures as male and female human beings.  This natural reality precedes all civil definitions and thus determines them.

Natural marriage involves a very particular type of love; that between a male and a female, whose sexual union is oriented towards and contains the possibility of procreation.  To attempt to introduce same sex "marriage" is not a widening of that definition but in fact abolishes it.  If "marriage" is redefined as simply the union of two individuals (gender irrespective) who love each other and want to have sex (procreative potential irrespective), that is a new definition which supersedes and makes redundant the former more particular one.  Marriage as we know it will have been legislated out of existence!  The new definition is one which ignores all the natural attributes which come with our birth gender and its procreational characteristics; our bodies, our human natures, become blank slates which we can "orientate" as we wish.

The implications of this are far reaching and beyond the scope of this post to narrate in detail.  What I find frightening is that we seem to be wiping out any givens when it comes to defining human nature.  We are each a mini god, not only able but with a positive right to create ourselves into whatever we want to be, to do whatever we want to do, without any externally imposed limitations.  This is a highly individualistic worldview which ignores the many familial and social ties that were previously accepted as resulting from our inherent male or female human natures.  Ignoring ties means ignoring responsibilities and in a world of competing individual rights, whose right is going to dominate (because for the sake of social cohesion, someone's has to)?

Why has SPUC got so involved in this issue?  The redefinition of marriage and the new genderless, "orientationalist" concept of the human being impacts, as Anthony pointed out, upon our notions of sex and complementarity - and therefore our concept of the human family itself, where a man and a woman commit to a union from which children can potentially result.  Far more abortions occur outside of marriage than within it.  It follows that marriage has a primary role in protecting the unborn child and to weaken marriage is to leave many more children in the womb vulnerable.  Marriage and the family relationships stemming from it have in fact given rise to our societies as we know them and have very fundamental implications for our self-identity as individuals.

I've rambled on a bit but I think these foundational issues are important, because so many people will say "Yes marriage is important, but if people with same-sex attraction want to marry each other, let them - what difference will it make to the rest of us?"  Anthony showed (with a skill I have not been able to reproduce) that it will in fact make a fundamental difference to the rest of us, to the way we view ourselves, to the ethos and structure of our society.  He and Antonia Tully of SPUC (whose talk followed) both stressed the frightening legal implications for schools and churches.  Not only are pastors, teachers etc who refuse to teach the equality of gay and "straight" marriage unlikely to be able to avoid legal censure, in the case of some professions to the extent of losing their jobs (despite the Government's talk of protection of conscience, any cases brought against such professionals are likely to succeed in court once the basic legislation equalising all sexual relationships is in place), but there are implications for school curriculum content.  Antonia mentioned the insidious ways in which "gay sex ed" is already subtly infiltrating lessons.  Just a photo here, a phrase there, but the mindset is being prepared and the avalanche has been triggered...

So what can we do?  Antonia and the third speaker, SPUC's Honorary Treasurer Bob Edwards, had some clear suggestions to make.  First and foremost, lobby and/or write to your MP and get others to do so!  Consider getting a group together to pop SPUC's leaflets through letterboxes (see SPUC's website for order details).  Have you signed the Coalition for Marriage petition yet (you can do so via this blog on the right)? Catholic parishes should soon be receiving postcards from the Bishops for parishioners to send to their MPs; perhaps organise a table at the back of church so that people can sign these on the spot, and then arrange for them to be delivered to your MP en masse.  Do other people in your church fully understand all the issues implied in same sex marriage and that opposing this marriage does not mean one is a homophobe (it is worth noting that all gay people are by no means united in support of gay marriage)?  Can you work with your priest or pastor to inform others?

This is a difficult and sensitive area, of course, and it is hard to convince people that in opposing gay marriage one can still respect the sensitivities of those with same-sex attractions and understand that they have often suffered greatly.  None of us, gay or straight, are totally defined by our sexuality - we are more than that in our common humanity.  I'd be the first to admit that there are many, many gay people who are far better human beings than I and far more worth knowing!  That is not the issue.  This is not about judgement or condemnation, but it is often seen as such.  Neither, for that matter, are gay people the only ones of whom the Catholic Church asks celibacy.  And from a secular point of view, civil unions already provide gay couples with the same legal rights vis-a-vis property and inheritance etc that married couples enjoy.

Our own group plans to meet soon to discuss some of the things we could do.  And as our Deacon Tom pointed out at today's meeting, our most powerful weapon has to be prayer... For marriage, for our government, for all those who struggle with same sex attraction, for all of us that everything we do may be founded in truth and charity.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, sought thy help or implored thy intercession was left unaided.  Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.  To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.  O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petition, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.


  1. Fantastic post Anneli and I'm so glad the information day was so useful. Sorry I couldn't be there!

    1. Thanks Katherine. This is a difficult issue because of the understandable sensitivities involved... One of the central concepts that came out of yesterday for me is that justice cannot be considered solely in terms of individual "rights", but has to be viewed from the broader social perspective. Nothing we do affects only ourselves. That means we all have to accept certain limitations and yes, those can be inconvenient and even painful. That's not an easy message to give.