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Another Look at “Gay Marriage”

September 25, 2009


Another Look at “Gay Marriage”

By: Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal

The passage of bills in several states recently, including our own, has raised a very important question: What is marriage?

Marriage is not a creation of the state. It pre-existed all states and all of the world’s major religions. The law, whether civil or religious, simply reinforces and supports an already existing human institution. Marriage is a unique and natural phenomenon with a definition that springs from the very nature of the human person.

What is that definition? In every society, in every culture, from the dawn of human civilization, the definition of marriage has included certain elements. Marriage has always been a bond between a man and a woman. It has always been seen as a permanent state. It has always required faithfulness. Marriage has always had two objects. One of these is the good of the spouses themselves, that is: mutual assistance; emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual support; a sharing of resources and property; and a certain communion of life and love. Marriage also has as one of its objects, acts which are apt for the procreation of children. Now, of course, there can be unintended obstacles which frustrate the achievement of that purpose, including age and health reasons, but marriage should be open to this creative impulse and then open to following through with the formation and education of any children that might be born. With regard to this latter object of marriage, in many ways it was the procreation and education of children that was the primary reason in the history of humankind why men and women bond for life unlike some other creatures which mate and never see each other again. The nature of the human child requires long-term and intense care which in turn calls forth a long-term relationship between the spouses.

What is the definition of marriage according to the state, in view of its recent legislation? Well, certainly the state’s definition no longer includes permanence. With the advent of easy divorce for virtually any reason proposed by the couple, many couples understand permanence merely to mean they will stay together as long as their love lasts or as long as they find the relationship to be contributing to their personal fulfillment. Many couples in America today marry with the desire for a permanent relationship but with the escape clause, however unexpressed, understood to be available to them.

Certainly, marriage according to the state no longer includes faithfulness. Most people would agree that whether or not couples are faithful to each other is no business of the state. Couples can decide to have an “open” marriage if they so choose. If one of them were to be unfaithful, that is purely a private matter between themselves and not subject in any way to the scrutiny of the law.

Regrettably, we all know that the bond between marriage and procreation was ruptured some decades ago. Today about 40% of children in America are born outside of marriage and in some groups that percentage rises to about two-thirds of all births.

Now, the state tells us that even being male and female has nothing to do with marriage. So if you eliminate openness to permanence, fidelity, openness to children, and male and female, what is left of marriage? It becomes no more than a relationship for mutual support and sharing of property and, since the state cannot legislate mutual support, it ends up little more than a contract regarding property rights. Marriage has been reduced to the least common denominator.

Now I am no hopeless romantic, but this sounds to me like a frightening reduction in the nature of marriage, a social structure so necessary for the well-being of society. At this point, you can see that what the state does is never more than civil unions. An individual couple may, by their own consent, choose to bind themselves in a religious or even nonreligious ceremony to more than a mere contract regarding property rights, but the state makes no such demand. The state sees no difference between marriage and civil unions. But, is that really the “marriage” we want as a society, and, for that matter, as voters?

If marriage means marriage, with all the elements of that definition I have listed above, and if marriage is not just civil union, then there is nothing discriminatory about restricting marriage to one man and one woman. That’s simply the definition of the thing. We have different words with different definitions for different things. A cat is not a dog; an oak tree is not a rose. It is not discrimination to call one person a man and another person a woman. It is not discrimination to call one person a father and another person a mother. It is not discrimination to call one person a husband and another person a wife. It is not discrimination to say that one person is heterosexual and another person is homosexual. As Abraham Lincoln said, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” Calling the relationship between two homosexuals a marriage, doesn’t make it a marriage. It simply doesn’t fit the definition. It is not discrimination to call things by their right names.

As for the civil rights and obligations that have been attached by civil law to marriage, for example, inheritance or other property rights, rights regarding medical care, or the right to certain employment benefits, all of those things, without exception, could simply and easily be made equally available to the unions of two homosexual persons without calling these unions marriage. Marriage can remain what marriage has always been and another name (pick one) can be given to unions of homosexual persons. The civil rights issues, in so far as there are any, can be easily solved without further reducing the definition of marriage.

One final point, if you will allow me. I know that gay activists are interested in claiming the name marriage as a way of asserting their personal dignity and the dignity, as they see it, of their loving relationships. But you do not claim your dignity by trying to adopt the ways or structures or titles or names or definitions of some other group of people. You assert your dignity by demanding respect for yourself, as you are, in all your diversity. It is not gay pride to aspire to an institution that is uniquely and by definition a heterosexual institution.

This was the error of some elements of the early feminist movement. In order to be accepted as a woman, women were encouraged to disguise their uniqueness as women, to become as men are in order to succeed in business or politics or whatever. Perhaps you remember the whole “unisex” craze. But as the feminist movement matured, it was seen that women have a dignity that is their own and that does not demand becoming like men. Men and women are really different. And women claim their dignity by being women with gifts to offer to business and politics and medicine and science and religion, not by denying or suppressing the differences between them and men. Gay men and women repeat that error in asserting that they can only have the dignity appropriate to them by appropriating the uniquely heterosexual institution of marriage, thereby, unwittingly, denying their own unique identity and dignity.

The Catholic Church affirms the dignity of every human being. Gay men and women are entitled to their rightful dignity. They are not entitled, in my thinking, to marriage.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2009 7:29 pm

    This is so many kinds of wrong I hardly know where to start. It does not matter that marriage predates our civil laws. We’re one of the youngest nations in the world; many things predate our laws. You state that “law, whether civil or religious, simply reinforces and supports an already existing human institution [marriage].” There is no religious law in this country to which all citizens must adhere. Additionally, simply because some states’ current laws “reinforce and support” the definition of marriage that you prefer does not make that law valid OR righteous. 150 years ago, there were laws that simply reinforced and supported the already existing human institutions of slavery and child labor. Slavery and child labor predated our civil laws; an appeal to tradition or longevity is hardly sufficient statement of your case.
    Hunh. Didn’t even get past your first paragraph yet.

    • mlabot permalink*
      September 25, 2009 11:20 pm

      Dominique, I think it basically boils down to two differing world views. You have yours and I have mine. I would like to see mine continue because it makes the most sense and includes the greatest guarantee of freedom for everyone.

  2. Richard permalink
    September 25, 2009 11:23 pm

    I think you’re right. One set of people sees the issue in a completely different light than the other set. If you really think about it, what is there to gain from the same sex marriage point of view? Redefining marriage to include everything but the kitchen sink….who does that help?

    I love the pray for marriage banner. I’m posting on fb. Thanks Marie!

  3. pomegranateappleblog permalink
    September 26, 2009 3:41 am

    Good points Richard. Thanks for the post ML.

  4. Chairm permalink
    September 27, 2009 2:28 am

    Domninque, it does matter that through thousands of years, across cultural divided, across religous differences, civilizations have recognized and shown preference for a social institution. This predates any state, including our own. That’s the point.

    Also, through millennia, some things about marriage have varied as have the civilizatons that have come and gone, sure, but that makes it all the more remarkable that certain features of marriage have remained the same. These universal features were not invented by our state. These features were recognized. When you license something, you license what that something actually is. Universal features pretty much inform us what marriage is.

    Secondary and teritiary features — near-universal and variable features — don’t do that kind of hard work.

    Marriage integrates the sexes (see the man-woman basis) and provide for responsible procreation (see the presumption — legally enforced in our society — that the husband is the father of children but to himself and his wife during their marriage). These combine as a coherent whole. This is the special reason for special status that we accord the social institution of marriage.

    Whether or not a society has a religious law that governs marriage in all of that society, the point was made that the core of marriage pre-exists all religions. What makes marriage, marriage, is not a purely religous concept. It arises from the two-sexed nature of humankind, the opposite-sexed nature of human procreaton, and the both-sexed nature of human community. This is the baggage that the social institution brings with it and which each generation passes on to the next. Hence the thousands of years of recognized universal features that cross state or religious lines.

    You say that tradition is insufficient basis for lawmaking. Well, we don’t rely on that alone. But, on the other hand, SSM argumentation depends on the relatively new tradition of romance; there is no legal requirement for romance so you are standing on something you rejected.

    Longevity? Well, SSM argumentations emphasizes gayness but that’s also a very recent invention. SSM supporters conflate the socio-political identity “gay” with same-sex sexual behavior and attractions. They say that such behavior and attractions have always been part of the overall human experience. So they mean to place some justification in longevity. Do you? No matter, even where states have sanctioned such behavior — and institutonalized it favorably — there is no precedent for legally merging one-sexed type of sexualized arrangement with the conjugal type of relationship of husband and wife. Given the length of human experience, it is remarkable, don’t you think, that longevity has not applied to the notion of ‘gay marriage?

    Gay is a socio-political construct of relatively recent times. While same-sex sexual attraction is subjective and may or may not be inborn (surely not genetic), no socio-political identity is inborn. No society is founded on such an identity.

    Whatever the essentials of what you have in mind when your talk of ‘gay marriage’, it can’t be based on tradition and longevity, as per your own “Hunh”.

    But it does appear to be based on the assertion of supremacy in the name of gay identity politics. And that is more in keeping with the racialist identity politics that was pressed into the marriage law in some places in the USA — in the time of anti-miscegenation. Both affronted the core meaning of marriage by bringing under its auspices selective sex segregation (the racialist through a white supremicist filter, the SSMers through a gaycentric trump card); both disaparaged and undermined the provision for responsible procreation (racialist through bastardization of children whose married parents where outlawed from legitimizing them, the SSMers through a direct attack on the unity of fatherhood and motherhood as supposedly irrelevant to the special status of marriage in our society).

    When you talk of slavery — with its racist background in the USA — and when you talk of child labor — with its commodification of the most vulnerable among us — well, you appear to be oblivious to the way that SSM argumentation is closely analogous with racialist identity politics and, where children enter into it, is dismissive of the unity of fatherhood and motherhood for the well-being of each generation’s progeny.

    “Hunh”, indeed.

    • mlabot permalink*
      September 30, 2009 11:55 pm

      Right on Chairm! Marriage is much more than simply a piece of paper or a declaration of love. It’s an agreement, a contract, a promise and that promise is extended to our children and future generations. It’s much more than same sex marriage advocates want to acknowledge. The slavery/racist rant just makes me sick. Stomping on the civil rights movement to make yourself look a little taller is nothing but a transparent ploy.

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