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A same sex marriage advocate waves a rainbow flag at a protest in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP )
It appears that public opinion about same-sex marriage is diverging from the path promoted by prominent prelates. Catholics today are more tolerant of homosexuals’ equal civil rights, while outspoken Catholic archbishops are raising apocalyptic warnings about “aggressive and godless secularism.” Why?
The bishops are clearly voicing Catholic dogma: same-sex marriage cannot replace the union of man and woman as the Sacrament of Matrimony. But the current laws do not threaten the exercise of Catholic marriage. Actually, the now discredited DOMA law against same-sex marriage prohibited members of the United Church of Christ from following their religious belief that gays and lesbians can marry out of Christian love. Since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits favoring one church over another, what choice is there other than for governmental secularism to allow each church to freely practice their faith?
Moreover, the Catholic Church long ago has come to grips with civil laws that allow for “sin.” Saint Thomas Aquinas (ST 2-2.10.11) accepted laws allowing prostitution: and in our day, the government has legalized divorce. These are both against Catholic teaching, but as argued by the Doctors of the Church, civil law does not have to agree perfectly with God’s law. St. Augustine (De ordine 2.4), for instance, wrote that a greater good is accomplished by
prostitution than in passing laws that make it illegal, but which will not prevent it. At a time when fewer straight people get married before “living together,” it defies logic to say that homosexual marriage disparages tradition. If anything, gays-getting-married argues just the opposite. If they are so eager to enter the civil institution of marriage, what are heterosexual couples missing? In sum, if same-sex marriage does not interfere with Catholic practice, can be tolerated as has been legalized divorce, and encourages the married state — what is the problem?
The bishops’ last argument states that same-sex marriage is against the natural law. Of course, the competence of the bishops to instruct Catholics is restricted to
law. Once they speak in philosophical terms of a natural law, they can only offer prudential judgments, which do not carry the dogmatic authority. The bishops are certainly entitled to their political opinions as citizens; but so are the faithful.
Based on the teachings of St. Paul (Acts: 17:25-27), “natural law” definitions have always included the concept of “search by reason for truth” about morality and ethics. With polls indicating that most people have concluded same-sex marriage is reasonable, the natural law argument seems to undermine the bishops’ position. Nonetheless, these are some of the questions that fame decisions about legalizing same-sex marriages.
Homosexuality may be a genetic disposition, which would mean that it is “natural.”
What if there is a “gay gene”? Consider that it is “normal” to be right-handed; but that many people are genetically coded to be left-handed. They are not, on that account, “abnormal” or “objectively disordered.”
2) Having children is not the sole purpose of marriage. It is erroneous to equate human marriage with animals that mate by instinct when in heat in order to propagate their species. The church states that marriage “is not instituted solely for procreation.” (Gaudium et Spes, 50) Moreover, propagation is not just “having babies,” it also requires raising then. We know same-sex couples have successfully raised children, many of whom have been adopted because heterosexual families have been dysfunctional. So we cannot base the value of human marriages solely on what happens in bed.
3) Human beings have a basic need for companionship. The Bible teaches “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). And while the Catholic Church does not allow same-sex marriage, it requires that homosexuals be treated with dignity, as Pope Francis so eloquently recently noted. Moreover, it is a fundamental American principle of law that people have a God-given right to pursue happiness. So, isn’t it better for society as a whole to have gay people living happy lives with permanent companionship rather than prevent them from achieving their full human potential? Aren’t we all better off with stable families?
When we make our prudential judgments about same-sex marriage, these are issues to consider.