Part II - What about gay marriage?
In the first section, we dealt with the question – is it a sin to be gay? – and the answer I established is – no, it is not.
Now we have to even further complicate this already not black and white issue – with a topic that is burning hot in the news these days – that of gay marriage.
Many people, particularly young people, see no reason why a couple who love each other and are ready to commit to each other shouldn’t be able to enter into an exclusive sexual relationship if they choose, and have that relationship be ratified covenantally as a marriage – even if that couple should be gay. This is particularly the case given that such a couple perceivably isn’t hurting anybody else.
There are ample examples on the news and in the media, people we know to be wonderful people – like Ellen Degeneres, or Rosie O’Donnell (well…), who are entering into marriage with their gay partners. I think it’s good that we know these people – at least a little bit. I will always be suspicious of ANYONE who judges a situation without KNOWING ANYONE in that situation. If it’s going to hurt someone for me to tell them they can’t do something, then it should hurt me too – I should feel their pain as well. This is how to tell the difference between loving fraternal correction, and ignorant intolerance.
So this is not going to be an easy answer – but I do believe, based on what I know right now, that it is the right answer, and of course it is the answer of the Catholic Church.
What is Marriage?
The problem is with what the word MARRIAGE actually means. A lot of people right now are saying that it’s a contract between a man and a woman, and that’s why gays can’t get married. But it’s more than that. It’s a SACRED covenant between a man and a woman. That’s what people forget when they talk about marriage – that it’s between a man and a woman AND GOD.
Why? Well, it’s because marriage is a sacred rite intended on celebrating the fact that man and woman, in their emotional, intellectual, PHYSICAL (i.e. sexual) and SPIRITUAL union, are an IMITATION OF GOD – in the union and intimacy of OPPOSITES that is shared (man and woman) – imitating intimacy that is just like the intimacy in God – AND their ability to CREATE – which is also something that God does. A wedding is a sacred ritual where man and woman, as image of God, is celebrated. And this is not just the case for Catholicism or Christianity – this has been the case for every religion in every culture throughout history.
And it’s more than just about the couple themselves (most heterosexual couples that I marry don’t even get this) – their marriage is a CALLING from God to serve the community as a whole as that image of God – particularly to serve their children.
Central to the confusion created today is the fact that the GOVERNMENT should never have gotten into the business of declaring anyone married to begin with – the state just isn’t qualified to declare two people married – because marriage is a religious institution.
On a side note – does this mean that two people that aren’t married religiously, who were married by a Justice of the Peace – aren’t married? I can’t answer that in general – depends on the situation – what I do know is that if a couple endures in marriage for 50 years, then God was present in their marriage, even if they don’t even believe in God, and even if there may not have been a sacred ritual to demonstrate and celebrate God’s presence – God was still there. Ask them how they’re still married after all these years – chances are good the answer that they’ll give is, “It’s a miracle.”
And what do I mean by unity of opposites? Well, we all know, men and women are different from each other. In fact, the more they get to know each other, the more they realize how much there is to know. When they look at each other, they see INFINITE MYSTERY – that fascinates, and frustrates, and causes the two to fall more and more completely in love with each other. It’s through this dynamic that the two experience the FULLNESS of life. This dynamic unity of opposites, this giving oneself to the infinity mystery of the other – this is a glimpse of our relationship with God, the TRUE infinite mystery – whom in the Christian context, we believe to be a Trinity, which is also, in a way, a unity of opposites.
So back to the question at hand – marriage, by definition, is recognition that a man and a woman united and committed for life in love ARE AN IMITATION OF GOD. Can’t two men be an imitation of God? Or two women? Not in the same way – they don’t represent a unity of opposites as a man and a woman do, and they can’t biologically create. And I’m afraid that’s that.
An uncomfortable word must also be said about the question of gay sexual intercourse. While it is certainly the case that homosexual inclinations do occur in nature (as argued Part I), it is also difficult to argue with the fact that homosexual genital intercourse is NOT natural – it uses body parts in ways for which they were not intended, in ways that can be demeaning to the individuals involved, and even in ways that are damaging to the body itself.
It’s really important not to simplify sex to: anything that is pleasurable and that achieves orgasm. Doing so turns the sexual expression from one of mutual love to a way to USE another person and their body parts for one’s own personal gratification. It’s demeaning to the other person, and demeaning to his/herself.
Another misconceptionthat is propogated by our society that really affecting this issue as well. Its this: everyone seems to believe that only only way to have intimacy is to have sex. That just isn't true. It is possible to not be lonely for the rest of your life - without sex. Believing the lie, that sex is the only way to have intimacy, has cause so many of the problems that we have today as a society, and not just with this issue either. By telling gay people that they cannot get married, we are not condemning them to a life of loneliness.
In researching this question, I happened upon a discussion between Ellen Degeneres and John McCain on her show. Ellen raised a few interesting points that I’ll try to address.
The first was that she didn’t see why she shouldn’t be able to “celebrate her love” with her partner in marriage. The answer I would give is that marriage is a lot more than a celebration of their love, as I’ve pointed out above.
The second point she made was in saying that giving gay people the right to marry is similar to giving women or black people the right to vote, which took a while, but eventually everyone realized was the right thing to do.
The problem here is in thinking of marrying as a “right” that people have. Who has the right to marry? Any two people? Any two heterosexual people? I don’t think so. This is one of the reasons why the divorce rate is so high. So many people see marriage as something they have the “right” to do, ignoring the fact that it is an incredible responsibility, that people should have to PROVE their ready for before doing. But this is a cultural problem across the board. To become a priest, I needed at least five years of intensive training and discernment. To get married, couples need to go to a weekend course. That’s it. Does that sound right? Not to me.
Marriage is more than a right. It’s a calling. Two people are to be CALLED to be married – by God. How many couples ask themselves before they get married – “Does God want me to marry this person? Does God want me to marry, period?” Because marriage is not just about our own personal happiness – marriage is about how God calls us to serve the entire human race, including our future children.
So is that fair? That gay people aren’t called to marriage? That they can’t be united to each other in love? Well – I’ll be the first to say – NO – it’s not fair. But life frequently isn’t fair. It’s not fair that a blind man can’t get a drivers license – but they can’t.
So, looking at marriage as “a right” that people have – is the wrong way to look at it.
Children on the other hand, DO have the RIGHT to be raised by an adult man and an adult woman. Of course many couples fall short of this standard, not just gay couples – which is why we have to realize that raising children isn’t just the responsibility of mom and dad, but also of aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, teachers, priests – actually the entire community has a responsibility to raise each child.
Nonetheless, the question must be asked whether a child should be raised by a gay couple. There is no question that a child can be deeply loved and cared for by a gay couple, sometimes more so than by many straight couples today who are just awful parents (and I run into them all the time). Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that any child, boy or girl, needs to get certain things from a male parent and a female parent, so that they can develop most fully into healthy women and men themselves. Direct and immediate modelling is really important for this.
And I agree that many moms and dads still don’t know how to model being a woman or a man for their children – I know lots of parents who’s children have outgrown them in emotionally maturity by the age of 12 years old – but that doesn’t change the fact that we should always strive for that MINUMUM standard, and in particular, challenge our heterosexual parents to realize their responsibility.
Is that all there is to it?
Well, the answer is no. It can’t be. Even though a lot of people, when dealing with this issue, DO leave it here.
How is a gay man or woman, who is supposed to integrate their sexuality into their identity, and NOT suppress it, how are they supposed to interact with the world around them? What’s left for them?
This is why I feel it NECESSARY to continue this discussion with Part III – How do I fit into the church if I’m gay?