Some thoughts on same-sex marriage

On Facebook I joined a little group with the catchy title I bet I can find 1,000,000 people AGAINST same sex marriage! The accuracy of that claim is doubtful of course (the group has some 1,600 members as of the time of writing), but it was created in response to a group with a similar title that was in favour of same-sex marriage. A classic case of sloganeering, I would say.

Anyway, the identity of the group being what it may, I nonetheless joined it and that caused two people to ask me why I am against same-sex marriage. A valid question about a very unpopular position to take, and reason to explain a bit more in this blog. I intend to put the question in a slightly larger framework. I want to take a look at what marriage is and if that idea is in agreement with the modern concept of marriage. To find an answer I want to use my own thoughts about it, obviously, and also some Catholic resources. Yes, I am a Catholic and I support the Catholic ideas about marriage. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

What is marriage?

The Code of Canon Law tells us this: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.” [Can. 1055 § 1]

There is a lot of information in these four lines. First of all, marriage is a covenant, a mutual agreement or contract, so to speak. It also involves a man and a woman who establish this agreement between themselves. Marriage is ordered to the good of the spouses, so they will benefit from it, and it will naturally include children and their education. Furthermore, although a human agreement, Christ has raised it to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized. I’ll come back to marriage being a sacrament, but going over these requirement we get a pretty clear picture.

We need a man and a woman who want to be married. Marriage can not be forced. The spouses must not be opposed to having children, because that would take away one of the defining elements of marriage. The inability to conceive or carry a child to term is different, of course, but I won’t go into that here.

The natural order which is alluded to in the above quote from the Code of Canon Law can be described as an order or set of laws which are innate to nature or creation. They were not later enforced on nature, but are a part of it. Of course, like nature, natural law finds its source in God, but He did not create it separately. The natural order becomes visible in the daily tendencies of nature: animals behave in a certain way, plants develop along certain lines in certain circumstances. In humans, and when applied to marriage, we see the natural order in the sexes. Man and woman complement each other, physically but also spiritually: ” This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” [Gen. 2, 23] and “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh” [Gen. 2, 24] (emphasis mine).

Marriage as a sacrament

 Marriage is also a sacrament. What does that mean? Wikipedia tells us that a sacrament is an “outward sign that conveys spiritual grace through Christ.” I have personally heard it defined as “a sign that achieves what it symbolises.” For example, the sacrament of Baptism uses the symbol of flowing water to indicate that we are cleansed from our sins and therefore it achieves that cleansing. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, the bread and wine are symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ and therefore they are the Body and Blood of Christ (but I won’t go into an analysis of the transubstantiation here).

The sacrament of marriage is executed by the spouses themselves (the priest serves as a witness to validate the covenant made). Through the symbols of the rings, for example, the contract is signed and that contract must then be consummated to make it binding. All very official, but that is a summary of this particular sacrament. It is clearly a true and binding contract if the requirements are all met. These requirements are indicated in Holy Scripture and communicated through Tradition. I have already some examples in the quotations above, but there are many more.

Although it is an act of free will from the spouses and they have full control over the closing of the covenant of marriage, it is a covenant made before God. He validates it through His witnesses (the priest and others). The concept of marriage is not human-made, although the execution, to a large extent, is.

Modern views of marriage

Modern society in the west obviously values marriage. Many people get married, and I read recently that an increasing number of people actually get married in churches again. So the idea of marriage as something more than a mere agreement is still present, but I am afraid it is present as a vague sense and not as a well-defined idea. In my opinion, a large number of people get married (if they get married at all) because it is expected of them, or they feel it would make for the most beautiful day of their life, or other reasons. But there is no clear sense of marriage as a covenant made before God, a concept created by Him and so outside of our decisive influence: we can’t change what marriage is, simply because we didn’t create it in the first place.

Marriage, for many people, is an agreement between two people who want to share their lives together. They love each other, they are compatible and they want to grow old together, and these are all very lofty sentiments. But the enormous increase in divorces over the past decades would seem to indicate that there is no longer a clear sense of ‘marriage is forever’. It is a covenant that can not be broken. Marriage is also no longer always by definition good for the spouses, or ordered towards having children. The idea of what marriage is has changed from the definition I outlined above.

Same-sex marriage, the sensible idea?

Taking modern society’s ideas of marriage, there is no problem for two men to get married, or two men. For them, too, it is an agreement between two people who love and each other and want to grow old together. But is that marriage? I would say no. Marriage is much more than that and, like I said, the sacrament has certain requirements that spouses need to fulfill in order for it to be a marriage.

You could argue that we then just need to change the definition of marriage, but, like I said, we can’t since we didn’t create it. It’s as impossible as changing the force of gravity or switching off the sun. Since same-sex marriage can never be marriage according to its basic definition, we shouldn’t call it such. In fact, a lot of marriages between men and women aren’t marriages anymore, for the same reasons.

I have heard people claim that the “homosexual lobby stole our sacrament!” An insensitive comment in these words, to be sure, but one with a core of truth. The old Christian concept of marriage has, over the years, been adopted and changed by an increasingly secular society. This has been a relatively gradual process and at its root lies a lack of knowledge and education for which the Church is just as much to blame as any ‘secular lobby’ you’d care to mention.

Conclusion

Why am I against same-sex marriage? Well, I think I’ve clarified it a bit: it is not marriage according to its original definition. The sacraments are means by which God communicates His grace to us. We don’t need all sacraments (some, such as marriage and Holy Orders, exclude each other), but we need the ones we do receive in their totality. We can’t choose the bits and pieces of the sacraments that we like. If two people wish to share a life together before God, they’ll get married in the fullness of that sacrament. If two people wish to share a life together just because they want and God is not included in the decision, they do not get married.

The natural order, which I mentioned above, also plays a part in this, of course. I won’t go into too much detail (this post is long enough as it is), but there is serious problem with anything that is not in agreement with this natural order. Issues like abortion, euthanasia and, indeed, homosexuality are not in agreement with the natural order and should be handled with care, so to speak.

Does that mean that I, or the Church, hate homosexuals? Not in the least. It was Gandhi who told us to love the sinner, but hate the sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it better than I can, and I’ll close this post with this (emphases mine):

2357: Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358: The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359: Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

For continued reading: Persona Humana, declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics, published in 1975 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may be interesting.

I realise this is a sensitive and emotional topic and that is why I want to stress that everyone is welcome to reply as long as they do not descend into personal attacks or impolite shouting. Debate is a good thing, but requires more than just emotion.

10 thoughts on “Some thoughts on same-sex marriage”

  1. Hi. I’m a lesbian but I guess you have a point. Marriage by your definition would not allow same sex because it being a sacrament would not make it possible. By your definition of sacrament. But I think God is in love itself. So if I marry, God is in my love for my partner. And He is in her love for me. God is everywhere and in everything. So in our love is the sacrament.

    I find your blog nice, by the way. Although we are so different. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you like my blog. That’s always nice to hear. Thanks. 🙂

      God certainly is present in the love between people, or rather, that love is a reflection of His love. It is visible in a lot of human relations, be they romantic love, friendship, family bonds or, yes, your love for your partner.

      But is that in itself a sacrament? I would say no. That doesn’t take anything away from the goodness of love, of course Love plays a part in the sacraments, making the whole question of human love and relations very intricate.

  2. Your ideas are very refreshing, though that makes it harder to argue with you. Yes, love in itself does not make it a sacrament but love in itself is a sacrament.

    1. I’m sorry that I’m hard to argue with 😉

      Love is such a general concept, with so many forms of expression, that it is hard to pin it down as something so well-defined as a sacrament. In marriage, love is required, but love alone does not make marriage a sacrament. It can be a sacramental though, a means to lead us to God’s mercy, but sacramental are tools, not sacraments.

    1. True, the sacraments became established over the course of time. There used to be dozens of them. In fact, the Orthodox Church still doesn’t recognise a set number of sacraments, unlike the Catholic Church which knows seven sacraments.

      Boswell’s claim is rather tenuous, judging from the article you link to. I’ve heard rumours of these alleged medieval ritual, but I believe it’s been proven to be a seventeenth-century forgery. There certainly doesn’t exist anything like it in the modern Churches, and the fact that something may have been allowed in the past does not automatically mean that it is still allowable.

  3. It was rather bold to join that Facebook group ;). If I understand your arguments correctly you are against same-sex marriage because it isn’t marriage in the Biblical sense. I can understand that. But there are two points I could make in that respect:
    1. Why then, are you specifically against same sex marriage? You could in the same sense easily argue against marriage by anyone not baptized, atheists and the lot.
    2. Following 1: as it is, the French Revolution caused a separation between church and state. Marriage became a legal issue, rather than (just) a religious one. Why not accept the consequences and support all marriages between two consenting adults?

    1. Maybe it was bold, yes. And part of the reason was that a number of my friends started joining groups in favour of same-sex marriage, so I wanted to share the opposite opinion. That got a bit out of hand, but okay, that was to be expected.

      I think that the discussion on Facebook has answered your question, didn’t it?

  4. I always wonder about the reasons why some catholics are against same-sex marriage. I understand that people of the same sex cannot receive the sacrament of marriage in the roman catholic church. But same-sex marriages are by definition outside the catholic church, people married since the dawn of time in all cultures, same sex marriages are only a modern manifestation of this custom; a social recognition and and support of mutual love/partnership between 2 consenting adults.

    To condemn all these non-catholic marriages as sinful is in my opinion not warranted. From my understanding the Church holds people of different faiths and outlooks in high regard and acknowledges the positive aspects in each religious custom or ritual which to my mind would include in either case non-christian heterosexual marriages (i’ll get to homosexual marriages). So not conforming to the Catholic standards is no reason to be against non-catholic marriages as non-catholic marriages at least hold a reflection of a holy union dedicated to producing life or standing in the flow of life.
    Perhaps some catholics feel that use of the word marriage outside the context of the Church is sacriligious. There is another reason then the one above why I think that is an incorrect attitude as the pre-existing concept marriage was adopted by the Church and not the other way around, it’s primarily a social institution, secondly a sacrament for catholics, anglicans, orthodox, lutherans etc. This can be shown through sociology and history.

    A potential solution to clarify matters and not to confuse the two as is done above would be to use different terms, I propose the church would use a different term as this is more correct, perhaps ‘sacramental marriage’. Even in India I was asked, “is this your wife?”… marriage in my view is universal.
    Perhaps non-sacramental marriages could be called: “loving partnerships” and the Church can ‘bless’ these loving partnerships in the recognition of love before God… this was done by progressive catholics in the ’70s and ’80s for catholics who for some reason couldn’t or wouldn’t marry (divorced, impotent, same-sex etc.). Unfortunately this is problematic as sexuality outside catholic marriage is regarded a sin by the orthodox catholics. I think this way of looking at sexuality is disregards sociological and theological insights of the past 30 years, homosexuality is natural and can be an expression of mutual love (not only lust), this has been scientifically proven. So while one can say all kinds of things about using eachother for lust or not wanting to sacrifice your individual life and wants for the good of children etc. this doesn’t mean this is always the case and it can’t happen regardless of ‘sacramental marriage’. Ideals are fine in my book but not when they hurt people in their loving and honest relationship with the community and with God.

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