What’s Missing from Catholic Arguments against Gay Marriage

There are several different arguments being offered in court cases and in the court of public opinion in favor of traditional marriage (one man, one woman) and contrary to same-sex marriage. Some of these arguments are good and true. Others miss the mark. First, I’ll review some of the arguments against legalized gay marriage. Then I will explain what I believe is missing from those arguments.

R.J. Snell at Crisis Magazine:

“Marriage is the permanent and exclusive one flesh union of a man and woman naturally fulfilled by the bearing and raising of children. We can know this from nature and reason, although, to be sure, it is not obvious to everyone. We know this also from revelation, and Christians know that the nuptial mystery is a union and communion of difference bearing analogical likeness to the union in difference of the Trinity. Marriage is a welcoming and reception of difference, man of woman and woman of man, which naturally has the creative capacity to issue forth in new life.”

True and well said. But it’s not much of an argument when speaking to secular society. We know what marriage is and should be from Divine Revelation. But that argument will not carry weight in the secular court system of a pluralistic society.

The receptivity point is a version of a common argument, the complementarity of man and woman, which is implicit to the concept of “one flesh”. Two persons of the same gender are two flesh. Complementarity makes man and woman suited by nature for the union called marriage. But this philosophical point is lost on those who do not share our beliefs. The opposition will simply assert that any two individuals might have some type of complementarity in their relationship. We can’t convince them of the premises on which this argument is based.

Snell mentions the procreative argument, as others have. The 10 Reasons… article at TFP Student Action brings this point up repeatedly. (Their “10 reasons” seem to be just a few reasons rephrased 10 times.) They say:

“Traditional marriage is usually so fecund that those who would frustrate its end must do violence to nature to prevent the birth of children by using contraception. It naturally tends to create families.”

Yes, we know from Divine Revelation and Church teaching that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation: “And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them. And God blessed them, and he said, ‘Increase and multiply, and fill the earth….’ ” (Gen 1:17-28).

“Now the truth is that matrimony, as an institution of nature, in virtue of the Creator’s will, does not have, as its primary and intimate end, the personal perfection of the spouses, but rather the procreation and education of a new life. The other ends, inasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary, but are much less superior to the primary end, and essentially subordinated to it. This is true of every marriage, even if no offspring results, just as of every eye it can be said that it is destined and formed to see, even if, in abnormal cases arising from special internal or external conditions, it will never be possible to achieve visual perception.” [Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives, n. 51]

The opposition will argue that marriages are permitted in the traditional view, even if the spouses are elderly, well beyond the age when they can procreate. It is still a marriage, even though procreation cannot occur. Pope Pius XII gives a good response to that point. The eye is inherently ordered toward sight, even if it cannot see in a particular case. Marriage and sexual relations are inherently ordered toward procreation, even if a particular couple cannot conceive for some reason that is beyond their control.

But the above types of arguments, valid as they are to the believer, do not carry much weight in secular society. Many citizens, who come from a Christian background, have become thoroughly secularized. They might retain a few elements of Christianity in their ideas. But they never give the teachings of the faith the first place in their minds and hearts. What is left of religion in their lives is entirely subjugated to the prevalent views in sinful secular society.

TFP offers a few other arguments, including that gay marriage “always denies a child either a father or a mother”. The problem with this argument is that a traditional family might suffer the loss of a spouse, and then the children are raised without either a father or a mother. Again, the Pope Pius XII response can be used. Marriage is designed to give children both a mother and a father, though it is unfortunate when one or the other is lost.

CatholicVote.org approaches the topic from the other side. They present and refute 5 arguments for gay marriage. Within each of the five points is an argument against gay marriage.

Their first point is about the majority view. It seems that the majority favor gay marriage, and that is used (usually tacitly) as an argument in favor. But I will counter with the point that the majority of human persons throughout human history have viewed marriage as heterosexual. Even today, when we consider the views of adults worldwide, the majority oppose same-sex marriage. Russia, India, China, Africa, and South America are all regions where the push for same-sex marriage has met much opposition. So the “majority rules” argument would favor traditional marriage.

CatholicVote also presents a version of the “slippery-slope” argument. Once gay marriage is legal and accepted, other types of marriage will be legalized and accepted next, including polygamy. But this seems to me a weak argument. It is not the reason that the Church rejects same-sex marriage. And the opposition can always define marriage as any two people, which includes gay marriage and excludes polygamy. Or they can say: “Why not polygamy?”

Phil Lawler offers a good point over at CatholicCulture.org, saying: “We’ve already redefined marriage, by accepting contraception.” By the wide acceptance of contraception, we have already redefined marriage as NOT based on procreation. Then, to argue against gay marriage, we pay lip service to procreation. There are many Catholic authors who distort and dilute Church teaching against contraception, to the point where contraception is claimed to be justified by intention or circumstances, and even the deaths of prenatals from abortifacient contraception are said to be justified. Then these same persons argue against gay marriage based on its lack of fecundity.

Another point: it is all too common to hear Catholic spouses say that their marriage is a 50:50 partnership. That’s nice fodder for gay marriage advocates, because it redefines marriage as independent of gender and procreation. The 50:50 partnership concept can be considered an element of traditional marriage, but it is not the defining feature of traditional marriage. Secular society has influenced the minds of Christians so much that many now think of traditional Christian marriage in entirely secular terms. And this explains why so many Christians are willing to accept same-sex marriage regardless of Biblical tradition and Church teaching.

What is Missing?

To rephrase the title question: What is missing from most of the arguments against gay marriage? — the teaching of Divine Revelation and natural law that unnatural sexual acts are always gravely immoral. Traditional marriage has the purpose of procreation, and to that end the husband and wife engage in natural marital relations open to life. Their sexual acts are moral because they are marital and unitive and procreative. Under Catholic teaching, the only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life.

A same-sex marriage is essentially societal approval for gravely immoral sexual acts. These acts are unnatural because they lack both the unitive and procreative meanings. Two persons of the same gender can have a close relationship as friends, co-workers, brothers, sisters, etc. But two persons who are married have a close relationship that includes moral sexual acts. Two persons of the same gender cannot engage in moral sexual acts, since their sexual acts are inherently non-procreative and, in the Catholic view, inherently non-unitive. For the union chosen by God for marriage requires that complementarity found only in the two-fold sexual nature of humanity: man and woman.

The immorality of unnatural sexual acts is what is missing from most arguments against same-sex marriage. Why is this argument avoided by Catholics and Evangelicals who argue against gay marriage? It is because grave sexual sins of every kind have become common among Christians, including many Mass-going Catholics. They do not want to condemn same-sex marriage on the basis of the immorality of unnatural sexual acts because this argument calls attention to the unrepentant grave sexual sins of so many Christians.

The Courts

Why shouldn’t the secular courts permit same-sex marriage, in a pluralistic society, despite Christian teaching? That’s a tough question, because all of the Divine Revelation, Biblical, and Church teaching arguments don’t carry much weight. The courts will not agree with any assertion merely because it is a religious teaching.

We can argue from natural law that legalized gay marriage is a form of approval for gravely immoral sexual acts. But the secular court system does not think much of purely moral arguments, especially when the moral basis for the argument is already thoroughly rejected by the culture. Courts do not like to admit this, but they are influenced by culture and society; their arguments are not entirely based on reason, law, and constitution.

However, we can argue that the government should protect and privilege traditional marriage in order to protect and promote the propagation of the species. The nations where gay marriage is already widely accepted also have declining birth rates, often below the level needed to sustain the population. The fertility rate (“the average number of babies women from 15 to 44 bear over their lifetime”) needed to sustain a population is 2.1, but the U.S. rate is only 1.86 (according to the CDC as reported in the NY Times).

The societal approval for gay marriage has the foreseeable effect of encouraging more persons to form a lasting union that is incapable of procreation. This harms the fertility rate further. If instead traditional marriage is protected and privileged, the propagation of the species, already endangered by the falling fertility rate, can be protected.

It seems to me that, out of all the arguments against gay marriage, the protection of the propagation of the species is the strongest legal argument. The problem is that the deck is stacked against the traditional view of marriage and family. Modern culture has already rejected traditional views on family, faith, and morals. The courts are working from a set of premises that in effect nullify the best and truest understanding of marriage and family, that found in religion and in the moral law. So I agree with the pro-gay marriage crowd on one point: it is inevitable that our society legalizes and approves same-sex marriage. For we have already approved and accepted every related sin.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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5 Responses to What’s Missing from Catholic Arguments against Gay Marriage

  1. Paul says:

    Yes, just imagine if you went into a gay marriage debate and your best argument against it was for the protection of the propagation of the species. You’d feel naked. And there’d only need to be one or two exceptions found (with >= 2.1 fertility rate) to further weaken one’s position. Furthermore, many people are in favor of smaller populations in pursuit of other agendas.

    I think it’s best to put forth the moral argument without any dilution or apologies. Otherwise it sends a message to the youth that their faith is irrelevant in this day and age and that their parents are too old and stubborn to change their ways. It may appear that their parents are against it because they are bigoted; not because they have good reason to be against it. Why read a book and profess a creed that made one’s parents irrationally bigoted? One could even feel morally righteous ‘progressing’ one’s faith past such ‘irrational bigotry’. The legal fight appears lost. Let’s not further discredit our faith in a futile attempt to argue sans Divine Revelation.

    Ron, I respect your (what some would term strict) view on sexual morality within marriage. But how many people within the Church (especially teachers) agree with this position? It seems to me that these are not small matters to disagree upon. I find that a more permissive view gives one the sense that God is somewhat perverted to will such acts. But any perversion is of man. Perhaps if one fails to recognize this, our perception of God’s holiness may become diluted and the door to relativism cracked open in our hearts.

  2. Francisco says:

    Marriages between a man and a woman, and “marriages” between homosexual persons cannot have the same rights because they are not the same. As simple as that. Marriage between a man and a woman imply procreation, they produce something that homosexual unions cannot produce, citizens to the state (who when they grow up, they will also produce for their country and the human race). Therefore, they are not equal.

    We all have the same rights as humans persons, this is our general right. However, there is another type of right which depends on our capacities and according to what we produce. For example, I don’t have the same right to be in the US National basketball team because I’m not as talented, not even as tall as the professional basketball players who can be selected for the national team. If I play for the US national team, it will be unjust for the players who produce better than me, it is unjust for our country because it will be very likely that our team will loose matches because of me. Unjust for the fans, etc. And so forth, there are many other examples.

    Thus, not only homosexual unions cannot have the same rights as marriages between a man and a woman who can potentially produce children to the world, but also, it is unjust for them if homosexual marriages are treated as if they are equal because homosexual unions would be receiving benefits for something they don’t produce naturally. A bolt and a nut do the job, unlike two bolts or two nuts. It’s not the same.

    Also, children have the right to enjoy the company of, or at least to know about their biological parents which sometimes don’t happen in homosexual unions. It is good for them to have their fatherly and motherly figure. When children in homosexual environments grow up, yes they can love the people who raised them, but they will long to have known their true biological parents. This is something natural that is in our hearts. Therefore, it is definetily not the same.

  3. Dot says:

    Whatever we do, it is important to express our genuine concern for homosexual persons and their unhappy predicament. They need to know that even heterosexuals make extreme sacrifices for the sake of marriage and they are not singled out to give up what they earnestly desire.

  4. Douglas Gray says:

    The dilemma is more of a secular one than spiritual. Many years ago, the State granted special tax breaks and privileges to families with children. Now homosexual adoptive parents want the same, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution makes it hard for SCOTUS to say no. They are after all, making the same sacrifices, especially the financial ones, so they deserve the same breaks. The solution is to have a Federal Civil Union Law, which grants these same rights to homosexual couples, but not for the Government to get involved in the debate about what constitutes a marriage.

    While it is true that kids without a biological Mother and Father miss something, they have been missing that for thousands of years, due to the death of one or both parents, etc. Two homosexual parents can provide a better environment than a traditional family beset by domestic violence and cheating. If you are a child, and your Dad murders your Mom, that would be much more traumatic than having two gay parents.

  5. Paul says:

    Douglas,

    What do you expect two homosexual parents will teach their children about the morality of acting on homosexual inclinations? You only need one chink in the armor of Catholic teachings for the rest to also be discarded. If one is not Catholic and does not agree with the Church’s moral teachings, then of course this argument will not be convincing in any way. But if we reduce ourselves to purely secular discourse, our arguments must necessarily be weakened as the culture shifts. As you demonstrate in your post, these secular arguments are already weak. I am Catholic, and they don’t convince me. What chance do they have of convincing secular-minded folks?

    It also makes it look like we are ashamed of our ‘backward’ teachings. Are we ashamed of them? If we are, then why are we Catholic? There’s no reason to be ashamed of them. There’s only temptation to timidity in the face of cultural backlash. And if we propose these weak secular arguments as our main reason for disagreeing with this cultural change — when we’re not even convinced of them — do we not announce our own weak faith? It shows we are faithful for selfish reasons, rather than for truth. We are sacrificing the truth in order to participate in secular arguments at a culturally acceptable level. How can this ever work?

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