3 Responses to Brad’s 3 Questions Regarding Catholics & Same-Sex Marriage

I’m happy to continue the “thinking out loud” about Catholics and same-sex marriage begun by Brad Birzer on these pages last night, even though –having thought about each of these issues at length– I consider my thoughts about them each very settled.

I welcome in the comments, of course, any reader who wants to disagree or agree by adding supporting evidence, arguments, and/or citations from Church teaching to my answers!

Brad begins by asking: “First, as Catholics, why do we really care–at a philosophical and theological level–what a government, be it legitimately elected or not, thinks about the issue of marriage?”

We have to care about what government defines as civil marriage because marriage is a pre-political institution that supports the common good of society. As George Weigel wrote in NRO this week, same-sex marriage represents a “vast expansion of state power.”

Why? Because it is only through power that government can decide it has the competence to redefine what it has no right to redefine – in this case, natural marriage. We see the same bad fruits of this trend when government decided it has the competence to decide when human rights begin – Roe v. Wade decides the law can determine when a human being has the right to life (at the moment of its first breath outside its mother’s womb). And we know what havoc this unjust decision has caused.

Therefore, government actually becomes more involved in curtailing the freedom of human beings and more damaging to the common good when it “expands” the institution of marriage to same-sex partners. Furthermore, law helps to shape culture and embedded within the idea of same-sex marriage is the idea that children have no right to a mother and father. Thus we can see again how redefining marriage redefines-out other basic human rights and makes human flourishing more difficult for a society to attain.

I could go on to add more arguments but I’ll end with this: same-sex marriage poses immediate harmful consequences to the religious liberty of all people who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The comparison gay activists draw between the civil rights movement and their movement to redefine marriage is not accidental: if the government determines that the motivations of Christian to oppose same-sex marriage is actually akin to the racism which motivated some people to oppose interracial marriage … our Christian beliefs about marriage and family will be treated the same way we treat racists in this country, with all the penalties and harassment government and culture can bring to bear on individuals who hold beliefs contrary to what the law plainly says.

On this point I would refer readers to the numerous examples of this trend now happening in European countries and Canada where same-sex marriage has been legalized. Christians are coming under attack not because the same-sex marriage laws there are written poorly, but because they are written well to achieve the goal of marginalizing anyone who disagrees with what the law says.

Second, as Roman Catholics, should we spend our time worrying about issues such as same-sex marriage when other issues–such as the continuing issue of abortion, or the fact we now are waging three simultaneous wars (none with the consent of the one war-making branch under the Constitution–Congress).  These issues are matters of life and death, and we continue each at our own peril as a culture and as a people.

I firmly belief that Catholics must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. I totally believe in fighting to promote and defend the rights of the unborn. Others take seriously the Christian prerogative to hold our government accountable when it comes to either establishing the just cause for the fights we are waging, or putting an end to them swiftly.

But at the same time there are good reasons why the Church places its teachings about human dignity and family in the center of its social thought: 1) all other rights flow from our fundamental right to life and dignity which originates in our identity as being made in the image of God and 2) all human beings come into this world as part not only of the human family – but from our immediate family – the parents who conceived us and are called to care for us in love.

For the Church, the family, not the isolated individual, is the fundamental unit of society. The family is the essential mediating pre-political institution which simultaneously connects individuals in love to one another and rebuffs the attempts of the state to consume us into an impersonal collective. For that reason, the Church says Catholics are called to defend the natural family and oppose in the strongest terms all efforts to undermine it. I believe same-sex is such a grave threat.

Third, shouldn’t the real response come from the priests, rather than the laypersons?  A priest can, with certainty, deny the sacraments to someone involved in a situation acting counter to the spiritual health of the person, the couple, or the community.

Actually, I would argue just the reverse: because government and politics are the proper domain of the lay person it is part of the essential duty of lay Catholics to actively promote the complete vision of man –and the unique role of the natural family– in the public square, and that includes politics. Priests and bishops, of course, have their own responsibilities to see that the teachings of Christ are proclaimed – for thereby Christ acting through his ordained ministers continues to reveal man to himself.

More can obviously be done by priests, bishops and lay people to defend the natural family and marriage in law and culture, but all of us have the duty to do so because all of us are called to be light to the world.

In other words, what sort of light are we Catholics shining if we can’t even stand up for the good things God has given us in marital love fulfilled in family and children?

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105 thoughts on “3 Responses to Brad’s 3 Questions Regarding Catholics & Same-Sex Marriage

  1. Pete says:

    Please forgive the CAPS. It was the most effective way to respond to the written words:

    Because it is only through power that government can decide it has the competence to redefine what it has no right to redefine – in this case, natural marriage. [TOM, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NATURAL MARRIAGE. MARRIAGE DOES NOT ARISE NATURALLY. IT IS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION, AFFIRMATIVELY CREATED BY MAN. AND WE CHANGE THE PARAMETERS ON OCCASSION. NOT SURE HOW IT SERVES YOUR ARGUMENT TO CALL MARRIAGE "NATURAL"].

    We see the same bad fruits of this trend when government decided it has the competence to decide when human rights begin – Roe v. Wade decides the law can determine when a human being has the right to life (at the moment of its first breath outside its mother’s womb). And we know what havoc this unjust decision has caused.
    Therefore, government actually becomes more involved in curtailing the freedom of human beings and more damaging to the common good when it “expands” the institution of marriage to same-sex partners. [TOM, THIS PARAGRAPH IS A CONCLUSORY STATEMENT, NOT SUPPORTED BY FACT OR REASONING]. Furthermore, law helps to shape culture and embedded within the idea of same-sex marriage is the idea that children have no right to a mother and father. [WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? DOES IT MEAN THAT CHILDREN HAVE A RIGHT TO BE BORN TO A MOTHER AND A FATHER OR RAISED TO MATURITY BY A MOTHER AND A FATHER? IF THE LATTER, I DONT KNOW THAT IT IS TRUE - WHAT RIGHT IS BEING DENIED WHEN A CHILD'S PARENTS DIE? TRAGICALLY AND TERRIBLY SAD, BUT A RIGHT IS NOT BEING DENIED. IF SO, HOW, DENIED BY WHOM? IS MY RIGHT TO LIFE DIE WHEN I DIE OF OLD AGE? THIS IS ALL VERY UNCLEAR. IT SEEMS THAT YOU ARE SAYING THAT CHILDREN HAVE THIS RIGHT ONLY SO THAT YOU CAN THEN MAKE YOUR NEXT STATEMENT WHERE YOU LINK SSM WITH THIS RIGHT - BUT THE CONCEPTS OF CHILD BEARING AND CHILD REARING ARE NOT LEGAL REQUISITES TO CIVIL MARRIAGE. THIS DOES NOT INFORM THE DISCUSSION].

    For the Church, the family, not the isolated individual, is the fundamental unit of society. [FIRST, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THE WORD FAMILY? DO YOU MEAN BIRTH FAMILY OR NUCLEAR FAMILY OR EXTENDED FAMILY OR AN EVEN BROADER FAMILY? ARENT A HUSBAND AND WIFE A NEW FAMILY EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE NO CHILDREN? AREN'T THEY STILL ALSO MEMBERS OF THEIR BIRTH FAMILIES? AND YOU DON'T SAY WHAT THE POINT OF THUS STATEMENT IS. BY THIS REASONING, A NEWLY MARRIED GAY COUPLE IS A FAMILY AND IS NOW PART OF THE FUNDAMENTAL UNIT OF SOCIETY AND WITHOUT GAY MARRIAGE, THAT FUNDAMENTAL UNIT OF SOCIETY WOULD NOT EXIST FOR THOSE 2 PEOPLE. SO I'M READING AN ARGUMENT THAT IS PRO-GAY MARRIAGE IN YOUR REASONING.] The family is the essential mediating pre-political institution which simultaneously connects individuals in love to one another and rebuffs the attempts of the state to consume us into an impersonal collective. For that reason, the Church says Catholics are called to defend the natural family [AGAIN, I MUST TAKE ISSUE WITH THIS WORD. I GUESS YOU MEAN THAT A NATURAL FAMILY IS A FAMILY THAT IS RELATED BY BIRTH. BUT THAT WOULD MAKE ALL ADOPTED CHILDREN AND ALL MARRIED PERSONS MEMBERS OF AN "UNNATURAL" FAMILY??? OK, SO WHAT? THOSE FAMILIES ARE GOOD FOR SOCIETY.] and oppose in the strongest terms all efforts to undermine it. I believe same-sex is such a grave threat

    1. Bruce says:

      If marriage is not an objective reality, which is untrue but lets just say its not, then on what basis do you have to limit it just to two people who engage in sexual activity? Explain your logic.

    2. Irishtroubadour says:

      Pete, please don’t take this the wrong way, but to correct your spelling, it is Thom and not Tom.

      1. Pete says:

        @Irishtroubador: thanks, duly noted. If that is your only comment on my post then we are of a like mind on these issues!!

  2. P. Edward Murray says:

    I have come to the conclusion (and I could be wrong) that most folks probably do not realize what effect this has had in Europe to marginalize Catholics and Christians.

    One thought that no one seems to touch on is what the movement has done to the rule of law. I’m specifically talking about the votes in California. When two candidates meet in November or a Referendum is put on that ballot in November, it’s 50% plus 1…whichever candidate or whatever referendum question side gets to that number …they win period. That’s the way our system is designed to work! Now here comes the ssm movement and they don’t like it when “The People” vote because they always seem to lose?

    That is why we must somehow encourage folks to “think” about this and show how wrong they are. Now, there is a place for the judiciary but it’s not here!

  3. enness says:

    I dunno…I’m pretty cynical that the government can be involved and not grow an inflated head, and feel that in very little time it has already done far more damage than good.

    You’ve nailed it on the issue of law and culture. If there’s any respect for dissent left now, it’ll be educated right out of successive generations.

  4. Jake T says:

    If you have to compare your marriage to any else’s for validation, then you have a meaningless and worthless marriage.

    1. Bruce says:

      Since Jake T is our resident expert, can Jake T tell us what marriage is?

      1. jake T says:

        The wikipedia definition is pretty comprehensive – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage – and I stand by my opinion “If you have to compare your marriage to any else’s for validation, then you have a meaningless and worthless marriage”

        1. Bruce says:

          Oh, wikipedia! So much for “peer reviewed journal articles” as you requested from me before. If that constitutes “peer review” I might as well tell you things I saw written on the bathroom stall, and claim them as fact. Anyway, lets take a look at that “peer reviewed” definition, shall we? Wiki says, “Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship.” Okay, so is the lions club and a mortgage. I guess the lions club and mortgages are marriages too. Interesting, but not much help there. It goes on to say, “It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found” Interpersonal relationships, like friendships, coworkers, and roommates? Actually, yes, since all of those can be intimate and may or may not involve sexual activity. So friends, coworkers, and roommates are marriages too. Not too much help there either. In fact, none of “the all powerful and knowing authority” of wikipedia gives any reason why marriage is little more than friendship and social relationship. In fact, it doesn’t and that is by design. This is an anti-definition – it is completely without meaning. Now, perhaps you disagree, and if so, why do you disagree? This definition prevents no one from getting “married” – not siblings, not coworkers of any number or sex (6, 8, 47), not roommates who are really good friends, etc. All of these are married. Congratulations, Jake, you just proved our point: homosexual friendships as marriages makes marriage meaningless.

    2. Curious says:

      “My wife and I have an extremely loving and passionate relationship unrivaled by few other couples.” These are your words on this very thread Jake T. These are also your words on this thread, “If you have to compare your marriage to any else’s for validation, then you have a meaningless and worthless marriage.” So which is it, the first set of words where you compare your marriage “that is unriveled by few other people” or the second set of words of “compare your marriage to any else’s for validation, then you have a meaningless and worthless marriage”? You are very ready to judge others for standing with God’s Word all the while your words are contracting. Can you clear up what you are meaning to post please? God Bless

      1. Irishtroubadour says:

        To you Curious: *applause*

  5. Jake T says:

    Thank you for very well reasoned, thoughful comments.

  6. Katie says:

    So, while I understand the Church’s stance on same sex marriage, could someone illuminate on the idea of same sex civil unions as opposed to marriage?

    1. Bruce says:

      How are civil unions different than friendships?

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