The Gay Marriage Debate: Brought to you by Contraception

ContraceptionI’ve been reflecting on some of the comments on my most recent post. Again and again, gay marriage advocates come to the debate insisting that marriage is a fundamental civil right, which begs the question. This assumption would not be possible if certain logical fallacies did not already commonly exist.

First, there is the false notion that marriage is a right. Marriage is not a right — not for anyone — it is a license. The difference between freedom and license no longer being widely understood, an easy way to distinguish a right from a license is that in the case of a license, you typically have to obtain a license to have permission to perform the action. Driving requires a license. Starting a business requires a license. Being a barber requires a license. And of course, getting married requires a license.

Licenses may be denied on various grounds, at the discretion of the issuing body. Driver’s licenses may be refused if the driver has too many moving violations or a DUI, for example. Marriage licenses will not be issued in most states to people wanting to marry their first cousin. Closer lines of consanguinity are against the law everywhere. Bigamy is illegal. Polygamy is also illegal. (You won’t see anyone getting a marriage license that will allow them to marry their car, for that matter, though there are some who would wish it so.) There are plenty of circumstances in which the state legitimately denies the request of persons wishing to be married.

So if we accept that marriage is not a right, but a license, then there must be some reasoning behind why the state is involved in issuing licenses for marriage at all. In most cultures, marriage is something sacred, far above and beyond a civil contract. But if there is a government imperative to regulate marriage in any degree, then it must mean that marriage has some impact upon the society being governed.

Of course it does. Marriage is the most natural and stable context for the procreation and education of children (always what the Catholic Church has noted as the primary end of marriage) which, in turn, provides citizens for the nation. Families are the building blocks of civilization. It stands to reason that governments have an imperative to protect them, and even to promote them. This isn’t a position based on religion. Consider, for example, “The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage” written by Adam Kolasinski, a doctoral student in financial economics at MIT:

When a state recognizes a marriage, it bestows upon the couple certain benefits which are costly to both the state and other individuals. Collecting a deceased spouse’s social security, claiming an extra tax exemption for a spouse, and having the right to be covered under a spouse’s health insurance policy are just a few examples of the costly benefits associated with marriage. In a sense, a married couple receives a subsidy. Why? Because a marriage between two unrelated heterosexuals is likely to result in a family with children, and propagation of society is a compelling state interest. For this reason, states have, in varying degrees, restricted from marriage couples unlikely to produce children.

If the propagation of society is “a compelling state interest,” it stands to reason that the state would enact legislation to protect the institution which enables this action. Bigamy and polygamy are widely considered to be bad for the stability of a family unit, which explains why both of these situations are illegal under current marriage regulations. Bigamists and polygamists may believe they are being discriminated against, but I’m not certain that anyone is currently very interested in taking those arguments seriously. From what I’ve seen, most gay marriage advocates seem rather interested in distancing themselves from promoting these unpopular sexual ideologies, despite the fact that they are the logical consequence of promoting any sort of non-traditional marriage that involves consenting adults.

So would gay marriage be beneficial to society? Putting aside the biblical and magisterial proscriptions which I take as a given in a Catholic forum such as this, I don’t see how it would be. Even committed homosexual relationships — including marriages — are more likely to involve promiscuous behavior that is consented to by both partners. There is new evidence that children in gay households experience a negative impact on development. And of course the most obvious problem should be taken into account – by their very nature, homosexual relationships are infertile, meaning that there is no inherent capacity in these relationships toward the procreation and education of children. If the defining characteristic of marriage as a positive good to society is that it provides the best and most stable and natural context for bringing new citizens into the nation, gay marriage fundamentally fails to pass muster.

But this is where the argument for traditional marriage begins to break down. It’s been quite a long time since the defining characteristic of marriage, from a societal standpoint, had anything to do with children. With the advent of modern techniques for contraception in the 20th century, it has become increasingly easy (and common) for marriage and children to be mutually exclusive.

As Catholics, we must understand this: Sterile sex is unnatural sex. When unnatural sex has become commonplace, as it has in a contraceptive culture, it becomes intellectually impossible to make significant distinctions between homosexual sex and contraceptive heterosexual sex. By removing openness to procreation as the fundamental defining characteristic of legitimate marital sexual intimacy, we have embraced any and all sexual relations that express emotional love as the sort of relations which are proper to marriage.

In a 2008 article, Hoover Institution research fellow and author Mary Eberstadt made note of this blurring of the lines from the perspective of the Anglican Church:

By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.

Thus in a bizarre but real sense did Lambeth’s attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay-rights movement—and consequently, to the issues that have divided their church ever since. It is hard to believe that anyone seeking a similar change in Catholic teaching on the subject would want the Catholic Church to follow suit into the moral and theological confusion at the center of today’s Anglican Church—yet such is the purposeful ignorance of so many who oppose Rome on birth control that they refuse to connect these cautionary historical dots.

We reap what we sow. The contraceptive approach to human sexuality has a domino effect, with more far-reaching implications than many who have championed it ever imagined. When sexual love is no longer inherently life-giving, it quickly becomes permissive, self-centered, hedonistic. This is true in all relationships, including heterosexual ones. God, in His wisdom, balanced the raw power and pleasure of human sexual intimacy against the responsibility of creating and caring for a new human life. It is, perhaps, the only thing that could keep such a primal appetite in check.

If we are unable to regain this understanding of human sexuality as a culture, this is an argument we will never win. Voluntarily sterile heterosexual marriages are simply not sufficiently different from inherently sterile homosexual ones to make a cogent argument that one is superior to the other. And if one kind of sterile marriage is acceptable to society, why shouldn’t all of them be?

Advocacy of contraception undermines the case for traditional marriage. Being open to life in the marital act, as Catholic spouses are obligated to be, is the only philosophy of sexual intimacy that holds moral weight in the debate over marriage. If we cannot define marriage by its openness to children, we cannot really define it at all. Without such a definition, there’s simply no chance we will prevail in preserving the integrity of this institution which can (and has) become whatever people want it to be.



  • susan zuptich

    I want to share this on facebook. It is more important today then it was in Aug.2012

  • Kevin

    You are wrong on the law. Marriage is indeed a civil right, as the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia. Under the U.S. Constitution, it is possible for rights not to be honored in every circumstance and for every person, but it is the responsibility of those who seek to deny a right (in this case people of the same sex from marrying each other) to prove their case. The legal assumption would be that gays may enter into civil marriage. Lower courts have already ruled in this direction, in several cases. In addition, many of the judges in these cases were appointed by conversative Republican presidents.

    Your arguments about procreation being the primary purpose of marriage are by now tired and old. Courts have already ruled those to be fatuous. Were this a valid argument, two seventy-year-olds or an infertile couple would be barred from marriage. Moreover, gay couples CAN procreate! Surrogacy is a wonderful advance in medical science.

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  • Doug

    Wow, Steve, wow. I read your demagoguery of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (“Studies say they’re promiscuous!” “They’re bad parents!” “Evil, evil, bad bad!”) with disgust. But, when I read in one of your comments that you are the beneficiary of our society’s ability to rise above past demagoguery (“Mongrel races!” “Race mixing is communism!” “The Bible forbids it!”), I threw up a little.

  • Sandy

    “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” Chief Justice Earl Warren, Loving v Virginia, 1967.

  • David

    I have read this type of thing all over the Catholic blogosphere and press. It gets rather tiresome because it starts from a fundamentally flawed position. Marriage is NOT, for most people anyway, all about creating children. It is about finding someone whom you love enough to make a commitment to that you intend to keep for the rest of your life. That this usually means between a man and a woman, and that often children result, is merely a reflection of the fact that most relationships statistically happen to be between men and women. That we choose to encourage folk to make those commitments, by offering incentives, has nothing to do with seeking to ensure the birthrate increases. It is to encourage stability and the growth of the family. The family is something which I can agree is important. What is meant by “family” though can mean different things to many people.

    I am also in a mixed race marriage. I am 68. My wife is 32. We have been married for 11 years. Due to cancer I am completely infertile. No doubt about it. She will never conceive with me. Does this mean we should not have married because in this matter we are absolutely in no different a position than a gay couple?

    I am very pleased to see that as a society we are becoming mature enough to recognise that allowing gay couples to marry is destroying another of the barriers to equality and freedom that have blighted past civilisations. I am also pleased to see that no Church will be forced to perform gay marriages if they choose not to. Gay couples who also are Catholic, like any other couple, do not have to marry if they decide not to. Why then does the Church seek to restrict those who disagree with them?

    The Catholic Church’s stance on this is looking increasingly ridiculous. It is certainly enhancing their reputation as a slightly weird, very out of touch, and more than a little homophobic, organisation. That this may not be wholly deserved is not the issue, for that is the way it is perceived.

    It’s a lost cause. Gay marriage is going to become legal almost everywhere and soon. In time we will all, even Catholics, wonder what all the fuss was about. Just like the abolition of slavery and votes for women it will be seen as a mark of the progress of human society. Does the Catholic Church really want to be listed on the wrong side of that debate?

    I am forced to the conclusion, given the similarity between almost everything which is being written on this subject by Catholics, that there is a campaign co-ordinated from the Vatican underway. Why is the really interesting question. With so many closet gays in the priesthood and the growing pressure, in some parts of the modernising wings of the Church, to allow both the ordination of women and for priests to be allowed to marry, perhaps the Vatican fears the outcome of gay marriage for rather different reasons than those stated.

    • Steve Skojec

      David – I ask you to consider the possibility that this discussion is about something bigger than what marriage subjectively is “for most people.” I think it behooves us, when looking at this from a policy/morality standpoint, to be a bit less solipsistic about it. For most people, yes, they marry out of love. But from the perspective of both the Church and the government (insofar as the government gets involved with incentivizing marriage at all) that love exists to serve a purpose, namely, bringing about the existence of new people. Children are the concrete good that come from a marriage. From a religious perspective, they are souls who can love God, serve Him, and be with Him in heaven. From a societal standpoint, children are new citizens. They provide the animating principle of a nation. They are its workers, its educators, its leaders, and perhaps most importantly (to the government) its taxpayers. If it weren’t for these contributions, I can’t see why the government would be involved with marriage at all. Philosophically, I’m not even sure it should be involved. But since it is, those advocating for change need to make the business case, as it were, as to why it’s a good idea.



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