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Marriage: Why We Care
by James Hitchcock
August 3, 2003
It is now inevitable that before long some American court will legalize homosexual "marriage", and there will be a move to require every state to follow. In one or two states this may be achieved by the legislature. America is more conservative on such issues than is most of the Western world. In northwest Europe and Canada the issue appears to be already settled, in that there is little effective opposition to it.
The Holy See has just issued a strong statement on the nature of marriage, which among other things makes it as clear as possible that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and that anything else is an abuse of the word. There are of course predictable denunciations directed at the Vatican, which is accused of hate-mongering and other evils by people who habitually hurl about such charges even as they continue to think of themselves as open-minded and loving.
There are some curious side issues here. Often the Holy See is accused by liberals of being out of touch with American culture. On this issue, however, the Vatican's position is close to that of a large majority of Americans. The Vatican is also denounced by people who claim to believe in "diversity". But isn't diversity served by having articulate voices holding a wide spectrum of moral viewpoints? Now the politically correct notion of diversity seems, ironically, to mean everyone's holding the same opinions.
Before blaming the drive for homosexual marriage solely on homosexuals, heterosexuals have to acknowledge what some homosexuals claim -- that marriage hasn't been doing very well. The rate of abortion by married women, cohabitation, divorce, and adultery prove as much. Many heterosexuals cannot with a straight face affirm the "sanctity" of marriage.
In l968, Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church's ancient prohibition of birth control, something for which he is still being denounced. At the time defenders of the Catholic position warned that, if contraception were accepted as legitimate, it would not simply be a way by which responsible married couples could plan their families, it would lead to rampant promiscuity, a prediction which was coming true even before Humanae Vitae was issued.
Ridiculed even more was the prediction that, if marriage were separated from procreation, if the purpose of marriage was no longer the creation and nurturing of children, then the path to homosexuality was also opened, and that is exactly what we are now seeing. Many people who don't like the idea of homosexual "marriage" are at a loss to say exactly why, since they accept the idea that being married has nothing necessarily to do with children.
Homosexuality is not wrong simply because it is forbidden by some inscrutable divine command. It is wrong precisely because it does sunder sexuality from the male-female complementarity which God created, sunders it from even the possibility of procreation, thereby making it something entirely different from what Christianity has always taken sexuality to be.
Possibly the most serious social problem in America is fatherlessness, children raised without a stable male presence in their lives, a situation which perpetuates all kinds of pathologies from generation to generation. The last thing the country needs is a redefinition of "marriage" in which parenthood is not even a relevant consideration. (Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic homosexual, advocates homosexual "marriage" partly on the grounds that it will permit heterosexuals also to take a more "flexible" view of marriage, recognizing that being faithful to one partner may not be the best way to live.)
What homosexuals now seek in "marriage" is official public approval of their private and personal attractions. But both church and state have a legitimate interest in marriage not to help people celebrate their emotional ties, which may eventually weaken, but in order to create stable communities which at least in principle are open to the possibility of children, communities which, as Catholic doctrine has always held, are indeed the indispensable foundation of society.
James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press. His two-volume book on religion and the Supreme Court has just been published by Princeton University Press. E-Mail: Dr. James Hitchcock
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