Moral Issues


Same-Sex "Marriage" and the Culture War

by Richard Bastien


A. THE CONTEXT

The debate on same-sex marriage is not an isolated issue; it is part and parcel of a bigger war – the culture war. We are talking here of differences, not of mere political opinions, but rather of profound philosophical outlooks. Ultimately, we are talking of what American scholar Robert P. George has aptly called a clash of orthodoxies . This is a sophisticated expression for what has traditionally been called religious war. For a religious war to exist, physical violence is not necessary. When a society is divided on something as fundamental as the meaning of marriage, then one can conclude that there is a deep chasm in that society, so deep in fact that there can be no true social peace. It is precisely this absence of social peace that creates a state of religious war. And that, unfortunately, is the state Canadian society currently finds itself in.

If you are not convinced that what we face is religious war, consider the following statements made by prominent feminist leaders who hold prestigious teaching positions in Academia:

What this shows is that the opposition to traditional marriage is not restricted to a few narrowly-focused homosexual groups. It is broad-based and operating from strategic positions within our society.

The second point about the context in which the issue of same-sex marriage is being addressed is that those who oppose same-sex marriage are on the defensive. As surprising as this might seem, and despite the assurance given by our Parliament in 1999 that marriage would always be defined as a union between one man and one woman, we, defenders of traditional marriage, are now fighting from a position of weakness.

And the first question we must try to answer – even before questions about what is wrong with same-sex marriage – is: why is this so? Why do we find ourselves in this predicament? How could we possibly have allowed a situation to arise where we would have to fight for what appears to most of us as obvious, i.e. that there can be no equivalence or equality between a marital relationship and a homosexual relationship?

The answer to that question is, in my view, fairly straightforward: it is because we live in a society imbued with the contraceptive mentality. As Pope Paul VI indicated in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, contraception has an inner logic to it: it involves a separation of the unitive and procreative ends of marital love. Contraception creates this separation by its very nature. It breaks the special bond of fertility between husband and wife. It involves one spouse telling the other, or the two telling each other, in a non-verbal way : I cannot accept, the total gift of who you are at this time, because to do so would interfere with my desire to relate to that part of you which provides sexual pleasure for me. So while the spouses purport to give themselves totally to each other, they are in fact lying to each other.

While it was practiced by some people at all times, it is only in the 1960s that contraception became widespread, not to say fashionable. And that decade marks the beginning of what has come to be known as the Sexual Revolution. The message of this Revolution is simple. It is that, thanks to contraception, sex is no longer linked to procreation. Sexual pleasure can be enjoyed for its own sake. Sex is not just for fun, it is the ultimate form of entertainment. And if that is the case, then, of course, the question arises: why object to types of sexual relationship other than heterosexual marital relationships?

The third point to be made is that, as far as the Sexual Revolution is concerned, Catholics are as much a part of it as are non-Catholics. Contraception is about as widespread among Catholic couples as it is among Protestant, Jewish or non-religious couples. The official teaching of the Church has gone unheeded. On this topic, priests don’t speak the truth to lay people, the latter don’t speak the truth to priests, and bishops rarely speak the truth to, or are told the truth by either group.

More generally, some Catholic institutions – in particular Catholic universities – stand on the wrong side of the line of battle. To illustrate, let me tell you about a little incident that took place at Georgetown University’s graduation ceremony last May. (Georgetown is the oldest and one of the most prestigious Catholic universities in the U.S.). On this occasion, Georgetown’s Dean, Jane McAuliffe, invited Francis Cardinal Arinze, Nigerian prelate and President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to give the commencement address. Cardinal Arinze chose to focus his address on family and marriage issues. And this caused nothing less than a firestorm. After his speech, many professors voiced their outrage. A letter protesting the address was signed by 70 faculty members and sent to Dean McAuliffe. One professor even took it upon himself to apologize on behalf of Catholics for the cardinal’s insensitive remarks which the professor said were un-Christian .

So what exactly did the cardinal say? Here is the offending passage: In many parts of the world, the family is under siege. It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce .

Now we all know that Catholic institutions take pride in their autonomy. But the protest against Arinze’s speech in defence of the family shows that there is a deep chasm within North American Catholicism.

So that’s the context : we are in a state of religious war, defenders of traditional marriage must argue from a position of weakness because of the dominant contraceptive mentality and Catholics, both individually and through at least some of their official institutions, partake in that mentality as much as any other group.

Are we going to win this battle? In the long run, we will. Because traditional marriage is an institution both divine and human. But in the short term, we could be encountering some severe weather conditions.

B. ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

I know turn to the first point I undertook to address this evening, i.e. to show what is wrong with the arguments invoked in support of same-sex marriage. There are essentially four such arguments.

a) Denying homosexuals the right to marry is discriminatory as it prevents them from receiving "full and equal recognition of their relationship".

This argument is based on the notion of "equal rights", i.e. all have a right to marry and no one should be denied that right on the basis of gender preferences. The answer is that homosexuals enjoy all the individual human rights all other citizens have – they are not deprived of anything. The issue is not one of equal rights. Rather, it is about redefining the social institution of marriage, as it has existed in a multitude of civilizations over all of known history. The State may regulate marriage, but it cannot redefine it because, while it is culturally conditioned, marriage is intrinsically connected with the differentiation of human persons into male and female. This differentiation is prior to anything the law can determine about marriage. The "equal rights" argument presupposes that a homosexual relationship is essentially the same as that of a husband-wife relationship. But there is in fact an essential difference between the two: only a heterosexual relationship is capable of true spousal unity (more on this in a moment). Homosexuals are not prevented from marrying; they simply don’t meet one of its prerequisites - the capacity for spousal unity. This is no fault of the law.

b) Limiting marriage to one man and one woman is an indirect way of imposing one’s beliefs on others.

The claim here is that heterosexual marriage is based on mere "beliefs", i.e. it has no rational or natural foundation. Yet, marriage, defined as the union of a man and a woman, has been the foundation of civilization for thousands of years. While most of the major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism) and the two major officially atheistic societies (the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China) have never had much in common in terms of cultural heritage, they have nevertheless always upheld the heterosexual understanding of marriage. Could it be that this virtually universal support for heterosexual marriage is purely accidental? Is it possible that it would be without a long tradition of reasons? Proponents of same-sex marriage have never addressed these reasons at all.

c) Marriage is essentially a personal commitment between two people who "love" each other and homosexuals are capable of such love and commitment.

This argument also ignores the universal and common understanding of marriage as the union between one man and one woman and assumes marriage is essentially a matter of "feelings". But if that is so, there is no logical reason for not letting several people marry (group marriage, or polygamy or polyandry), or for not getting rid of other requirements, such as minimum age and blood relative status. If feelings are all that matter, why shouldn’t fathers marry their own daughters, or brothers their sisters? And why not recognize the union between two elderly brothers or sisters who live in dependence on each other, or the union between a group of friends who want to share their goods and economic rights?

d) Same-sex marriage would not have a significant impact on the rest of society.

Proponents of same-sex marriage argue that its legalization will have no significant impact on society. MP and homosexual activist Swend Robinson has thrown the question into the open: "What difference does it make to you if my partner and I get married? How does it change your life in any real way?"

At the same time, these advocates claim that legalizing same-sex marriage will be a tremendous achievement. According to gay theorist Andrew Sullivan, "If nothing else were done at all, and gay marriage were legalized, ninety percent of the political work necessary to achieve gay and lesbian equality would have been achieved. It is ultimately the only reform that truly matters"1 So, which is it? "No difference" or "Ninety percent"? Same-sex marriage advocates speak with both sides of their mouth!

The real debate is not whether same-sex marriage will have a huge social impact or not – it will – but rather about whether the impact will be good or bad. It will be catastrophic.

First, legalizing same-sex marriage will send a new legal and moral message to Canadians about marriage: Marriage is merely a form of emotional attachment that can be easily severed. All those who will dare to disagree with this view will be considered as taking a sectarian view of marriage. They will be declared bigots.

Second, legalizing same-sex marriage will have a broader legal impact: the main effects will be in the areas of anti-discrimination laws based on marital status, adoption and child custody laws, school curricula, private groups using public facilities, hiring regulations for certain professions, e.g. teachers, etc.

Finally, there will be profound societal effects. Parents and associations who disagree with legalized same-sex marriage will feel further alienated from Canadian public life and institutions. There will be less support for marriage benefits in the workplace. Meanwhile, young people will grow up imbibing the official view that there is nothing special about the male-female family unit; it will be perceived as only one item on the sexual smorgasbord of life. They will feel that they must experiment sexually in order to discover "who they really are". But since there will be no real answer to that question, the result will be deep confusion and many broken lives.

Advocates of same-sex marriage are prompt to speak about their rights. But they abuse the notion of human "rights" and ignore the true rights of others. If marriage is redefined to include homosexual unions, the biggest victims will be children. A child has a right to a stable family. He has a right to be initiated to the natural complementarity of male and female roles, of fatherhood and motherhood. By further weakening the family, same-sex marriage will deprive untold numbers of children of those rights. We must decide who comes first: future generations of children or homosexual activists.

At a minimum, advocates of same-sex marriage have the responsibility to set forth clearly the implications of their proposals. They have not done so. They must clarify how sexual mores are to be inculcated in the young, who are particularly vulnerable to seduction and solicitation. Public anxiety about homosexuality is pre-eminently a concern about the vulnerabilities of the young. This is a legitimate and serious concern.

There are also some questions that the homosexual lobby feigns to ignore but that should be answered. For example: on what grounds can it be argued that people can be defined solely in terms of sexual desires? Homosexual theorists even go so far as to say that their sexual behaviour is so much at the core of their being that their person cannot be distinguished from their behaviour. It is simply dehumanizing to reduce the human person to a "desiring sex-oriented self". Homosexuals owe it to their own parents and themselves not to say such things. Another question: why should we dismiss as mere repression what thousands of years of human experience have taught us to regard as self-control

C. ARGUMENTS AGAINST SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Not only are arguments in support of same-sex marriage faulty, but there are three compelling reasons for rejecting same sex-marriage. These arguments are grounded in objective reality and have nothing to do with one’s personal beliefs or morality.

a) Unlike marriage acts, homosexual acts are not organically unifying acts and are not reproductive in type

What most of the proponents of same-sex marriage fail to realize is that the unity of spouses is distinct from any other kind of unity. What makes it distinct is the reproductive-type act, whereby a man and a woman become a single reproductive principle. This distinction makes marriage intrinsically ordered to the good of procreation as well to the good of spousal unity, and these goods are tightly bound together.2

Firstly, reproductive-type acts have a unique significance because they belong to the only class of acts by which children can come into being, not as "products" which parents "make" but as participants in the organic community established by their parents’ marriage.

Secondly, although reproduction is a single act, in humans the reproductive act is performed not by individual members, but by a mated pair acting as an organic unit. American philosopher Germain Grisez explains it as follows:

Although not all reproductive-type acts (e.g. adulterous acts) are marital, there can be no marital act that is not reproductive in type. Masturbatory, sodomitical or other sexual acts which are not reproductive in type cannot unite persons organically, that is, as a single reproductive principle. Therefore, such acts cannot possibly actualize marital unity; at best they can only achieve some other purpose, such as releasing tension, or obtaining or sharing pleasure.

Another way of saying this is that the central point of sex is not pleasure, or even the sharing of pleasure, per se, however much sexual pleasure might legitimately be sought as an aspect of marital union. The point of sex, rather, is marriage itself, considered as a bodily union of persons consummated by acts which are reproductive in type. It is the nature of marital acts as reproductive in type that makes it possible for such acts to be unitive in the distinctively marital way. And this type of unity is a good in itself: its value is not merely instrumental, i.e. geared to something else such as physical pleasure or procreation.

In short, where male-female union cannot (or cannot rightly) be sought as an end in itself, sexual activity necessarily involves the instrumentalization of the bodies of those participating in such activity to extrinsic ends. Such activity creates a person-body opposition where the body is separated from the conscious and desiring aspect of the self, understood as the "true" self that uses the body as its instrument.

Proponents (or those who propose tolerance) of same-sex marriage might point out that not all married couples understand marriage as a male-female communion of persons. They might even argue that many couples would not agree that only reproductive-type acts are true marital acts and are content with viewing their marriage as no more than some kind of publicly-acknowledged emotional attachment. Noone can dispute that such is the case. There are couples who do chose to instrumentalize their relationship, which is one reason, perhaps, why our divorce rate is so high.

However, nothing requires a government to assume that marriage legislation should be based on the notion that marriage is merely a form of emotional attachment. If that were the case, it would have to be concluded that pure friendship is also a "marriage" and that marriage is only accidentally related to procreation. And if that is the case, then there is no reason not to assume that companionship or common law relationships should have the same legal status as the male-female union between a man and a woman having made a life commitment to each other.

What the foregoing implies is that allowing same-sex unions to be recognized as "marriage" would, by necessity, give relationships based on sexual acts that are not reproductive in type the same legal recognition as those based on true marital acts. The federal government would in effect be declaring itself indifferent as to whether a majority of Canadians engage in homosexual unions or in traditional marriage. It would be telling its citizens that, from a public interest perspective, a homosexual relationship has the same legitimacy and value as a marital relationship. The procreative and distinctly unitive capacity of the latter would be declared irrelevant from the point of view of Canadian law.

b) Same-sex marriage will weaken the family

There is overwhelming evidence in support of the notion that marriage is good for children, adults and society at large. Children born and reared in married families are much less likely to live in poverty or to become dependent on welfare. Similarly, children raised in intact two-parent families do far better with regard to virtually every measure of child well-being, from depression and health to school failure and crime than do children who don’t have a father or a mother.

Society has a vested interest in the stability of the family institution, which is precisely why it has always officially recognized heterosexual marriage and given it specific benefits. Heterosexual marriage is a matter of vital social importance because society needs the family to reproduce itself. Marriage is what it is, not because governments are interested in promoting romantic love or because the Bible says so, or because of the influence of special interest groups, as Minister Cauchon has suggested, but rather because society needs future generations to survive. And, by definition, this is not a case that can be made for homosexual unions.

Some may respond that some homosexual partners adopt children or, in the case of lesbians, undergo artificial insemination. The purpose here is to show that homosexual couples can play the role of parents and that, to that extent, homosexual unions meet the same criterion of social interest as heterosexual ones and should thus enjoy equal rights.

However, this is a fallacious argument. First, adoption by homosexual couples is exceedingly rare and the law is aimed at the general case. To confer legal benefits on the entire class of would-be homosexual couples because a few of them might approximate the nuclear family pattern would be like admitting all applicants to a select university on the grounds that a few of them meet the qualifications. But, more importantly, no homosexual couple can reproduce on its own terms. In either case – lesbian or gay -, there is a dependence on something or someone external to the couple – sperm in the case of lesbian couples, a surrogate mother in the case of gay couples - for a child to be created. Left to itself, no homosexual couple can procreate.

c) Same-sex marriage will weaken Canadian society

There are two reasons why same-sex marriage will weaken Canadian society. The first one is related to the previous point: the inner strength of a society is a function of the strength of its building block, namely the family. As the Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote 2,500 years ago: "If there is harmony in the family, there will be harmony in the nation". The best way to destroy a society is to destroy the family because it is the only institution from which most of us learn to live for one another.

Practically, all psychologists and psychiatrists agree that the development of a child’s personal identity, which necessarily involves the mature integration of his or her condition as male or female, depends heavily on the sexual differentiation of the parents and on the roles proper to father and mother.

The second reason why same-sex marriage will weaken Canadian society is that it will serve to reinforce a type of politics which is inherently divisive, indeed destructive of modern societies. This type of politics is usually referred to as "identity politics". Its basic premise is that each individual is decisively shaped and defined, not by conscious choice, but by accidents, not by convictions arrived at by reason and persuasion, but by accidents of birth and socialization, i.e. race, ethnicity, sex or class. In this view, we are whatever our group is and we are predetermined to act according to that group’s interest.

Such a theory makes modern democracy unsustainable, particularly in a country as diverse as Canada. It leads to "categorical representation", a principle according to which people can be properly represented, and their values truly understood, only by people who are from the same "category – women by women, aboriginals by aboriginals, homosexuals by homosexuals.

The point here is that if the premise of identity politics is true, then the very idea of democracy is false. If the premise of identity politics is true, then there cannot be, in any meaningful sense, a universal human nature or a Canadian set of shared values which defines our identity because there can be no process of civil persuasion toward a broad consensus on particular issues. All there can be is "power plays". A society dominated by identity politics is one where each individual lives immersed in his own group, warily watching all other groups across the chasms of their "differences".

American columnist George Will notes that the natural outcome of identity politics is the balkanization of society. And his choice of that word is no accident: "If you want to know what happens when all differences immediately become power struggles and nothing but power struggles, look at the Balkans. There, identity politics is practiced with the ruthlessness that comes with the belief that there can be no other kind of politics – no disinterested politics of ideas and persuasion."

The pressure for legal recognition of same sex marriage is a perfect example of identity politics. This pressure emanates from groups seeking to legitimize a particular lifestyle on the grounds that all lifestyles are morally equivalent and assumes there is no objective reality underlying the traditional understanding of marriage, only power plays by opposing interest groups.

Relationships between same sex people qualify as a form of companionship but fail to meet the essential requirements of marriage. Arguments in favour of a legal recognition of same-sex marriage are seriously flawed. And there are strong reasons against any such recognition, the most important being that it would misrepresent the true reality of marriage, weaken the family unit and Canadian society, and divide Canada into warring identities.

D. WHAT TO DO?

So far, I have described the context in which the issue of same-sex marriage was being debated, explained why the arguments invoked in its favour are wrong and outlined some arguments showing that its legal recognition would have serious negative consequences.

The last question that must be addressed is : What to do? What can we do to help preserve traditional marriage?

There are three things we can do. First we can pray. That is our most important and powerful recourse. As mentioned earlier, we know that, in the end, we will win because our position is based on the truth. But we have to ask God for his help. God knows we need His help. But he still wants us to ask for it. That means getting down on our knees.

Second, we must fight against the contraceptive mentality which is the root cause of the problem. The homosexual agenda can only foster in a culture that is drunk on sex. And such a culture is made possible by the contraceptive mentality. We must teach our children that chastity entails a rejection of contraception. We must petition Catholic school boards to require teachers to do likewise. And we must ask priests and bishops to uphold the Church’s teaching in this regard, particularly in marriage preparation courses.

Third – and last - we must intervene in the public square. We must pressure Canadian politicians on this issue. We must write to local newspapers. In doing so, we must invoke the rights of reason.

Where this will take us in the near term is unclear. But we would be cowards if we did not fight this as honourable men and women.

Richard Bastien
January 28, 2004