This past week, both The New York Times and our local newspaper, Newsday, informed us that there are several important social issues that the governor and legislature in Albany must address in the next six weeks before recess. One of them is what they call “same-sex marriage.” There are several difficulties one faces when discussing this issue. One is that it is highly charged and emotional. For many, the fact that someone — myself or others — would express reservations about this is an affront, an attack, a rejection of the value and dignity of another person, in this case, someone with a homosexual orientation. Another difficulty is that for some time now — more than 20 years — the issues have become distorted and intertwined. When legitimate questions of fairness and equity are raised, they are re-cast into attitudes that are labeled as prejudiced or even homophobic. A third is the reduction of serious questions of fact or of truth to matters of opinion that reveal whether or not you are “with” or “against” someone or some group. Finally the campaigns that are carried on, both pro and con, too often seem aimed at opinion polls rather than at any serious exchange of ideas or a commitment to resolve real differences by a search for truth that can be acknowledged as real regardless of the multiplicity of opinions.
No one in the Catholic Church, and certainly neither my brother bishops or I, have taken, or will ever take, a moral stance against homosexuality. Homosexuality is a fact in our society as I suppose it has been in every society since the Greeks or before. No one in the Catholic Church can legitimately use the fact of a person’s being homosexual as a justification for any words or actions that would unjustly discriminate against that person or treat that person in ways that offend or compromise the human rights and dignity of that person as an individual or as a member of any group. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states it, “(homosexuals) must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every kind of unjust discrimination in their regard is to be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives …” (CCC 2357)
Where then is the problem? The problem is not with homosexuals as such but with the desire of some in our society who wish to create a law that would re-define marriage to include committed relations based on sexual attraction to two persons of the same sex. What is wrong with that? Marriage is a reality with a very specific content. It has meant from the beginning of our recorded history the commitment of a man and a woman to one another as the basis of a permanent union that is open to the procreation of children. For more hundreds of years than anyone can say, such relations, to which the term “marriage” has been applied, have always existed and had no regulation by the state or by the Church. Usually families arranged partnerships. These took different forms. However two changes, one secular and one religious, occurred over time. The state or civil society recognized that it had a stake in recognizing and encouraging stable marriages. The result is that the political society made rules and gave benefits to a man and a woman who wished to enter marriage because the state wanted marriages to succeed and to be a force for the good of the society, the nation or the state. The second major change came with Jesus who saw in the marriage of a man or a woman a sacramental sign that mirrored and was buttressed by Christ’s love for the Church, His bride. Faithful to Jesus the Church gave a new dimension and a deeper explanation of the value and the importance of marriage for the persons involved, for the worlds they live in, and for the meaning of the relationship which now is a sign of the love of Christ and His Church.
All during this time, as today, there were all sorts of relationships and partnerships based on a number of factors, including homosexual attraction as well as heterosexual attraction. Most were casual. Many were not. But the state saw no intrinsic reason to regulate these because they had no permanent role to play for the good of society. They were personal and private and left to themselves, unless certain actions became in fact problematic to the good of the state. Unfortunately in many societies, laws were passed that outlawed private homosexual (and heterosexual) relationships and some actions became criminalized. That is not the case today.
As far as the Church was concerned, the problem with homosexual acts was that first and foremost, they went against the normal teleology of the body. “God created them male and female.” Therefore the intention of God in creating the man and the woman included his intention that they be complementary sexually. This was seen as normative and binding. Even more, Jesus saw marriage as permanent, as permanent as His love for His Church. In this vision there is no place for extramarital sexual activity because sexual activity is to follow the order God intended that was blessed and sanctioned by Jesus himself. Heterosexual activity outside of marriage is wrong in the eyes of the Church because it is a relation that is to be exercised within the permanent commitment established by marriage. Homosexual activity would be equally unacceptable but also would carry with it the further “disorder” that such activity contradicted the very “order” God had intended sexual expression to have as evidenced by the teleology of the body.
Our society today looks on almost any and all sexual activity as a private matter between consenting adults. Criminal laws against sexual acts for the most part no longer exist. And the sexual mores of people is not considered a matter of interest to the state. Nor are any such acts considered good or bad for the state. Why then is the state deciding — rather arbitrarily — that it has to re-define marriage to include one type of sexual activity that has no bearing on the good of the state and no element that in and of itself is of any interest to the state? How can the state or any other group justify re-defining a social phenomenon, marriage, in ways that contradict the structure of such a relationship and which cannot replicate the content of what the word “marriage” means? Why doesn’t the state simply leave it all alone?
The answer is clear and simple. A small group of people feel they are being disenfranchised unless the state approves their private sexual relationships and gives to them a label that they wish to have. That’s all. There is nothing more than that. A small group of people want to call themselves married. Therefore we all have to pretend that words have no meanings, pretend that one kind of sexual relation, namely homosexual, must be arbitrarily given a title to which it has no natural claim, and pretend that homosexual partners are the same as heterosexual married persons. And that is what this game is all about: Let’s pretend!
Will this destroy our society? I doubt it. Will it be another step in a downward spiral that relativizes all reality and compromises any and every truth? You bet it will. A long time ago a wise cardinal said to me, “The Church through God’s grace can forgive any sin but not even God can forgive calling darkness light.” That is the great sadness. In order to satisfy the desire for acceptance of a private, and for them meaningful, relationship, we are being asked to lie and to pretend that something is what it is not.
That’s why, my dear friends, I urge you all to let your Assemblyperson and state senator know that “same-sex marriage” is a bad idea and the whole society would be better off without it and all of us will benefit if we re-affirm what God intended: marriage is a word with meaning that is true: marriage is a permanent union of a man and a woman that is meant to last forever.