The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Gay unions disrupt tradition of marriage

Charles Rice | Wednesday, October 15, 2003

We’re leading the way for the rest of the nation,” San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said in 1996 as he presided over a “domestic partnership ceremony” for 200 gay and lesbian couples whom he anointed as “virtual spouses.” Seven years later, the mayor looks like a prophet. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lawrence v. Texas, several states may soon rule that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

Why not allow those couples to marry? One reason is that in the nature of things, the family is founded, as Aristotle put it, on “a union of … male and female, that the race may continue.” The law gives exclusive recognition to heterosexual marriage because it carries the future and common good of society and of the state. Despite exceptional cases to the contrary, heterosexual marriage is generally ordered to the procreation of new persons, to whose education and upbringing the spouses legally and socially commit themselves. Same-sex couples can make no such commitment. It would therefore be unjust to give such couples the legal status or rights belonging to marriage.

As a June 3, 2003 Vatican statement, issued with the approval of John Paul II, put it: “Homosexual unions are … lacking in the biological and anthropological elements … which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race. The possibility of using recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction … does nothing to alter this inadequacy.”

This conclusion of reason is confirmed by the law of God. Through marriage, men and women are given the privilege of living in full and permanent communion and of sharing in the procreation of new persons. Where authentic conjugal love is open to new life, homosexual acts are a dead end with no future. They are intrinsically wrong and the inclination to them, while not sinful, is disordered just as would be an inclination to any other objectively immoral act. Their immorality is compounded by the fact that they are contrary to nature.

As Thomas Aquinas said, “it is most grave and shameful to act against things as determined by nature. Therefore, since by the unnatural vices man transgresses that which has been determined by nature with regard to the use of venereal actions, it follows that in this matter this sin is gravest of all.”

Aquinas also insisted that the law should not attempt to enforce every virtue or forbid every vice, lest the law be ineffectual and held up to “disrepute.” A law criminalizing private homosexual conduct could be so intrusive as to be harmful to the common good. But it does not follow that a homosexual relation should be given the legal status or incidents of marriage. The homosexual relation, in practice as well as in theory, tends to be a parody of authentic marriage. A study of homosexual men under age 30 in Amsterdam, sponsored by the Dutch AIDS project and published in AIDS 2003, found that single men acquire 22 casual partners a year, men with a steady partner acquire eight casual partners a year and “steady partnerships” last an average of 18 months.

When the European Parliament in 1994 approved same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by homosexual couples, John Paul II said that action “does not merely defend people with homosexual tendencies by rejecting unjust discrimination … The Church approves … [that] what is not morally acceptable is the legal approval of homosexual activity … [T]he attempt has been made to tell the inhabitants of this continent that moral evil, deviation, a kind of slavery, is the way to liberation, thus destroying the true meaning of the family. The relationship of two men or two women cannot constitute a true family, still less can one grant such a union the right to adopt children … These children suffer … grave harm, because … they do not have a father and mother, but two fathers or two mothers.”

For the past three centuries and more philosophers and politicians have attempted to organize society as if God did not exist and as if there were no knowable, objective moral truths. The drive to legalize same-sex marriage is an outgrowth of this and especially of the dominance of the contraceptive ethic. If sex has no intrinsic relation to procreation and if it is entirely up to man (of both sexes) to decide whether it will have that relation, any objections to the equal treatment of heterosexual and same-sex “marriage” will be reduced to the pragmatic or esthetic.

But a society in which it makes no legal and social difference whether boys grow up to marry girls or other boys is certifiably insane and is on the road to extinction. The lack of effective opposition to the same-sex marriage drive, especially in the trendy American Catholic Church, should cause us to ask whether we have become what G.K. Chesterton described as a “people that have lost the power of astonishment at their own actions.”

Professor Emeritus Charles Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contracted at plawecki.1 @nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not neccessarily those of The Observer.