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Defending the last bastion

Charles Rice | Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Do you want a different view of the same-sex marriage issue?

See the March 15 Wall Street Journal op ed by Pastor Donald Sensing of Trinity United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn.

“Opponents of legalized same-sex marriage,” notes Sensing, “say they’re trying to protect a beleaguered institution, but they’re a little late. The walls of traditional marriage were breached 40 years ago. What we see now is the storming of the last bastion.”

Marriage, says Sensing, was done in by the contraceptive pill, which severed ‘the causal relationships between sex, pregnancy and marriage,’ obviating “the fundamental basis for marriage.”

Marriage is not merely a contract which the state and the parties have a right to define. Marriage as a man-woman union, Sensing points out, is “prehistoric” as “part of the natural law of the creation.”

The law gives marriage exclusive privileges because the spouses commit to raising children for the future of society and the state. Only a man-woman union can produce new taxpayers. Society, notes Sensing, “legitimated the sexual union of a … man and woman [and] promised structures beneficial to children arising from the marriage … Society’s stake in marriage … is … the perpetuation of the society itself.”

The pill is decisive because, in a contraceptive society, marriage loses its reason for being.

In the natural order, one reason why sex is reserved for marriage, why marriage is permanent and why the man-woman union is privileged by the law is because sex has something to do with babies. But if, through the contraceptive ethic, sex has no intrinsic relation to procreation and man – of both sexes – is the arbiter of whether and when sex shall have that relation, why should sex be reserved for marriage, why should marriage be permanent and why should “marriage” be reserved to a man-woman union?

“Sex, child-bearing and marriage now have no necessary connection to one another,” says Sensing, “because the biological connection between sex and child-bearing is controllable.”

Since the coming of the pill in the 1960s, the nationwide marriage rate has fallen 43 percent. “Instead of getting married,” says Sensing, “men and women are just living together, cohabitation having increased tenfold in the same period. According to a University of Chicago study … more than half the men and women who do get married have already lived together.”

With the dominance of the pill, in Sensing’s words, “weddings became symbolic rather than substantive,” serving “for most couples [as] the shortest way to make the legal compact [on] property rights and other … benefits.”

The pill undercut the legal basis to deny homosexuals the right to enter the contract of marriage in order to regulate “their legal and property relationship … to mirror exactly that of hetero, married couples.” A contraceptive society cannot deny legitimacy to same-sex unions without denying its own premise that man is the arbiter of whether sex will have any relation to procreation.

Proponents of same-sex marriage seem to have a more realistic view of what marriage has become in the contraceptive society. The right to separate sex from procreation is an article of faith in our culture.

Defenders of traditional marriage, unwilling to challenge that article of faith, are defending the “last bastion.” They would deny the name “marriage” to a same-sex union. But, in the Federal Marriage Amendment, they would approve Vermont-style “civil unions” so long as they were legalized by a legislature rather than a court.

Vermont gives to same-sex “civil unions” all the legal attributes of marriage except the name. This is symbolism, ignoring the substance of what it means to reduce marriage, as instituted in Genesis, to legal parity with same-sex sodomitic unions.

“Sacred Scripture,” says the Catechism, “presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity.” The inclination toward those acts, as with an inclination to any other immoral act, is “objectively disordered.”

In its “Considerations” issued last March 25, the Vatican noted “the difference between homosexual behavior as a private phenomenon and as a relationship in society … approved by the law … Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure … basic moral values and cause a devaluation of … marriage.”

A society where it makes no legal difference whether little boys grow up to “marry” girls or other boys is past the line of clinical insanity. “[T]raditionalists,” says Sensing, “need to … face the fact that same-sex marriage, if it comes about, will not cause the degeneration … of marriage; it is the result of it.”

Pastor Sensing’s essay reflects a growing appreciation by non-Catholics for the traditional Christian teaching on contraception.

Perhaps it may even occur to cafeteria Catholics and trendy theologians at Notre Dame and elsewhere that the Catholic Church is right in upholding the Christian teaching, unbroken until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, that contraception is always a social as well as a moral evil.

Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at plawecki.1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.