Why can't gays get married?

When is the Church going to get with the times and allow gay marriage?

 

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then going forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” 

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

When did we decide to buy whole-heartedly into this idea that newer is always better? Obviously, a lot of good has been done as society advances – but so has a lot of evil. It’s awfully arrogant of us, as a culture, to assume that we know best just because we happen to live in the 21st century. The reality is this: we’re never going to find Truth by simply looking at a clock or a calendar.

The Church doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, and She won’t. She never will – not because the Church is in the business of discrimination, but because the Church is in the business of the Truth, as revealed by God through the natural law, sacred Scripture, and Tradition. The Church won’t ever allow same-sex marriage because the truth is that such a union is not – and couldn’t ever be – a marriage.

To understand why the Church won’t ever recognize same-sex marriage, we have to understand the nature of marriage and what the Gospel says about marriage – because what the Church teaches about marriage is Gospel. It’s what Jesus says.

 

SO, WHAT IS A MARRIAGE?

A marriage is a lifelong, committed, exclusive union of one man and one woman who must be capable of the kind of act that creates new life.

Oh, come on, you might say in response. Look around at our culture, even look at some marriages within the Catholic Church - it's obvious that this definition of marriage isn't being lived out.

You’re right: it isn’t. People have extramarital affairs, get divorced, and use contraception or sterilization to limit the size of their families all the time. Marriage is broken. That isn’t anything new: marriage has been broken for quite some time. And that shouldn’t surprise us, because the truth is that we are all broken, too.

But opening up the institution to marriage to include same-sex couples is not going to fix what’s broken in marriage. It isn’t going to fix what is broken in us, either, and the Church is wise enough to know that. The Church doesn’t change Her teachings based on what’s popular in our culture, because the Church’s teachings are based on Truth.

 

That can definitely change... Interreligious marriages are allowed now, and so are interracial ones. The Church used to be against those marriages, too.

Actually, the Catholic Church (as a body) was never against interracial marriages. In fact, in the 1940s, when an interracial Catholic couple came to the Church to get married, their priest told them he wouldn’t be able to do it, legally, because the state wouldn’t issue them a marriage license. Then he went with them to a lawyer, they sued the state, and their case was a landmark victory in overturning an unjust law banning interracial marriages. And, while the Catholic Church recognizes that extra difficulties that can arise from an interfaith marriage, interfaith marriages are not against Church teaching, either. They never have been (CCC 1633-1637).

Both of those questions – about race and religion – are questions about who is allowed to get married. But today’s question about same-sex marriage is more of a question about what marriage is – fundamentally, what does it mean to be married? What is the purpose of marriage? What is marriage for?

Looking at the Church’s definition – that lifelong, exclusive union of a husband and wife that it is open to life – it’s easy to see how race and faith are not obstacles to marriage. But since the purpose of marriage is to unite a couple and bring children into the world, same-sex marriage cannot ever really be marriage.

 

But not every marriage produces children, right? Doesn't that mean that childless opposite-sex couples can't really be married, either?

Infertility is a heartbreaking challenge for many marriages – but infertility is also the exception, not the rule. Couples that cannot produce natural children are still validly married in the Catholic Church as long as they are capable of the kind of sexual act that produces children. Their bodies fit together, and the necessary elements are all present. When an infertile married couple has sex, they experience the unity and openness to life that is essential to marriage, even if no children come from their union.

Sex within marriage is actually considered a renewal of the marriage vows. When a husband and wife say their vows on their wedding day, they promise to give themselves totally to one another (holding nothing back – body, heart, mind, soul), faithfully (promising to never be with anyone else), freely (no person or circumstance coerced them into entering into the marriage) and fruitfully (they will be open to children). Every time they have sex, they make the same promises over and over again.

Sex speaks a language – I give myself to you, fully and forever, at the same time I receive the gift of you. Infertile couples are saying the same thing with their bodies when they have sex, because they participate in the kind of act that produces children, even if they never conceive or give birth.

Same-sex couples may adopt children to create a family, or perhaps utilize any number of artificial means of conception to have children (which are also against Church teaching, but that’s another topic) – but building a family through other methods doesn’t change the fact that same-sex sexual acts aren’t open to life because they cannot ever be the kind of act that produces children. Their bodies aren’t speaking the language sex was created to say.

Remember, infertile couples are the exception, not the rule. For same-sex couples, infertility is the rule, not the exception. They aren’t trying to change the exception – they’re trying to change the rule.

 

But a same-sex couple is united, right? They can commit to one another and love each other deeply and build a life together.

This is certainly one of the more difficult points to discuss when it comes to the topic of same-sex attraction. It seems like a great cruelty that two people who love one another would be denied marriage. But remember – not all loves are the same, and marriage, honestly, isn’t for everyone. It’s a gift from God for those to whom He chooses to give it.

The same thing can be said about the priesthood and the religious life – it’s not for everyone, but a gift for those to whom He gives it – just like the single life. Each vocation has a purpose and dignity in the Kingdom, and each vocation is a calling to a life full of love and joy. Just because a person doesn’t get married doesn’t mean his or her life is empty or meaningless. To imply otherwise is ridiculous and actually cruel.

The Church knows that marriage is a difficult and unique calling, ordered toward family life and self-sacrifice. If any of us (no matter our sexual orientation) try to make marriage into something for ourselves – to satisfy our loneliness or to fulfill our sexual desires – then we aren’t going to have healthy marriages.

Part of the reason the divorce rate is so high in our nation is probably because so many people look to marriage to make them happy. That’s not what marriage is about. Marriage is about dying to yourself and living for your family. It’s much more challenging than it is romantic – but so many people in our world are only interested in the romance.

And the Church knows that chastity is an essential part of every happy vocation, whether married, religious, or single. When we live the virtue of chastity, we can and will know real love in this world (whether we live as a celibate or as a married person) and in the next. That’s where we will find our real fulfillment and peace – gifts that God gives in every vocation.

There is no question that same-sex couples can love one another deeply, but again – let’s not degrade love to sex. The Church isn’t opposed to love, but She cannot approve of any sexual acts that fail to live up to the nature and purpose of sex.

Sex was also created to be an incredibly bonding experience – being married is difficult, and the bond to one’s spouse helps married couples stay together in good times and bad. During sexual intercourse, a husband and wife give fully of themselves to one another at the same time they fully receive the other – an act of unity like no other on this earth.

Pope John Paul II actually said that the climax of the sexual act (orgasm) should be reached simultaneously in the husband and the wife, so that the two persons involved can give themselves and receive the other at the exact same time (Love and Responsibility, Chapter 5, pg 270-278).

That is some intense bonding… and that bonding happens whether a couple is married or not. There are hormones released in our brains during sexual stimulation that make us feel bonded to whomever we share that experience with. The things that happen to a person when those hormones are released – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – are intense.  When people engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, they will always feel bonded to their partner – same sex, opposite sex, stranger, boyfriend or girlfriend, even to pornography (yes, pornography).

But, as you can see from the examples above, just because a person feels bonded to another does not mean that true unity has been achieved. The total, lifelong gift of self can only happen in marriage – body, heart, mind, soul, finances, fertility, everything – and is expressed by sexual intercourse.

 

MARRIAGE IS A GIFT

Without a free, total, faithful, fruitful gift of self, there simply cannot be a marriage. Marriage is a unique gift, for those to whom it has been given. Our culture wants us to make marriage into whatever we want it to be, but we just can’t. The Truth about marriage has been revealed by God, written in the Scriptures, and written on the body.

This teaching is hard, it’s true. But marriage is hard – it isn’t for everyone. Even Jesus said as much (Matthew 5:31-37; Matthew 19:1-12). But that doesn’t mean that we should change what marriage is, what it means, and what it’s for. Pray and learn more about all vocations – married, religious, and single – and know that every single calling from God is a gift, full of His grace and love.