The people of California, Arizona and Florida recently voted to amend their state constitutions to defend the age-old truth that marriage is the life-long union of a man and a woman with the object of mutual love and the raising of a family. Ever since, those in favor of recognition of same-sex marriage have complained that they have been deprived of their civil rights and denied equality. The recognition of same-sex partnerships with legal and financial benefits akin to marriage is not enough for them. They repeatedly lament the supposed loss of their civil rights and compare themselves to oppressed slaves.
None. In fact proponents of same-sex marriage are usurping the natural and civil right to marriage between a man and a woman. Unfortunately defenders of traditional marriage often have trouble defending the obvious precisely because it is self-evident and defies sound bites. Here I’d like to present a few simple reasons why defending the uniqueness and dignity of traditional marriage is not discriminatory and unfair.
Biblical revelation about God’s creation of man and woman and his plan for marriage is abundant, but arguments for traditional marriage and against same-sex marriage are not exclusively religious. Far from it. The most convincing ones are based on universally recognised natural rights which exist prior to the state and are not created by government fiat or popular consent. Civil rights are the legal recognition of rights which derive from natural rights.
All one needs to do is reflect upon the human experience. It is easy to grasp that each human faculty, including the generative faculty, has its proper functions and ends. We can also discern basic human goods that are necessary for existence and social life, such as procreation, health, safety, freedom, friendship and religion.
Throughout the centuries people have come to recognize different rights — such as the right to just trials, the right to practice a religion, and the right of universal suffrage. Civil rights are important mainly because they safeguard these basic human rights. Governments protect natural rights, but they do not create them.
Marriage is one of these basic human rights, one which is based on complementary sexual differences between men and women and the good of procreation. Marriage joins a male and a female in a way the involves the total person: soul, body and affections. Usually this union brings forth offspring and the children are raised in a stable environment where the children learn about manhood and womanhood. Children need both a father and a mother because each parent is different and as male and female provide for different needs.
For example, boys need a father to teach them how to respect women, to develop masculine traits and to learn discipline. A Nobel Prize laureate in economics, George Akerlof, has shown how the breakdown of marriage (1) and the absence of a father in the family or some good father figure is related to the sharp rise of delinquency in the US. This alone is nearly conclusive evidence that there is no natural right to same-sex marriage.
What about the mutual affection of homosexuals? Isn’t that enough for marriage?
Not really. Homosexual persons can be united by an emotional union, but never by a biological union. Their sexual activity does not lead to procreation. Heterosexual marriage, on the other hand, involves more than this. “The same sexual act that unites the spouses is also the act that creates new life.”(2) Heterosexual marriage provides offspring for society and a home where children are raised with the love of a father and a mother and the corresponding masculine and feminine role models.
Homosexual sex is essentially different from heterosexual sex within marriage. The conjugal act has an inherent language of self-giving expressed by the man’s giving of his progenitor cells to his wife. Their love is always linked to procreation even though procreation does not always follow the conjugal act. Widespread contraception and co-habitation have separated procreation from sexuality in such a way so that sexual acts between two persons of the same sex are now considered normal by many. But the sexual union of a man and a woman is objectively different.
Are we just quibbling about words here? Partnerships are more or less like marriage, people often argue. Why be so defensive about a few syllables?
But this approach is completely unrealistic. Marriage is more than a word. Words are subject to development, but they mean something. Words are conventional, but they represent fixed realities. No change in language or law can alter reality. Sodomy by any other name is still sodomy. Sexual intercourse between persons of the same-sex is not procreative. A meal is not a snack; work is not play; adultery mere consented sexual behavior among adults. Language both describes reality and defines moral standards. By changing accepted language about marriage, new moral standards regarding marriage and procreation gradually emerge.
If traditional marriage is natural, why does it need to be fenced around with laws? Can’t it fend for itself?
Yes and no. Traditional marriage will survive, but it needs the support and protection of society to flourish. Laws not only recognize existing natural rights; they create and solidify social habits and standards. A bad law creates social standards that others gradually come to accept as good and true. Abortion is an instructive example. What began as a rare concession has become a “right” to take the life of an innocent human being.
So the consequences of legal recognition of same-sex marriage are serious. The first will be moral damage to our understanding of human beings and marriage. By elevating human choices to the status of human rights, governments undermine the very idea of natural rights, which is the recognition of what corresponds to our human make-up and the basic goods necessary to flourish as human beings.
Legal recognition of same-sex marriage also threatens freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Those who disagree with same-sex unions, including educators, doctors and adoption agencies, are already being treated with contempt and intolerance by proponents of same-sex marriage. The next target is surely the tax-exempt status which churches enjoy because of their important service to society.
Furthermore, although proponents of same-sex marriage contend that they only want equality of rights for their own personal choices, they also want equality of esteem. The normality of same-sex marriage will be taught to school children, beginning with those in public schools and eventually reaching schools with religious affiliations.
Already in Massachusetts an adverse judicial ruling was passed against a parent who did not wish his children attending public school to be taught that two fathers can constitute a family. In San Francisco, young children have been obliged to witness a same-sex “marriage” ceremony. Forcing children to accept same-sex marriage as normal constitutes a grave abuse to children and their parents.
To be sure, every person deserves equal respect before the law; but equality is not sameness, and there can be no true respect for human rights apart from a clear understanding of human nature with the sexual and psychological differences between male and female, and the needs that children have for a father and a mother.
Juan R. Vélez is a Los Angeles Catholic priest. Before becoming a priest, he worked as a physician.
|Defenders of traditional marriage often have trouble defending the obvious precisely because it is self-evident and defies sound bites.|
Is there any truth in these claims?
(1) Akerlof, GA, et al. “An Analysis of out-of-wedlock childbearing in the United States”. Q J Econ. 1996 May; 111(2): 277-317.
(2) Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles, The Witherspoon Institute, Princeton, June 2006, p. 47.