Three Pieces on Understanding Traditional Marriage with Respect for All Persons

I have written a lot on this in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage. The first essay was part of my Faith Objections Series which I hope will go some of the way to explaining the Catholic position in an understandable, respectful way. The second two essays are responses to a scholarly paper from 2001 that sought to defend same-sex marriage from within the Catholic tradition. Part I is about how marriage is not a prerequisite for living a happy life. Part II is about the importance of the biological activity involved in understanding the morality of an action. All of these appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum of Human Life International.

Faith Objections: Why I Still Believe the Church’s Teachings on Sexuality

“All people, regardless of the desires they experience, are called to chastity, which is the integration of a person’s desires with his or her vocation. “Under charity’s influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness” (2346). All persons are called to develop friendship especially and the control over oneself that comes from ruling our own desires reasonably. Some hear the word “chastity” and think that married people get a “free-pass” for anything sex-related. But those of us who are married know well the call to embrace life-giving sexual relations, and that to space children, frequent abstinence is required. Chastity is a struggle for every individual.

“Yes, then, to someone who feels same-sex attraction, chastity requires celibacy. Indeed, the practice of celibacy has always been held in great esteem in the Catholic Church; it is the way of priests, nuns, and monks. Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, said in 1997’s “Salt of the Earth” interview and book, that:

“The renunication of marriage and family is thus to be understood in terms of this vision [of the value of children]; I renounce what, humanly speaking, is not only the most normal but also the most important thing. I forego bringing forth further life on the tree of life, and I live in the faith that my land is really God….In this sense, celibacy has a christological and apostolic meaning at the same time….The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God and leaves out precisely the one thing that normally makes a human existence fulfilled with a promising future” (emphasis added, Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth 195).”

Whole article here.

Answer to McDonough Part I: Marriage is not a Prerequisite for Happiness

“He may be right about Stoic friendship, but the Catechism does not mention “stoicism” nor “indifference,” and McDonough presents no further evidence that Catholicism teaches such indifference for homosexual persons. In contrast, I find it far more likely that the friendship referenced in the catechism is that precisely detached, therefore unconditional, love that MacIntyre describes. Such a friendship could forego sexual expression despite its the strength of desire precisely because it is not self-seeking and because it realizes that such sex is not a gift at all and achieves no natural end. This is the view that many self-titled gay Catholics have taken up, the call to radical friendship.

“Further, a life partner is no guarantee of happiness, as McDonough presents the matter. No human being, not even a spouse, can fulfill all the needs of the human heart, and when we look to spouses for that much support, we err. We hurt ourselves and our spouses. Only by looking to God for fulfillment can we actually grow closer together. This second way, of looking to God, is completely available to homosexual persons, as it is to all persons. And it is a path equally open to those in married or celibate vocations. In short, looking to God for fulfillment is Christian life, and it is open to all.

“We can best explain Catholic teachings by recalling that happiness is not limited to marriage, nor is it taught that marriage is better than celibacy or virginity. In fact, the opposite is true.”

Whole article here.

Answer to McDonough Part II: Biology Matters

“It is true that some married couples do not naturally beget children, but their relationship is still defined by the conjugal act. It is unacceptable to intentionally exclude the fruitful type of act from sexual expression simply for the sake of desire. This is why contraception and homosexual acts are opposite sides of the same coin. Sexuality, in a very common sense, biological way, is ordered to procreation. To phrase it simply: babies, who are necessary for the continuance of human society, only get made through one type of human action….

“Overall, McDonough wants to take up MacIntyre’s theories in Dependent Rational Animals in order to create a framework of love and marriage that could include same-sex couples. But in applying this framework of peacefulness and receptiveness, McDonough avoids the question of the physical actions committed and their acceptability. Using “love” too-loosely, without concrete application to reality has been all-too-common in the gay-marriage debate and McDonough does this too. Without reference to actual reality, there is no grounding for truth or goodness whatsoever. So if we are going to take truth or goodness or any ethic seriously, we must have recourse to biology and the natural law proceeding from it. That does not mean that we ignore or reject the subjective experience of individuals. The Catholic tradition embraces all individuals but always clings to the truth that ultimate fulfillment and peace come from God alone.”

Whole article here.

Whelp, there you have it. I hope the reader isn’t too offended and that we can at least always agree on mutual respect if not mutual understanding.

Thoughts: Did you ever change your mind on the question of same-sex marriage? What was the deciding factor? Has this helped demonstrate that opposition needn’t be based in hatred? What matters in determining social policy or truth? What is needed to have a sincere conversation?

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome!


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