Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of a 2013 article anticipating the trend toward today’s Supreme Court decision. We present it for your consideration as discussion of this issue continues.
Again and again, gay marriage advocates come to the debate insisting that marriage is a fundamental civil right, which begs the question. This assumption would not be possible if certain logical fallacies did not already commonly exist.
First, there is the false notion that marriage is a right. Marriage is not a right — not for anyone — it is a license. The difference between freedom and license no longer being widely understood, an easy way to distinguish a right from a license is that in the case of a license, you typically have to obtain a license to have permission to perform the action. Driving requires a license. Starting a business requires a license. Being a barber requires a license. And of course, getting married requires a license.
Licenses may be denied on various grounds, at the discretion of the issuing body. Driver’s licenses may be refused if the driver has too many moving violations or a DUI, for example. Marriage licenses will not be issued in most states to people wanting to marry their first cousin. Closer lines of consanguinity are against the law everywhere. Bigamy is illegal. Polygamy is also illegal. (You won’t see anyone getting a marriage license that will allow them to marry their car, for that matter, though there are some who would wish it so.) There are plenty of circumstances in which the state legitimately denies the request of persons wishing to be married.
So if we accept that marriage is not a right, but a license, then there must be some reasoning behind why the state is involved in issuing licenses for marriage at all. In most cultures, marriage is something sacred, far above and beyond a civil contract. But if there is a government imperative to regulate marriage in any degree, then it must mean that marriage has some impact upon the society being governed.
Of course it does. Marriage is the most natural and stable context for the procreation and education of children (always what the Catholic Church has noted as the primary end of marriage) which, in turn, provides citizens for the nation. Families are the building blocks of civilization. It stands to reason that governments have an imperative to protect them, and even to promote them. This isn’t a position based on religion. Consider, for example, “The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage” written by Adam Kolasinski, a doctoral student in financial economics at MIT:
When a state recognizes a marriage, it bestows upon the couple certain benefits which are costly to both the state and other individuals. Collecting a deceased spouse’s social security, claiming an extra tax exemption for a spouse, and having the right to be covered under a spouse’s health insurance policy are just a few examples of the costly benefits associated with marriage. In a sense, a married couple receives a subsidy. Why? Because a marriage between two unrelated heterosexuals is likely to result in a family with children, and propagation of society is a compelling state interest. For this reason, states have, in varying degrees, restricted from marriage couples unlikely to produce children.
If the propagation of society is “a compelling state interest,” it stands to reason that the state would enact legislation to protect the institution which enables this action. Bigamy and polygamy are widely considered to be bad for the stability of a family unit, which explains why both of these situations are illegal under current marriage regulations. Bigamists and polygamists may believe they are being discriminated against, but I’m not certain that anyone is currently very interested in taking those arguments seriously. From what I’ve seen, most gay marriage advocates seem rather interested in distancing themselves from promoting these unpopular sexual ideologies, despite the fact that they are the logical consequence of promoting any sort of non-traditional marriage that involves consenting adults.
So would gay marriage be beneficial to society? Putting aside the biblical and magisterial proscriptions which I take as a given in a Catholic forum such as this, I don’t see how it would be. Even committed homosexual relationships — including marriages — are more likely to involve promiscuous behavior that is consented to by both partners. There is new evidence that children in gay households experience a negative impact on development. And of course the most obvious problem should be taken into account – by their very nature, homosexual relationships are infertile, meaning that there is no inherent capacity in these relationships toward the procreation and education of children. If the defining characteristic of marriage as a positive good to society is that it provides the best and most stable and natural context for bringing new citizens into the nation, gay marriage fundamentally fails to pass muster.
But this is where the argument for traditional marriage begins to break down. It’s been quite a long time since the defining characteristic of marriage, from a societal standpoint, had anything to do with children. With the advent of modern techniques for contraception in the 20th century, it has become increasingly easy (and common) for marriage and children to be mutually exclusive.
As Catholics, we must understand this: Sterile sex is unnatural sex. When unnatural sex has become commonplace, as it has in a contraceptive culture, it becomes intellectually impossible to make significant distinctions between homosexual sex and contraceptive heterosexual sex. By removing openness to procreation as the fundamental defining characteristic of legitimate marital sexual intimacy, we have embraced any and all sexual relations that express emotional love as the sort of relations which are proper to marriage.
In a 2008 article, Hoover Institution research fellow and author Mary Eberstadt made note of this blurring of the lines from the perspective of the Anglican Church:
By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.
Thus in a bizarre but real sense did Lambeth’s attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay-rights movement—and consequently, to the issues that have divided their church ever since. It is hard to believe that anyone seeking a similar change in Catholic teaching on the subject would want the Catholic Church to follow suit into the moral and theological confusion at the center of today’s Anglican Church—yet such is the purposeful ignorance of so many who oppose Rome on birth control that they refuse to connect these cautionary historical dots.
We reap what we sow. The contraceptive approach to human sexuality has a domino effect, with more far-reaching implications than many who have championed it ever imagined. When sexual love is no longer inherently life-giving, it quickly becomes permissive, self-centered, hedonistic. This is true in all relationships, including heterosexual ones. God, in His wisdom, balanced the raw power and pleasure of human sexual intimacy against the responsibility of creating and caring for a new human life. It is, perhaps, the only thing that could keep such a primal appetite in check.
If we are unable to regain this understanding of human sexuality as a culture, this is an argument we will never win. Voluntarily sterile heterosexual marriages are simply not sufficiently different from inherently sterile homosexual ones to make a cogent argument that one is superior to the other. And if one kind of sterile marriage is acceptable to society, why shouldn’t all of them be?
Advocacy of contraception undermines the case for traditional marriage. Being open to life in the marital act, as Catholic spouses are obligated to be, is the only philosophy of sexual intimacy that holds moral weight in the debate over marriage. If we cannot define marriage by its openness to children, we cannot really define it at all. Without such a definition, there’s simply no chance we will prevail in preserving the integrity of this institution which can (and has) become whatever people want it to be.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.
The above is one of the best essays on Catholic sexuality and marriage that I have have ever read. It gets it exactly right. Unfortunately, even at the time of writing (2 years ago?) it was way too late. As the essay implies, however, even, say,twenty years ago when the phrase “gay marriage” had hardly been uttered or thought, let alone taken seriously, it may have been too late, though very few (if any) saw it at the time.
If the Bishops in this country would have been doing their jobs and actually preaching the truth of Christ from every pulpit in the land, instead of snuggling up in bed with the devil, we wouldn’t be in this mess. They have had a decisive hand in creating the putrid rot that now permeates the culture, from the majority of them voting for evil in 2008 to emptying the pews for decades by their silence of preaching the truth of Christ. May God have mercy on them and on us.
The bishops have a heavy reckoning to pay. Which among them will do public penance? Which will invite his flock to follow him into restoration of Friday fasting and abstinence in reparation for the bishops’ failures of leadership and the lay faithful’s failure to exercise good citizenship?
You nailed it, good sir! The tightly perceived connection between sex and pro-creation in our societies of yesteryear were probably one of the main reasons they never even entertained such an idea of a same sex “marriage”.
If I may also add, I think another phenomenon that has shaped society in favor of gay marriage (and contraception) is the attitude of wanting to live according to the passions. This has lead to a society where emotions have become the deciding factor in regards to religion, morality or spirituality in general.
Western society has been handling the matter of marriage from an entirely emotional perspective for sometime now. Things like “falling in love”, “finding ones soul mate”. “love at first sight”, “our strong desire to be together forever”, and all sorts of other emotional devices have become the dominant factor in deciding whether two people should get married. I would claim that this manner of thinking and acting is responsible for countless marriages that ended with divorce. But more importantly, it now acts to make people sympathize with those who have such similar feelings toward their same sex.
Why are Catholics ever surprised by what the U.S. government or the U.S. Supreme Court does when we know these United States were not formed, as all civil governments should be, under the rule of God, who is after all, the Creator of all things.
Principles of right and limited governance can be maintained only when supported by the truths of the one, Holy Faith. Absent that, such documents as the Constitution of the United States of America are utterly defenseless against their own deconstruction and thus, degenerate into meaningless over time. Anything is possible in a country founded upon false principles.
The corruption of even these false principles has occurred since the ink dried on the document. It can be no other way.
Where was/is our Pope when we need(ed) him?
We should have gotten an encyclical on MORALS, and relationship to Mortal Sin, Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and the need for repentance to save our Souls.
It should have included: Homosexual acts & homosexual marriage; Fornication;
Adultery (sexual relationship with the valid spouse of another); Pornography,
Instead we get an encyclical on unproven climate change, and the Pope’s personal recommendation for a one world authority (government) with power for: law making, policing and enforcement, and unlimited taxing.
It’s a question many of us are wondering about.
The crickets chirping seem to get noisier with each passing non response on life issues from Rome. Noisier and noisier.
This is a great article. And one I would have liked to share with my friends, especially my Protestant and agnostic friends. Unfortunately, you show here just how shallow your loyalty to the Church really is. Ah, Cafeteria Catholicism. The lines form on the Right as well as the Left.
Shallow? Really? Are you even paying attention to what’s going on?
That was quick. Two days ago someone here blamed the legalization of gay marriage in the U. S. and in Ireland on “faggot priests” and you said nothing. I think I’ve paid you more attention than you warrant.
I happen to be reading comments tonight. Our readers are mostly mature adults who tend to flag inappropriate content so I can review it. But if you really want to leave the substance over petty quibbles, feel free. I doubt our other readers will notice.
It’s not a quibble. It’s a matter of the gravest consequence. Who are you or Mike to dismiss the pope’s latest encyclical? Where Peter is, there is the Church.
Who am I? A Catholic who has been studying theology for 20 years, and knows the difference between an authoritative magisterial document and one that is merely opinion based on faulty information. A Catholic who understands that docility to the Magisterium does not equal papal positivism. I’ve written plenty on this topic. Perhaps you should consider some of it before starting down this road. This is a good place to start:
I understand. You are your own pope and can separate the wheat from the chaff for your own flock.
You don’t understand. That much is clear. I’m not my own pope, and I have no desire to be. Pope Francis is the pope. I simply understand the rules and theology that govern the Church. I am able to ascertain the various levels of magisterial authority, what is binding and what is not, etc.
How? Because it’s all been laid out for us in various encyclicals, councils, theological texts, etc. The Church loves sacred mystery, but in her governance she actually attempts to be more transparent.
Any given pope serves as a guardian of the faith and a defender of truths already revealed, not as an innovator. He is completely unable to bind (and subject to err) when he exits the realm of faith and morals and enters into other disciplines, (ie., economics, science, mathematics, etc.)
Pope Francis is not fond of binding teaching; he’s more of an advocate of discussion, of “making a mess,” as he likes to say.
This is not groundbreaking stuff. Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I lays out the conditions for infallibility. There are criteria to determine these things, and anyone with sufficient intelligence and knowledge can apply them.
Please post for those of us who lack your expertise a list of which encyclicals we should listen to and which we can safely ignore. You make the specious claim that there are encyclicals which condone this method of picking and choosing. But then how are we to trust them if we have the latitude to pick and choose?
I’m sorry, Mark, there are limits to how much homework I can do for you. Start here:
Take particular note of this, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
“As for the binding force of these documents it is generally admitted that the mere fact that the pope should have given to any of his utterances the form of an encyclical does not necessarily constitute it an ex-cathedra pronouncement and invest it with infallible authority. The degree in which the infallible magisterium of the Holy See is committed must be judged from the circumstances, and from the language used in the particular case.”
You may also want to observe that in Laudato Si #188, Pope Francis says that he is “concerned to encourage an open and honest debate” and affirms that “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions”
For further consideration/discussion, you may want to read this:
or any number of other piece of commentary out there that reference the theological principles in question.
Do your own research. It’ll do wonders for your understanding.
It was a rhetorical question. I doubted that you would give me such a list and you haven’t. Instead you advocate a method for picking and choosing that is self-contradictory.
Also, please tell me how your ability to decide what is binding is any different than the throng of liberal Catholics who try to pit Catholic teaching against itself to do the same thing every day.
Quite simply because the heterodox (there is no “liberal” or “conservative” in Catholicism; only heterodox/orthodox) seek to dispute and disagree with established Church teaching that is authoritative and binding.
Those who have questioned aspects of Laudato Si have done so where novelties or matters of opinion are introduced.
There is a distinct and marked difference between the two.
You’ll also note that we have spent little time at all in the pages of this website focused on this encyclical, so it’s quite curious that you’ve decided to make this the hobby horse you want to ride around on.
Well here at least we agree. I usually avoid liberal and conservative in this context for the same reason. I misspoke. What I should have said is that in dismissing the pope’s latest encyclical you are putting your conservative politics ahead of your loyalty to the pope just as many put their liberal politics first in the same way. This issue isn’t my hobby horse. You beautifully defended the Church’s teaching on contraception and traditional marriage and I was ready to share this with friends until I saw you undermining the latest encyclical. I’m always telling my Protestant friends that there are no liberal or conservative Catholics. People like you make that more difficult for them to believe.
Welcome to the complexities of real life. I believe that we are called to be good stewards of what we have been given. I also believe that the new encyclical is plagued with junk science, dismissive (if not derisive) comments about faith, and a subversion of priorities (material goods over the welfare of souls.)
If there are parts of the encyclical that re-affirm Catholic teaching, then its teaching, and it demands assent (but since it’s nothing new, it can be safely ignored as a re-iteration.) If there are parts of the encyclical that innovate or rely upon specious methods of inquiry or modern philosophical constructs that fail to adequately highlight the importance of the Great Commission or the role of the Church in saving souls rather than simply caring for our environs, they can be safely objected to or, again, ignored.
You should tell your Protestant friends to read this anyway. They might also appreciate that within boundaries, faithful Catholicism does not negate critical thought.
Humanae Vitae is probably the most contested
ENCYCLICAL of all time. Certainly it is one of the most
ignored, the most dismissed. Here is what British
philosopher and Catholic convert Elizabeth Anscombe had to
say in its defense:
“The teaching which I have rehearsed is indeed
against the grain of the world, against the current of
our time. But that, after all, is what the Church as
teacher is for. The truths that are acceptable to a
time. . . these will be proclaimed not only by the
Church: the Church teaches also those truths that are
hateful to the spirit of an age.”
You might argue that in this case Pope Francis is very
much with the current of our time, but that doesn’t change
the fact that 1) he is the pope, and 2) his teaching here is
very much against YOUR grain and likewise irksome to many. As G.
K. Chesterton said: “We need a Church that is right
when we are wrong.” If the pope is saying something
you and yours don’t like, you can bet that it is
something you especially need to hear.
Sorry, Mark, no. That’s not how this works. Catholics are not compelled to give their assent to non-binding opinions, especially those based on disputed academic disciplines.
Think of it this way: unless you can imagine it being put into a creed which Catholics have to profess, it isn’t faith and morals, and thus, not binding.
This string began with Mike asking for the Encyclical he wanted, the one that would have denounced various evils, the one which presumably his neighbors needed to hear. You did not correct this arrogance and self-righteousness. You concurred. Instead of getting the Encyclical you and Mike wanted, you got the one that the Holy Father was led to give.
I do agree with him. The Church is facing an overwhelming crisis of morals and belief. Most Catholics have become heterodox. They need a shepherd to lead them back to the faith.
Further, there is no theological principle whereby we must believe that the spirit leading a pope to write any given encyclical is, in fact, holy.The Holy Spirit does not guide every action of a pope and believing as much is a dangerous path toward error. Indefectibiity has a a very limited character.
To clarify my own position, I believe all faithful Catholics should pray
for and in some cases demand bold teaching from their leaders. I’m
fortunate to live in a diocese where we have bold teaching, but I have
friends from other parts of the country with very different
experiences. The arrogance comes in second guessing our leaders: Like
the publican thanking God that he is not wicked like his neighbors, you
ask for a different teaching–the one THEY need to hear–and make
excuses for ignoring the one you were given, even to the point of
questioning which spirit is leading the pope. We’ve been blessed with
many great popes in recent memory. Most of the concerns over Pope
Francis are actually fed by misunderstandings. The media–out of sheer
ignorance of Catholic teaching–seem to think everything he says is
novel. In fact, there are precursors to this encyclical in the writings
of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul. If I err on the side of
trusting the pope and the Magisterium, then you err on the side of
distrust. It ought to be easy to see which path is the more dangerous.
Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, has turned away from what he calls the “caustic moralistic ideology” that in the past, has distanced people from Christ. He has used the terms “rigid” and “closed in on itself” when describing the past.
He said that the faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens people, chases them away. That ideology is a serious illness but it is not new.
His pontificate is all about mercy. It isn’t about sins. He doesn’t speak of sin, penance, or Hell because those are the “negative” aspects (to modern man’s way of thinking) of religion. Those are the “caustic moralistic ideologies” that are “rigid” and makes faith an “ideology that is a serious illness and frightens people, chasing them away.”
More people will turn away from our Faith, toward Evangelical Churches or no Church at all – if it appears to them that the Catholic Church has no principles.
CCC: ” 1759 An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.
The end does not justify the means.
(cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). ”
There is no Mercy without repentance. It is not Pastoral, Merciful, or Charitable to ignore, or appear to condone any Mortal Sins.
CCC: ” 1451 Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place.
Contrition is “sorrow of the soul
and detestation for the sin committed,
together with the resolution not to sin again.”
Quite right Mike.
Wondering if he completely forgot that with God’s mercy is also justice? Hmm….funny how that has seemed to slip his mind.
The devil was cleaver in using language as a way to deceive people. Changing the meaning of words to suit his purposes has been very successful. The most devious use of this tactic was by the Protestant revolutionaries who translated the Bible into English and German and purposefully changed its meaning to suit their own interpretations. Since then, all revolutionaries have used this tactic because, as I said, it has been so successful in convincing people to believe his lies.
This too is why the Church was adamant that the use of Latin always be the language of the Church as it is incorruptible. One needs to ask the question why the Church allowed the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be said in the vernacular. My answer would not be acceptable on this (and other) websites.
This is not only an extremely well written essay (making the theological points very understandable), but should be included in every pre-marriage instruction. I think there are very few young men and women contemplating marriage today who understand the Church’s reasoning for openness to children.
Yeah well, our spineless, gutless leaders have been MIA on the truths of the faith for the last 45+ years. People under the age of about 60 know precious little about their Catholic faith at all. Wow, I cannot imagine the depths of hell these men will find themselves in for all eternity if they do not convert and repent.
The Court has been deconstructing marriage at least since 1965, with the broad support of straight America, including many self-identified Christians. After decades of sterile sex, easy divorce, serial marriage, abortion, gender confusion, and wink-wink pornography, gay marriage was inevitable. I blame straight America for this mess, not gay folks.
May I point out first that there is no real thing called “straight” or “gay”. Those are terms invented to separate those who understand that God created male and female, in His image and likeness, and created them in the way He chose so that a union between them could generate other human life, and those who reject God.
Secondly, it is true that the broad support of sin, particularly the sin of impurity, is the cause of the deconstruction, or rather, rejection of the essence and nature of marriage, created by God. Naturally with this rejection, marriage would at some point, simply reflect what an individual determined he/she wanted it to mean. It became only a word that would be defined according to the will of the individual.
That is what Justice Kennedy is telling us. In fact, the people of this nation decided long ago, when contraception became widespread, that there is no real essence of anything. Nothing exists that cannot be changed into something it never was and could never be, because it is only by the will that people find reality, and their reality differs from the reality of others so nothing is actually real at all. Reality is only in the mind.
Exactly. Reality is a construct of appetite and will. A dictatorship of relativism. “Being” as an absolute reality is now rejected — which shows how demonic this age has become.
There are some couples
O, so nice
As nice, as nice
They have their weddings
And plan forever
They know the latest
Things to do
That pleasure their skins
“What need for seeds
And eggs take space
We desire to be
In lust –
Our lives are erotic
Some of these couples
Are Bob and Rick,
Some are Michael
No matter their genders
Each has his trick
Of blending secretions
Much money they’ll save
On themselves these few
From their vows ’til their graves
They’ll live well…
But because their INTENT
Alone they’ll be seated
Gay Marriage in the USA and in IRELAND too…brought to you by FAGGOT priests and bishops.
A preaching I heard in my youth: that spiritual progress is like going up an inclined plane. If one is not making an effort to continue going up, they will roll down. If we do not confess our sins and fight the good fight, we will progressively become worse.
From Vox Cantoris
Marriage is a license. Doesn’t sound right [see below]. Other than that, great article especially on the astuteness of Mary Eberstadt. Wow!
With marriage, one has to start with God and the teachings of his Church [it is creation and institution with certain characteristics, natural and when both parties are baptized raised to a sacrament, and it is a vocation]. Any other arguments are deficient or just plain wrong.
I 100% agree with you on this. The Supreme Court ruling was really only surprising in the baffling precedent the decision has set for future issues on this subject. Otherwise, while the Supreme Court decision upset me, Birth control, and no-fault divorce had already sealed America’s fate. Marriage in our society at large seems to already be defined as solely for the benefit of the two involved… no need for a lifelong commitment, children, or any real degree of self-sacrifice for that matter. If that’s what our society means by “marriage” why in the world should homosexuals be excluded?
The obvious remedy for this, then, will only come from conservative Christians recommiting to marriage as Christ instituted it: faithful to Christ, loving (committed to each other and children), fruitful (open to life), and permanent. I don’t think any more worry should be given to same-sex marriage, now. Let’s show the world how real marriage and family is meant to be lived out. I’ve been talking to young married Catholic couples I know from college about creating a society devoted to this message.