By Frank Wessling
While the bishops of Iowa have little choice but to call for a marriage amendment in the state constitution, there is no joy in such a development. It will sadly but inevitably be understood as a rejection of homosexuals as persons. We don’t have the language for avoiding this; we don’t know how to put out a believable message that says these two things at once: homosexual persons are good — a part of the creation that God looked at and declared “good” — and homosexuals are not made for marriage.
Marriage has become the defining element in what homosexual people say they need for full recognition of their human dignity. This calls all of us to think deeply about what marriage means. Minorities frequently have this value in history: they force hard but essential questions into public life.
The bishops do not belabor the point but their statement says the primary value at issue here is family — not simply the coupledom of marital union, but the family life this union is oriented toward. We humans are bisexual beings: the whole of humanity is female and male. And the future of humanity is produced by male and female together making family. A space probe by NASA several years ago included an icon of intelligent life on this planet. It showed a female and male figure standing together. This was to help intelligent life elsewhere understand the basic unit of life here on Earth. Symbols, like music, communicate more deeply than words.
The heterosexual majority made for marriage has never carried that family responsibility as well as it should. And many homosexual couples currently pick up the burden of children needing a home and nurture. They feel part of the family enterprise and deserve some of the dignity and respect that goes with it.
This does not answer the hard question about what the law should say, but it gets us back to a question more central to each of us as Christian people: What would Jesus do?