When a difference of opinion is so strong that no meeting of minds seems possible, we can try living with the difference, or we can make it a contest to see who’s stronger in some way. Both are happening since homosexual people began insisting that their committed unions be called “marriage, not “civil union” or “domestic partnership.” The contest is apparently settled in favor of the marriage equality movement while other voices have gone quiet.
Courts across the country, including Iowa’s Supreme Court in 2009, are striking down state laws which deny same-sex couples the name “marriage” with its rituals and legal benefits. News organizations use “husband” in referring to the men in a gay union and “wife” when referring to the women in lesbian unions. Last month two male characters celebrated a wedding in the popular television show “Modern Family” — and it passed with no noticeable public controversy.
Anyone today who raises questions or objections to these developments is branded a bigot, guilty of hatred. Reaction to any pushback against the notion of marriage equality is quick and hard. There is no debate. No one is allowed to resist, or even question, this movement of history.
Even the Catholic Church seems intimidated. We say that same-sex marriage is not possible because marriage is the historic name belonging to the male-female union uniquely representing the full reproductive capacity of human life and love. And we say that homosexual people are the equal of any human being as children of God. But we aren’t proclaiming those two things together with confidence.
We should be. Most of the culture may allow homosexual people to call their unions “marriage;” and we don’t need to fight directly on that front. But we should not be afraid to maintain our own message: that the term belongs uniquely to the committed union of woman and man, as understood across history. A homosexual couple may be “married” by analogy to the marriage of a man and woman, but the prime analog, the source of the term’s meaning, is in the natural family-making capability of humanity’s two biological poles, male and female. The name “marriage” contains this important symbolic value.
A same-sex couple may be capable of selfless love. The two persons may be models of service and sacrifice. They may be models of friendship. They may be saints. They cannot be co-creators of another person, though.
They are unable to symbolize the full potency of human life no matter how good they are in every respect. In this they are like the committed women and men in vowed religious life. Wonderful work may be done, individually and together. Lessons of great care and love may flow. We may all learn something from them about how relationship should be lived. All of this deserves mention and honor. But a same-sex couple is physically barren, and there is something fundamental about that.
The two people may work with modern technology for the making of a child with help from a third party, but the child is not flesh of their united flesh. They may be heroic in wanting to make a loving family with children, but the children are not the result of their physical union.
All of this may sound harsh. The series of “buts” may seem like mocking cruelty: see what I can do but you can’t! There is no intention here to be harsh or cruel or mocking. Any Catholic voice today trying to be faithful in all directions will risk off-ending some people. Simply stating obvious truth can be painful when people are struggling for respect and dignity, struggling for their own truth. On this side of heaven that seems to be one of our burdens.
Meantime, our way of talking about important things should not neglect or try to suppress inconvenient, unfashionable truth. That is not the way to a healthy, whole, peaceful community.