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How to argue against same-sex marriage

Peter D Williams says that the faithful can defend traditional marriage convincingly if we keep our language moderate and our tone light

By on Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A wedding cake made by supporters of same-sex marriage depicts a male and a female couple (PA photo)

A wedding cake made by supporters of same-sex marriage depicts a male and a female couple (PA photo)

The Sunday before last, the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark sent a letter to be read out in every Catholic parish in England and Wales reminding the faithful of the nature and importance of marriage, and our responsibility as Christians to defend marriage for our sake and that of future generations. This letter was prompted by the Coalition Government’s stated intention to introduce legislation that would redefine marriage as a gender-neutral institution, opening up the way for same-sex couples to receive the right to solemnise their relationships as marriage on a par with heterosexual couples. This is a political action that, if we are to value the institution of marriage, and protect its integrity, we must all in good conscience (in keeping with the Church’s teaching, reflected in the archbishops’ letter) actively and strenuously oppose.

The best way to do this is to submit a contribution to the Government’s current consultation on same-sex marriage, which asks as its first question what respondents think of the basic proposal. As many Catholics as possible should write in making their views known. For many, however, this may seem a daunting task. The arguments against same-sex marriage seem counter-intuitive to the culture in which we live, and those who stick their head above the parapet to argue against the idea are frequently mocked, and slandered, as hopelessly antediluvian, homophobic bigots. As Christians, however, we know that God never asks us to do something that He does not give us the grace, strength, and ability to accomplish. Correspondingly, both a rational and powerful case against the re-definition of marriage, and an effective method of presenting it, are open to us.

The starting point in explaining why marriage should not be re-defined is precisely the one that the archbishops have described: the nature and purpose of marriage. In every culture throughout history, marriage has been the union of a man and a woman that is inherently fulfilled by, and is intrinsically oriented to, the generation of children. Marriage exists to provide the stability of formalised monogamous fidelity, which not only benefits the man and woman who enter into it, but forms the best atmosphere in which the children who result from their union can best be brought up. Indeed, the husband and wife consummate their union precisely by acts of sexual intercourse that do not just unite them together in love, but form the behaviour of reproduction. The nature of marriage, then, is a result of human nature, as our species has evolved to pair sexually as male and female, and in such a way that will result in the next generation being born and raised. It is, in this sense, a natural institution, and a fundamental part of what the Holy Father has called “human ecology”.

Marriage is also, therefore, a fundamental element of what the Church calls, the “common good”, by which we mean those institutions and conditions that lead to the flourishing of all human beings. We might say the common good is our “social ecology” – the social conditions that create the most beneficial culture for the good of humanity. Marriage forms the bedrock of the family – the basic unit of society – and it is therefore in the interests of the state to support and promote it. This is why the natural institution of marriage became a civil institution, regulated and recognised by government. By providing a formal and official recognition of marriage, our society prescribes the conjugal union of husband and wife as an ideal form of relationship. This reflects what we know about marriage: that it helps bind husband and wife together in faithfulness, and forms the best context in which to bring up children.

Why, then, should changing the definition of marriage, in order to include a small minority of same-sex couples, be deleterious to this fundamental human institution? For David Cameron, and other members of the Coalition Government, marriage is certainly beneficial insofar as it affirms “fidelity and commitment”, so why not allow two men or two women this affirmation? The rational answer to this is simply that marriage is not about “fidelity and commitment” alone. Marriage necessarily involves the possibility of the generation and bringing up of children, and by extending civil marriage to same-sex couples the state would be, on a very basic level, re-defining marriage itself. This is a move that would have profound and harmful consequences, in two particular ways that we may currently foresee.

The first of these consequences would be the effect it would have on our culture. The law changes, by the force of its authority, the way that society thinks, and how it perceives itself. By re-defining marriage, not only would Government be abandoning what it currently institutes as the ideal relationship, but it would, by implication, be denying that ideal. The relationship between husband and wife as the best context in which to bring up children would no longer be privileged by the state, and this would formalise an unfortunate view to the contrary that is already pervading public consciousness. Since the legalisation of same-sex adoption, and the legislative mandate that a child’s birth certificate no longer need mention the child’s father but may instead register the mother’s same-sex partner, our society has already begun to affirm the view that one or other of a child’s parents are dispensable to their upbringing. This is thoroughly wrong, and contrary to the best interests of children, who should have the chance to be brought up with, and have access to, the masculinity of their father and the femininity of their mother. As the columnist Matthew Parris once wrote: “I am glad I had both a mother and a father, and that after childhood I was to spend my life among both men and women, and as men and women are not the same, I would have missed something if I had not learned first about the world from, and with, both a woman and a man, and in the love of both.” By re-defining marriage, Government would deny this reality, and move our society further in the wrong direction. Re-defining marriage would also form a socially harmful precedent.

If we can change marriage in order to include one particular sexual minority, then why not change it to include any other sexual minority? If the male/female complementarity of marriage can be defined away, then why not the limitation to two people forming the marital union? If the fidelity and commitment of same-sex couples must be formally recognised in the interests of equality, then why not the fidelity and commitment of polygamists, or polyamorists?

If this seems far-fetched, it ought to be pointed out that legal efforts have already been mounted in Canada, the United States and Europe for the legalisation of polygamy, precisely in the wake of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. This is despite the fact that polygamy (as an example) has intrinsic harms to it, due to the inter-partner jealousy it engenders and the effect this has on the welfare of the children brought about in such families.

More reasons may be given against the re-definition of marriage, but the central concern about the effect of re-defining marriage on our culture, and the consequences this would have on the welfare of children and the good of society, is without doubt the most salient. By interfering with social ecology, which is a reflection of our basic human ecology, the Government risks doing profound harm.

To raise these concerns is not to deny equality or human rights, or to be motivated by base prejudice, but to witness to the common good for all people. As Catholics we need not feel cowed by the thought-terminating cliché of “homophobia” which is so often thrown as mud against those opposing marriage’s re-definition. As long as our language is moderate, and our tone light, we can communicate the Church’s concerns grounded in nature and reason, and win hearts and minds to defeat the Government’s proposal.

As always, may our guiding light of example be found in Holy Scripture, in which one of the first letters of the first bishops tells us: “Always be ready to give a defence for the hope that is within you, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

Peter D Williams is a Catholic apologist and speaker for Catholic Voices. He tweets on Christian apologetics and politics at @PeterDCXW

  • John Byrne

    “Therefore civil-unions do promote gay-sex”
    Yes, of course they do. 

     The Church is wrong to say that the function of sex is simply procreation.

  • John Byrne

    Mollysdad said: “No, it is true. If either the man or the woman are determined never to have children, they do not consent to marriage. ”

    But the state does not take that view.

  • paulsays

     ‘If any of your gay friends want to get married, tell him to find a good woman, who he can love and respect and establish a commitment with and see if anyone of us objects.’

    That sounds pretty immoral to me, lying to the woman you plan to spend the rest of your life with about your sexuality. Sleeping with her but not actually enjoying it or finding her attractive sexually.

    Sounds like a kind of exploitation to me – I certainly wouldn’t advocate that.

  • paulsays

    On your first point you are wrong,
    most people do not find the fact the two men can be sexual with each other
    wrong, or disgusting.

    No, most straight men find the idea of having sex with a man, or kissing a man – disgusting. That is very, very different, because no one is forcing you to start a gay relationship, to kiss another man – or to have sex with another man.

    You bring up a very interesting point about sex, that gay sex is ‘merely acts of self-centred, sexual gratification’. Well unfortunately you come up against a great contraction here, if you are to fall in line with Church teaching.

    You see the Church advocates something called ‘natural family planning’, which is for straight couples to match their sexual intercourse to when the woman is the least fertile in the month. It is natural birth control – natural contraception. It is avoiding the creation of babies.

    So you cannot argue anymore that the sexual act is ‘ordered towards procreation’, no in this case it is to intentionally AVOID procreation. The act then becomes just the same in function, as gay sex -
    namely pleasure for both parties, and a way to show love for each other.

  • Tridentinus

    Well, we agree on somethings, then.

    My objection to the word ‘communities’ is not limited to the subject we are debating, I dislike it because in my mind it conjures up an image of tight-knit, social groups, living in common, in the same locality, all holding identical beliefs and fiercely defending them behind the barricades.

    I’m afraid, I keep harping upon my difficulty which is to understand how my Catholic beliefs can be so different from your (and others) Catholic beliefs, in fact, mostly, diametrically the opposite and no one seems to be able to answer me. Please explain to me, who decides what doctrines are ‘out-dated’ or not? Is it an individual decision? Is it the decision of small number of ‘enlightened’ Faithful, a significant section of Catholics or perhaps a majority? What is role of the Pope, the bishops and priests in communion with him in all this, are they irrelevant? How authoritative is an infallible, Papal declaration or a decree of an Ecumenicl Council? Is reliance upon private judgement all that is needed now to call one’s self a Catholic?

    As far as the question of whether the existence of God can be proved from reason there is not enough space, even here, to debate this. I disagree with you absolutely and refer you to Aristotle, St Anselm and St Thomas Aquinas amongst others. This thread is not the place to debate this.

  • Guy McClung

    From: Guy McClung; PO Box 2553; Rockport TX;


    Rockport Pilot Newspaper; Rockport, Texas

    to Editor:  published March 7, 2012


    here, she’s dear, get used to us- Out of the monogamy closet.


    Dear Editor:

    As the dark ages of heterophobia are waning, our society is evolving, for the
    good, to the point where it can now accept me and my ilk. I cannot deny it any
    longer-I am coming out of the monogamy closet. Yes! I am faithful to my wife
    and I always have been since the day we were married over 38 years ago. I have
    always felt different around those who, with absolutist certainty, preached:
    self-fulfillment, freedom, liberty, self-worth, if-it-feels-good-do-it,
    I-gotta-be-me, do-it-my-way, grab-for-all-the-gusto-you-can, grab [another
    partner]-now, do-not-judge, my-morality-is-good-as-yours, and I-choose-my-morality.
    Why they want to impose this on me I do not know.

    I knew deep in my heart and in my soul I was different. This is something I can
    turn on and off, it is a matter of my choice, my free will. It is innate in me.
    This is the way I was made by God and so I have come to believe it cannot be
    bad. I knew I was free to choose, it felt so natural. And I chose – over and
    over, again and again – to love my wife, and only my wife.

    know many will heap opprobrium on me, and some will even condemn me. So, I
    would like to begin a dialogue with those who are not like me, even though the
    grip of monagaphobia for some is overwhelming and the response from some
    monogaphobes is often shrill, scary, and even violent. Hopefully such a
    dialogue will spawn a movement to have the right to monogamy recognized legally
    and, if necessary, enforced by the government with concomitant retroactive
    compensation for past injustice, with future preferential treatment.

    If it comes to legal action, no doubt many judges, fine judicial legislators,
    on courts at all levels and on the U.S. Supreme Court, will easily discover the
    Right to Monogamy hidden in the interstices of the Commerce Clause and in the
    penumbras of the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, buried there long ago by
    our Founding Parents. I anticipate City Councils across our land will pass hate
    speech legislation so I and those like me will no longer be assaulted with

    I look forward to Monogamy History Month – surprisingly there were monogamists
    who played major roles in our nation’s storied birth and growth, although this
    included relatively few politicians and journalists. Monogamy Challenged
    parking places will facilitate my visits to Wal-Mart. I relish the thought of
    the educational materials to be produced by organizations funded with my tax
    money for kindergartners that will portray monogamy in a tender, welcoming,
    accepting light and provide instruction, in graphic detail, about the mechanics
    of monogamy. I cannot wait for “Tommy Has One Mother and One Father,” “See How
    Happy Sally Is With Her [One] Mommy and [One] Daddy,” and “The Illustrated Joy
    of Monogamous Sex.”

    Monogamy has become the love that dare not be mentioned, for some a stifling,
    dirty thing. But, in private, I have quietly reveled in it, glorying in the
    love of my one wife while keeping my mouth shut for fear of reprisal. I can no
    longer be silent. Now I dare … I’m here, she’s dear, get used to us.

    Guy McClung

  • Matt

    ”The pro-same sex ‘marriage’ side is using all the cultural resources at its disposal: ridicule, force, fierce denunciation etc.”
    The problem is its so easy to use the above with the catholic church’s stance on most things!  An atheist, humanist or secular person will not need to be told how to argue for same-sex marriage because a rational, reasoned individual can see its discrimination on a grand organised scale orchestrated by people with a long track record of getting their views on morality wrong.  See: Child rape, condom use, mother teresa, anti-divorce, women, nazis, the list is endless…

    This should viewed in the same way we look at Sharia law, witchcraft and cannibalism as having no place, as well as definitely not to be respected, in our society

  • Guest

    To the poster who said “Same-sex “marriage” encodes into law the notion that there is no fundamental difference between the sexes.”
    You would like to return to the position prior to the legal emancipation of half the population? Or should law reflect the ‘inequality of the sexes’ again? Women we once not able to buy their own houses, lots their jobs on marrying, couldn’t vote, and were effectively their husband’s property – marital rape was not a crime, and once it was possible to sue another man for conversion of property if he had sex with your wife.

    Hmm, women can give birth and men are (on average) a little stronger but the law is designed to avoid any discrimination arising from these differences. If every difference between people justified discrimination women would still be property as would other races. We are all human beings and should have the same civil rights, difference is not a reason to discriminate. 

  • Fordicus

    I am a gay man. I was raised Catholic and I do not recognise those Christian values that I was taught about in the actions of the people seeking to oppress gay people and keep them as second class citizens. Marriage is a good thing, it unites two people and contributes towards a stable environment for their children. My partner and myself and our children are equally deserving of those things as anyone else. To the people who are arguing to enforce this apartheid, I want you to know that you are genuinely and seriously hurting me and my family.

    I would also like to make this point. Catholics have been oppressed in this country in the past, and now Catholics are seeking to oppress other faiths and restrict their religious freedom. Quakers, Unitarians, Jews are performing same sex marriages and these are currently granted no legal recognition. If Catholics want their own religious freedom they should respect the rights of other faiths as well.

  • Chris

    It’s really straightforward. All you needed to do was read the same paragraph 2.16 you referred to, to the end.

    It answers your question. The government tells you the same legal concepts of adultery and non consummation that are used for ending heterosexual marriages will apply in same sex marriages “and case law may need to develop, over time, a definition of what constitutes same sex consummation and same sex adultery.”
    This means, to spell out how case law works, the judges will look at previous civil cases for heterosexual couples and apply the same underlying legal principles. That’s what judges are paid and trained to do.
    So there will be no need for any precise legal definitions to be written into the law for lesbian and gay non consummation, nor for adultery. There’s no ‘unparliamentary language’ nor ‘explicit descriptions of these disgusting acts’ in heterosexual divorce law either.
    A good Catholic dad should know that his Catechism tells him to show ‘respect, compassion and understanding’ to lesbians and gay men and not be offensive.

    Remember, non consummation in ending lesbian and gay marriages will be rare, as it is in heterosexual marriages. This is because the vast majority of marriages end on the legal grounds of “irreversible breakdown”, not adultery, and almost never for non consummation.

    And you needn’t worry, what the judges decide is non consummation or adultery for lesbian and gay marriages will not change the principles of how these are decided for heterosexual divorces.

  • David Lonergan487

    I want to marry Suzie my sheep. Why can’t that be allowed. Please Mr Cameron can you push this onto the table too. 

    And I will argue my point on the same pretext as my fellow Homosexual friends. We just want to be recognized just like every “normal couple”

    I also have a friend who wants to marry his sister, can this too be argued using the same pretext at our homosexual friends. 

    Where do you draw the line….All my fellow freaks will want to join this “marriage club” and if one is allowed in why discriminate against any other  

  • Guy McClung III

    New Oxford Review Jan-Feb 2013

    Out of the Shadows

    A 2011 article in Commonweal magazine noted that widely syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, a self-professed homosexual who describes himself as a “cultural Catholic,” advocates infidelity as a way to strengthen marriages. According to Savage, any sexual desire is legitimate, “unless it involves feces, children, pets, incest, or the dead.”

    Your New Oxford Note “There Goes the Village” (Nov.) recounts how the world is careening down the path to legalized polygamy, polyandry, and incest. Based on what we’ve already accepted from our Supreme Court — the creation out of whole cloth of the so-called constitutional rights to privacy, abortion, and sodomy — what is to prevent the Court from similarly exercising its almighty legislative power in creating constitutional rights not only to polygamy and pederasty, but to many actions now called perversions?

    Like the “right” to abortion — which was heretofore “hidden” in constitutional shadows intentionally put there by our Founding Fathers in 1781, but penetrable only by today’s divine-wise judges — can we soon expect a constitutionally guaranteed right of every American to have sexual intercourse with his dog, with his dead mother, with minors, with multiple spouses, with his children, or with a favorite cow or oak tree? Imagine the “teaching materials,” complete with detailed diagrams, that Planned Parenthood will provide our kindergarten and elementary schoolchildren, with “no parents allowed” mentoring and field trips!
    Guy McClungRockport, Texas