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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

  • Anonymous

    Of course gay pressure groups exist, I didn’t deny this. And yes I have heard of Stonewall.

    But you suggest that it is somehow underground, hidden but powerful ‘a homosexual pressure group’ is how you refer to it.

    It might be just your use of language, but the way you are referring to ‘it’ is like the equivalent of the Masons of something.

  • Anonymous

    Eating cake during sex is quite wonderful, don’t you agree? What is your nibble of choice in the bedroom?

  • happyfolk

     It clearly condones slavery, are you a slave owner and do you fight for the right to own others?  It also identifies eating shellfish as an abomination.  Do you write your mp asking that all restaurants stop the practice of promoting an abomination?  Cherry pickers

  • Scyptical Chymist

     So you do keep a constant vigil I see! It is a lovely day – I think you owe yourself a break – all that effort deserves a reward.

  • Anonymous

     So you are saying that so-called same sex marriages are not the same as marriages between couples of the opposite sex as there would have to be a variation in the law between them.
    If, in order to make the two marriages absolutely equal, consummation is declared to be ‘sex in general’ (it will have to be a bit more specific than that) then the Marriage Act under which millions of couples were married under has been changed.

  • Jacob

    How’s this strategy working out for you so far? They’re about to ban Christianity in Britain and you’re telling me the couple of besieged Christians left in the country should be even more quiet and polite to your conquerors? (I think if your manners get much better there won’t be any of you left to be even more silent. As a side note this strategy also isn’t working for Middle Eastern Christians!)

  • canuck

     I agree, with you about making statistical arguments and the need to back up your arguments with facts.  But, I do find it funny that you used an unsupported statistical figure 95% to make your point.  But I agree with your basic argument.  Gay folk are just people wanting what others have, to love their partners and have the society they live in afford them the same rights for the pure reason of fairness.  Telling a couple that their love is somehow less than and not deserving of the word marriage is ugly.  By all means, let the Catholic church decide who they will or will not marry.  But do not let the Catholic church decide for the larger community.  A civil marriage should be available to consenting adults.    I still don’t understand why the Catholic church uses tradition to prop up their arguments.  By tradition, slavery should still be supported.  But it is not, because we as a society realized that owning another human being was  wrong and so we went against the teachings of the bible and stopped the practice.  In the not so distant future, when gay marriage is legal, society will look back to this time and shudder at folks who rallied against equality in marriage just like we look back  in horror at those who used the same arguments to support slavery. 

  • Solent Rambler

    Andrew

    I think Peter Williams is absolutely right to plea that arguments should be presented moderately and with a light tone.

    That’s for no other reason that those who disagree are more likely to listen because they are not a personal attack on them for what they are or the sincerity of their views, albiet no matter how much they might be mistaken.

    I agree with Peter William’s article. I am unclear as to why that apparently makes me a bigot.   Particularly as I neither hate nor fear homosexuals as I am confident of who I am and of my heterosexuality. 

    Time might well prove me wrong and that you’re quite right.  We look back on some past practices and wonder how people could have assented to them.

    But equally, we must ask if future generations will look back at us to ask the same question.  This Consultation has come very suddenly. Same sex marriage was not in any major parties election manifesto.  The Government is now presenting it as a fait accompli.  Is that really democractic?

    You’re quite right.  People marry because they love each other.  Historically, a marriage is annulled by non consummation.  Part of the fun of sex, if I can put it like that, is that it can result in the birth of a child.  I think of my work colleagues when they bring in their baby for us all to admire; their pride and delight and the warm congratulations from the rest of us.  It’s a work stopping moment.

    It can be a source of great sadness when a couple are unable to have a child. And for their parents too.  One only has to watch the pride and pleasure grandparents have when they hold their first grandchild.

    I know only too well that one’s children can break one’s heart with disappointment, anger and fear. They can cause terrible rows between a couple and test their relationship to the limit.  Been there.

    But when I consider those couples who refuse to have children, I believe that they are missing much. 

    Anal sex by nature of the case can only ever be sterile. 

    Peter Williams quotes Matthew Parris, the gay columnist, above.  It’s a very interesting point of view.

    If I may dare to say it, you are naive if you think that there could not be a call for polygamous marriages to be allowed.  On your reasoning, why not?  In fact, my understanding is that it is already happening.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t condone slavery. And it’s reasonable to give some sections and topics more weight than others. That doesn’t mean cherry picking, it just means thinking about context and significance rather than reading everything literally.

  • Canuck

     What an evil comment.  I hope you are ashamed.  It is people like you that degrade our society.  Public hangings…and you would be there with your apples to hurl at the person who would be hanged.  Your comments show you for the nasty individual you are. 
    Watching a hanging, good.
    Two loving people publicly committing to each other, wrong.

    You are on the wrong side of history.

  • Canuck

     Once again, stop trying to impose your religious beliefs onto others.    We have gay marriage in Canada and gay divorce.  The government does not ask what they got up to in bed.  This won’t affect Catholics anyway.  Gays are not allowed to marry in the Catholic church so a gay Catholic annulment does not have any meaning.  Stop trying to force your religious beliefs onto others.  Gays are not saying you have to be gay or participate in gay acts.  So stop telling gays they have to adhere to your religious beliefs.  Tell all the catholic gays that they can’t marry in your church, fine.  Stop telling gays outside your church what they can and can’t do because of your catholic teachings.

  • Anonymous

     John?

    Of course society will not fall appart at the stroke of a pen, it is a gradual process which is already well advanced when you see the level of depravity in the world already.

    I don’t know if you are a Christian. If you are then, I refer you to what Aeraon43 posted earlier today. It is from St Paul’s First Epistle to the Romans, which spells out the awful consequences of falling away from belief in God.

  • Anonymous

    “We have gay marriage in Canada and gay divorce.  The government does not ask what they got up to in bed.”

    On the contrary the government (the Court) does want to know what you got up to in bed or didn’t, if you want an annullment.

    ‘Gay marriage’ is an oxymoron, it will be no different to a civil partnership in the rights it confers. It is a sterile parody of marriage and an insult to the intelligence.

  • Solent Rambler

    Tom

    Perhaps you could give the link to where you found this alleged endorsement?  I’ve looked and can’t find it.

    I have emailed the Catholic News Service of Nigeria to see what they have to say.

    Regards.

  • shieldsheafson

    Edward Feser gives a rationale:-

    Even though a majority
    of citizens still happen to oppose the redefinition of marriage, the more
    important thing is that the very idea of ‘same-sex marriage’ is a metaphysical
    absurdity. What is at issue here is a matter of objective fact that it is the
    business of reason to discover what ‘marriage’ is, or whether religion is a
    good thing or not, rather than the law to stipulate.

     

    The metaphysics underlying natural law theory that marriage is, not by human
    definition, but as an objective metaphysical fact determined by its final
    cause, inherently procreative, and thus inherently heterosexual.

  • John Byrne

    ‘democracy of the dead’ – what utter absurdity.

    I described myself as straight in order to indicate that I had no personal gay axe to grind. 

    We also have Benedict Carter here bemoaning the lack of public floggings and hangings in the UK. I mean really – what is the point of wasting time on this website with people like this?
    Let them talk their nasty, perverted nonsense to themselves and to others of their ilk, who will probably derive some weird old testament pleasure from it.

  • Laura

    Oh dear….”catholics” teaching the Church…yawn!….”catholics” keen on being accepted by the world by embracing it’s immoral teachings….yawn! The Truth is One and it can’t be changed, whatever you try to do. Get over it!! Andrew, you live your life as you see fit, but it’s the Church’s responsability to tell you you are in grave danger of ending in Hell.
    I’m not a bigot, nor any of us catholics who defend the sanctity of marriage are. 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. We are not homophobic. Get over that as well.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant, Well said,

  • Tom in Lazybrook

    Solent, Please see the following links… middle paragraph… DIRECT endorsement… on OFFICIAL Catholic website by an Archbishop and three Bishops..  http://www.cbcn-ng.org/newsdetail.php?tab=27   Text of the law directly endorsed by the ROMAN Catholic Church includes 14 years in prison for Gay persons marrying in private, living together, petitioning their government, forming a Gay rights club, meeting in private, protesting, …existing.  This endorsement was cheerled through VATICAN read sites like Lifesite news and was widely publicized in the Nigerian mass media.  No correction has been given by the Vatican.  None. 

    In addition to stripping Gay persons of all rights of assembly, association, petition, protest, speech, press, and due process, this ROMAN CATHOLIC  (the whole church – not just in Nigeria) endorsed legislation will make the practice of certain religions in Nigeria ILLEGAL.  So now the Roman Catholic Church endorses throwing all Episcopalians or the members of Rainbow House of God (a church in Lagos) in prison for up to 10 years for the crime of attending a private religious ceremony in accordance with their faith.  When the RC Church in England whines about some perceived minor persecution, we’ll bring up that the RC Church DIRECTLY advocates throwing people in jail for  10 years for practising their faith.

    The Vatican knows.  They even trotted out Cardinal Sarah to defend nations rights to throw all Gay people into jailcamps for the crime of  being Gay.  They then had the UN representative in the Vatican talk about how the Vatican supports nations being able to have their own ways of ‘protecting’ Gays from unjust discrimination.  Such as throwing them into Kiri Kiri prison for daring to exist. 

    We are going to make the WHOLE Catholic Church own what their church is doing in Nigeria and (also) in Belize and Zambia.  Imagine this campaign.  “Hey England….This is what happens when you listen to the Catholic Church on issues of Gay rights.  They then move on to massive jailings and extreme human rights abuses of Gays”. 

    2358 is dead.  The Vatican killed it.

  • Rosskirkbride

    Again, with different words: if you dismiss, deride or disparage tradition you do the same to the saints. Now a non-Christian is obliged to do this, a Christian probably is not.

  • Tom in Lazybrook

    It looks like the Catholic Church is moving beyond politics in certain countries…right to direct advocacy of legislation that will throw every Gay person in jail camps.  Source..Nigerian Catholic Bishops Conference.  And to direct advocacy of jailing adherents of religions that disagree with them.

  • jackie.gillespie

    There is nothing new in this diatribe to anything else I have read on other christian sites that disagree with same sex marriage, the same old points just chewed over and spewed out.There is certainly nothing of any substance that would convince me that same sex marriage will be detrimental to my marriage or to society as a whole.

  • Rosskirkbride

    Ok. Again, let’s hear your reasons. ‘Utter absurdity’ is not a reason or an argument. 

    For the record (sigh), I am not for public flogging or hanging or any form of capital punishment, but CS Lewis for example did write persuasively that capital punishment could be just. I won’t try and re-hash his arguments, and I don’t agree with him, but I do not dismiss him. Similarly Chesterton. Similarly the Church.

  • Tridentinus

     The mind boggles.

  • aearon43

    I would be very surprised that what you mention is actually happening. If it is, it’s directly counter to authentic Catholic teaching.

  • aearon43

    Lots of bile and name-calling here… do you have a logical argument to make? ”
    your arguments are intellectually vacuous” Pot, meet kettle. You’re entitled to your opinion. Why do you expect anyone to agree with you without providing reasons for it? 

  • aearon43

    Criminals do much to degrade society, and it would be better for all to get a firmer grip on that problem, and not the kind of excuse-making we saw in the pages of the Guardian after the London riots.

  • aearon43

    The homosexual left often employs Gramsci type tactics, “long march through the institutions,” that sort of thing. 

  • aearon43


    their love is somehow less than and not deserving of the word marriage is ugly”

    Why?

  • aearon43

    Nigera took a pro-active stance against gay UNIONS, not individual gay people, in response to attempts by the US to imperialistically impose it on them. See: 
    http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/obamas-obsession-with-sexual-orientation.html

  • aearon43


     in contradiction to the Church” — right.

  • aearon43

    Then don’t. If you don’t agree with the Catechism, then maybe it’s time to switch to a Protestant church.

  • aearon43

    This is a good article. While we all are passionate , we need to temper it with logic and civility. One other point you might want to bring up is this: men and woman are equal, but different. Same-sex “marriage” encodes into law the notion that there is no fundamental difference between the sexes. This is, as any biologist or psychologist will tell you, simply not true. When a man wants to take the role of a woman, or vice versa, they are in opposition to their objective nature. We should not try to remake the world on the basis on theories. In order to have justice, we have to respect nature.

  • TheBlueWarrior

    Hopefully you’re at least using the word ‘diatribe’ in the archaic sense of a “prolonged discourse” rather than the more modern use of “a bitter and abusive piece of writing”.  There is plenty of substance articulated in this article (certainly as much substance as any argument favoring same-sex marriage). 

    Two points I’d make are 1) popular opinion one way or the other is not the paramount gauge of the justice of a proposed act, as a democratic community that is not well-formed in moral, ethical or natural law could give a majority vote to something very unethical.  2)  This particular issue, marriage, is not some fly-by-night fad that had it’s golden age in the 1950s  (as the Deputy PM would have one believe); rather it has been foundational to Western Civilization for at least 2,000 years.  As such it deserves more than three months consultation followed by alteration by immediate legislative fiat (quote: ‘it’s not if, but how we’re going to change the law”). 

    For all their said ‘tolerance’ of same-sex relationships, even the pre-Christian Roman Empire had the law of Connubium that regulated matrimonium as only existing between a male and a female who were both Roman citizens.

  • TheBlueWarrior

     Is this the same paulsays who last year argued that civil-unions weren’t about the sex?

  • Tridentinus

     We are not actually in the minority, most people find homosexual practices repugnant but when asked publicly are reluctant to admit it for fear of being regarded politically incorrect.

    The ‘homophobia’ you accuse us of is a confected word which literaly means ‘fear of the same’, pretty meaningless really. There is actually no fear of homosexuality, it is a recognised disorder in the sense that the sexual act is ordered towards procreation whereas homosexual acts are merely acts of self-centred, sexual gratification which most teenage boys discover, quite early on, do not really require a ‘partner’.

    Of course your battle is won, the government has said so, no argument. However, the government may make laws but history tells us that it is not infallible and is prone to reverse its decrees at the drop of a hat. The moral law on the other hand is immutable being ‘written in our hearts’ according to St Paul. In other words we are all capable of discerning right from wrong and we are all capable of choosing either: free will. We are also all capable of knowing the consequences of our choice.

    What will you want next after being allowed to ‘marry’? Surely to be ‘married’ in Church. You will pursue it through the Courts, not for religious reasons but for the exact opposite, to destroy Christianity, hopefully to grin in triumph over the Church. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned you are banging your heads against a brick wall, it will never surrender to your sacrilegious demands in the same way as it defied the pagan Emperors of yore. Would that I could say the same of other Christian denominations.

  • paulsays

     Sex is part of most relationships, both hetrosexual and homosexual.

    Therefore civil-unions do promote gay-sex, in the same way as marriage promotes straight-sex.

    I hardly see what I’ve said as a contradiction.

  • paulsays

     caferteria catholics!

  • aearon43

    Catholics (and others) are simply respecting the fact of nature that children come from the union of man and woman only. Justice is not merely an abstract theory, but must have some appreciation of the world that exists.

  • aearon43

    Well, Jacob, sometimes it’s better to lose honorably than to win dishonorably. 

  • Charles Martel

     I stand corrected. Thanks Benedict.

  • Charles Martel

    What on earth are you talking about?

  • Charles Martel

    Paulsays,
    Read what I wrote again: “All homosexual unions are condemned by the Catholic Church and that
    condemnation is binding on the consciences of all Catholics.” Got that? What am I wrong about?

  • Bembo

    Aww… “bless” the ignorant … are we seeing the word  “evolved” being used in this article???? That’s a clue on how the writer is trying to use sophistry to manipulate ignorant readers… 

  • John Byrne

    Rosskirkbride asks me for some “reasons” for my stated (here) belief that ideas such as the “democracy of the dead” are utterly absurd.
    Does he not realise that the boot is on the other foot. Does anyone proposing this lunatic concept, or the other tosh and nonsense in which he believes, have any “reasons” for taking any of it seriously?

  • paulsays

     Ok, if that is the case, explain why the highest authority in the Church in Britain – Arch Bishop Vincent Nichols supports civil ceremonies?

  • John Byrne

    Communities, in a broader sense in our tiny nation, can exist even if their members do not share the same immediate space. We live in an age of easy mass transport and rapid communication.

    We (you and I) seem to agree about much of the rest, save your final paragraph.

    I can understand your feelings (I think) when you write of “contemptuous of it [Catholicism]” and “extremely patronising towards your co-religionists”. But certain things, I believe, do need saying – and need to be said by the Church too.
    Some (“out-dated” is not quite the right word) parts of the Church’s doctrine needs removing in its present form and replaced with that which has meaning in the modern world.
    The problems that this might cause are obvious, but the bullet has to be bitten. It is mainly because of masterful inaction in the past that this is now so difficult to do. But it will become more difficult if left to fester.
    I gave a trivial instance of this elsewhere by way of example: the Church teaches that the existence of God can be deduced by reason alone. This is obviously not so, and the Church must know that this teaching is false. Yet it is too fearful to say so.

  • John Byrne

    Equal rights for gay people, including marriage, is popular throughout the nation.
    Opinion polls (other than the phoney and contrived Catholic Voices poll, which has been dealt with at some length elsewhere on this ‘site) clearly show this.

    Gay rights have been discussed for many years in Britain and I’m sure the views of the Catholic Church are well known among educated people in our society.
    The Catholic Church and the other Churches do have a voice and it has spoken loudly, and has been heard.

  • John Byrne

    I agree, eventually the penny will drop.

  • John Byrne

    And eventually the penny will drop about gay marriage.