As of January 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, as well as in two sovereign Native American tribes. Moreover, President Obama and Vice President Biden have declared their support for such marriages, as have two former presidents and two former vice presidents.
Many other high-ranking government officials reportedly share their view. The count so far is 51 governors and former governors, 29 current and former attorneys general, 60 current and former U.S. Senators, 272 current and former House members, and 184 mayors and former mayors.
The American public’s support for same-sex marriage has more than doubled in less than 20 years. In 1996 25% approved; today 51% do. Catholics not only hold similar views; in some ways, they are more supportive of same-sex marriage than other Americans. According to a Public Religion Research Institute report, 71% of Catholics support same-sex civil marriage and 56% believe that homosexual relations are not sinful. Both figures are significantly higher than comparable figures for the general population.
Catholic supporters of gay marriage include not just laypeople but also a number of theologians and clergymen. For example, a group of 27 British theologians and priests signed an open letter supporting gay marriage in which they quoted the late Cardinal Basil Hume’s argument that “love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex is to be treasured and respected”, and that such relationships should “be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles.”
Note that Cardinal Hume wrapped gay marriage in the banner of social justice. The concept of social justice is not without problems. (See “American Catholics and Social Justice” in the archives of this journal.) Nevertheless, linking gay marriage to social justice increases its acceptability to many people who would otherwise reject it.
No doubt retired English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor had in mind the facts stated above when he suggested, in characteristically British understatement, that on the issue of gay marriage the Church may be “swimming against the tide.”
How should Church leaders react to this challenge? Should they stop resisting and join the throng who approve gay marriage or maintain their stand against it?
Without question, they should maintain their stand against gay marriage, for three reasons:
- The long-standing Catholic position on homosexuality is both biblically based and philosophically sound. Leviticus 18 and 20 call homosexual acts “detestable”; Romans 1 designates them “unnatural” and “indecent”; and 1 Corinthians 6 declares that “homosexual offenders” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” The philosophical argument is that homosexual intercourse is inappropriate because that act is physically and physiologically suited solely to male-female complementarity. That inappropriateness is underscored by the fact that every act of homosexual intercourse is inherently and necessarily sterile.
- As I explained in some detail in an earlier essay in this journal (“Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality”), the popular idea that homosexuality is normal is based on the flawed and in some ways downright fraudulent research of Alfred Kinsey, the puerile claim of Carl Rogers that whatever feels good is good, and gay activists’ coercion of the American Psychiatric Association to drop its designation of homosexuality as a “disorder.”
- There is nothing unkind, let alone hateful, about the Church’s stand against gay marriage. In keeping with the obligation to hate the sin but love the sinner, the Catholic Catechism calls for “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” toward homosexuals and urges that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Nevertheless, it holds that homosexual acts are immoral and urges homosexuals to practice chastity.
Given the increase in public support for gay marriage, the Church’s opposition will not be popular, but it is well founded. Therefore, for Church leaders to abandon it would constitute a major forfeiture of credibility.
Understandably, with their credibility already suffering from other issues, notably the pedophilia scandal, Church leaders will surely wonder what, if anything, can be done to offset the negative effect of opposing gay marriage and to improve the Church’s image.
In fact, something can be done, and it could have a dramatic impact on the Church’s image among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Ironically, that something concerns another difficult matter for the Church—contraception—which I will discuss in a separate essay.
Copyright © 2013 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved
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