31 Days of Writing with the Nester,  Catholic Spirituality,  Homosexuality,  Marriage

Why No Gay Marriage?

The issue de jour (well, one of the big ones, anyway): why won’t the Catholic Church relax about gay marriage? And how can we claim to be purveyors of mercy and love while simultaneously denying a subset of the population their shot at happily every after?

This is not an easy teaching in our present cultural climate, but it is a simple one, I promise. The bottom line is thus: the Catholic Church will never recognize gay marriage because there is no such thing as a gay marriage.

Are there same sex couples who love each other and are attracted to each other and who desire to build a shared life together? Absolutely. But what they have cannot be called marriage, because it does not meet the necessary criteria: marriage is a life long, covenanted commitment between two persons of the opposite sex ordered toward the mutual good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. 

I know the arguments and I’m sure you do too, but I’ll just go ahead and highlight the usual suspects: what about couples who get divorced? What about couples who are biologically incapable of having children? What about couples who cheat/beat/lie/steal/hurt one another? How can those marriages be called such while loving, committed same-sex couples are denied the dignity of the title?

Simply put, because even though human beings are inevitably going to fall short of the glory to which each of us are called, God and His Church are never going to lower the standards in order to wallow with us in our misery. He will, however, lower His arms in order to lift us up to the life He desires for us.

Marriage is a higher calling, a natural attempt to live out a supernatural reality. We’re all incapable of answering that call without the sacramental graces God provides. And even then, we still screw it up. Over and over again. But that’s not an argument for altering the terms on the designer’s part, is it?

Marriage, the big-M sacramental kind, is not primarily ordered toward personal fulfillment or entertainment or even happiness. All those things are (hopefully) wrapped up in the larger experience of the marriage relationship, but they’re not guaranteed, and they’re actually not the point. The twofold end of marriage is the mutual good of the spouses (and sometimes what’s good for you isn’t necessarily pleasant) and the procreation and education of children. So a marriage can never be, from the outset, intentionally damaging to one or both spouses or closed to life. That’s actually not “marriage” at all.

Gay marriage is a misnomer because homosexual relationships are not ordered toward the good of the other, and because they are fundamentally sterile. So right off the bat, neither of the twofold “goods” of marriage are present. Basically put, the raw material is missing from the start. Think of it like baking a cake without sugar, flour, or eggs. You can certainly attempt something cake-shaped and perhaps even vaguely reminiscent of cake in flavor (and I speak from sad, paleo experience here) but you’re not really eating cake. The ingredients are wrong.

Human beings are more complex than baked goods, and the issue of who should be allowed to marry is a touchy one, but keep this in mind going forward: every adult human person has, by nature of their inalienable dignity, the right to pursue marriage if they are so called. But nobody has the right to redefine or reconstruct marriage in order to suit their own tastes or preferences. So while we are all extended the invitation to enter into the Sacrament of marriage, we are not permitted to alter its essence.

More the point, we’re not actually capable of altering its essence. Marriage “is” something deeper than human eyes can see: it’s a re-imaging of the love of the Trinity, and a participation in God’s own nature of self-giving and life-producing love. And in His design we’re welcome to participate, but we’re not able to change the terms.

This is a tough sell to a culture largely incapable of philosophical or metaphysical reasoning, but the truth of it isn’t diminished by our inability to grasp it.

In a culture such as ours which has embraced contraception, abortion, divorce and a whole host of other evils, this is a particularly difficult concept. Because how high and mighty do you have to be to say that I can do all kinds of crazy sh*t in the name of freedom and autonomy but that poor slob over there can’t marry his boyfriend, because sin.

Yeah, it’s a tough sell for sure. But it’s all a piece. Those other touchy issues we’ll surely touch upon this month? The Church will never alter her position on those, either, and for the same reason: She only has our best interests at heart. And She will never sell us short, even when we fail to recognize our own dignity. Especially when we fail to recognize our own dignity.

Here’s your takeaway lesson from today’s post: the Church will never recognize gay marriage because there is no such thing as gay marriage. There’s also no such thing as consecrated Oreos standing in for the Eucharist. Right form, wrong matter.

Is this going to facilitate amicable water cooler discussions between coworkers or pleasant Thanksgiving dinners? Probably not. But in a culture fixated on the physical world to the ignorance of the spiritual, it’s a good starting point for reawakening the eyes of the soul.


  • Micaela Darr

    Whew. Well done, Jenny. I admit I was a little scared of the comment boxes, so I’m happy to see I’m the first. Good luck with that!

    No really. Hats off to you. This month is bound to be one of enlightenment on our side, and spiritual embattlement (is that a word?) on yours. I’ll be praying that you have the strength and courage (and time) to keep it up. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

  • Trish

    This issue has ripped apart my immediate family as we have been repeatedly informed that we are hateful, hate-filled bigots unless we fully accept and approve of our gay family member’s lifestyle. The “procreation” of children point was rendered moot by both women going through IVF to become pregnant with anonymous donors. So now they DO have a family to raise in their gay marriage just like we do in our sacramental one. It’s a highly controversial and confusing argument. The stance, esp. leading up to the holidays, is if we don’t fully approve we’re not welcome around their family (incidentally, we don’t care if they’re around ours, as long as they don’t try to indoctrinate our kids — this happened once and it was pretty ugly. I had to ask them to back off which of course offended them. But God forbid I try to talk to their kids!) Ugh, ugh, double ugh.

    • Jenny

      I feel you so acutely. Same issue in my own family, though thankfully without the added tension and heartache of children being brought into the mix. It’s hard because yep, refusal to condone = bigots. Even if we’re warm and friendly and loving. If we don’t rah rah along with their lifestyle choices we’re intolerant and hate filled. The irony is too much sometimes.

      The Church’s wisdom on all these “contemporary” life issues is so clear, and it’s all so intimately connected. As soon as you capitulate on abortion or contraception or IVF or any other point, your basically void your right to speak with authority against any of it, and rightfully so because it’s hypocritical, and those making the arguments in favor of gay marriage know it.

    • wyldlittlepoet

      As a queer Christian, I find it hard to understand where y’all are coming from.

      What does not approving of their “lifestyle choices” look like to you? What does being warm and friendly and loving look like to you?

      As much as I try to follow Christ’s example and practice radical hospitality, I would find it difficult to really welcome people into my home whom I know disapprove of my choice of partner. Without her, my home wouldn’t be a home at all– love and a shared purpose are what makes a house into a home! When we eventually have children, I probably will find it even more difficult, because children are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. By the same token, I am extremely cautious when I enter someone else’s home. I know that my presence can make some people uncomfortable, and I don’t wish to cause anyone pain or discomfort! I also don’t want to raise any awkward questions if there are kids around.

      But honestly, is it that difficult to just put aside your moral qualms and just love your family members for who they are? Just accept that their family is made differently from yours, and just move along? Unless they’re asking for sacramental marriage in the Catholic church (which I assume they’re not), I don’t see why the issue comes up unless either you or they are pressing it.

  • Jennifer

    You are amazing. This is really well written. Like you said in Thursday’s post, the two sides of this argument really do define “marriage” completely differently which naturally leads to misunderstanding. A question for you: as a Catholic, why should I oppose a homosexual civil union? Let them call it what they may but its not sacramental marriage, so does it really matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  • Nancy Shuman

    This is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on this topic. Straightforward, to the point, wonderfully written. “God and His Church are never going to lower the standards in order to wallow with us in our misery. He will, however, lower His arms in order to lift us up to the life He desires for us.” Just: wow.

  • Catholic Mutt

    Objective truth, even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t feel good… It is a tough sell in the short term, but it is also the only thing that works long term! Thanks for being willing to say what is, even when it’s not always the popular view.

  • Lillian Keil

    So what happens if two people who aren’t good for each other get married? Would you refuse to acknowledge the marriage because the first purpose of marriage isn’t being satisfied?

  • Kari Ballew

    I think the biggest issue that the general population has on the Catholic churches stance is that the Catholics are opposing gay marriage in the civil sense as well as the sacramental sense. The laws that would make gay marriage legal are not mandating that Catholic churches perform gay marriages. The laws are simple allowing gay couples to get married in the same way that non-Catholic couples get married (by somebody other than a priest, in locations outside of the church, etc.). Is it really so hard to maintain a Catholic identity internal to the church while allowing people of alternate belief systems to legally benefit from their unions the same way that atheist couples do?

    I guess I’m just curious as to how Catholics defend pushing their religious beliefs on the remainder of Americans in a legal sense.

  • Mark

    Wow Jenny. You really hit the nail on the head. Sadly, if you oppose gay “marriage” for any reason, you run the risk of being thrown under a bus for it. I speak from personal experience.

  • Amadala

    I have a few questions for you which I hope you can answer so that I can better understand the Catholic Church.

    (a) Do you truly think contraception is evil (as stated above)? I simply cannot understand how something used with the mutual consent of both partners, that causes no harm and allows more control over their lives can be evil or even bad. Please help me understand your view more.

    (b) If contraception is evil how are fertility based awareness methods not? As to me they fill the most basic requirements of a contraceptive, namely, used with the exclusive or near exclusive purpose of preventing pregnancy. To me this simply seems like a loophole.

    (c) Do you oppose gay marriage in the civil sense as well as the spiritual sense? I understand the Catholic church not wanting to perform gay marriages, as it opposes one of their beliefs, but does it believe it has the right to define marriage (small m) for all of non-Catholic society as well?

    (d) How is gay marriage not good for the other (as mentioned above)?

    Thank you for your time and insight,

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