CathBlog - Marriage schmarriage

BY SIMON ROWNEY

There is so much confusion and hostility generated by discussions of homosexual marriage that it is hard to get to the real issues. It's worth trying to find out which questions are pertinent and which are red herrings.

For example I think we should ignore the conceptual analysis question "what is the content of the word ‘marriage’?". Or "what is the definition of 'marriage'?" Consensus is unlikely to be found in this regard. 

I take it as a fact that a union closed to natural procreation is not marriage. Laws saying otherwise are either vacuous or represent the introduction of a new word. This word is spelt and pronounced "marriage" but is in fact something completely different. But I doubt consensus on this is going to be reached. 

Consensus irrelevant

Furthermore even if a consensus were found it would not help in answering the question at hand. This is "should the law be changed to grant homosexual partners identical rights and privileges to married couples?".  This is because we are always free to create new words and concepts if our common language is impoverished in some way. So the government can invent a new word and concept, call it say "schmarriage", which encompasses both married people and homosexual unions. And all the arguments inaccurately aimed at "marriage", can now be targeted at "schmarriage".  We can see we haven't progressed the discussion very far. 

However some salient points to consider are: 

1. Talk of a "right to marry" makes no sense. We can only talk of "the right to marriage in such and such circumstances". The circumstances are the conditions of marriage such as: people entering marriage of their own free will and with full knowledge of the commitment; there being no impediments such as being siblings, already married, mentally incompetent, underage etc. No one has a "right" without qualification, and it's in the qualifications that the disagreement lays, it is not one of rights.  

There are all sorts of difficult questions to ask about the "qualifications". For example, no-one seriously thinks siblings have a right to marry. Proponents of homosexual marriage should consider whether homosexual brothers have a right to marry? And if not, why not. After all there are no concerns in relation to in-breeding. (I'm not saying the government won't prevent this occurring by act of law, just that they won't have a good reason for such a law, the law will be arbitrary). 

Rights of Church

2. Further evidence that the real debate centres on the qualifications can be found in attitudes toward the marriage sacrament. In other words, the readiness of all sides to allow the Church to refuse the sacramental marriage rites to homosexuals. This act shows it has been tacitly accepted that homosexuals do not have a right to a sacramental marriage. The rights of the Church to act and legislate according to her own precepts and laws, trumps any rights of homosexuals. 

Thus we have a prima facie acknowledgement that legislation against homosexual marriage is consistent with human rights and Australian law. The question under discussion therefore should be whether or not the move toward same sex marriage can be consistent with Australian identity, custom and law or not. 

3. People fail to acknowledge even the possibility of a consensus that homosexual acts are immoral. But there is evidence of this all round. This evidence is found in the persistent opposition and revulsion toward sodomy and other acts in heterosexual relations. People are looking for evidence in the wrong place. Don't ask who approves of sodomy among men but who approves it in their own bed; husbands ask your wives and you will find the answer. 

In this regard, what is often presented as approval of homosexuality is actually just tolerance of it. Failure to sensibly explore this option leads to confusion. 

4. The absence of the concept of sin from all discussion severely distorts our view. It leads people to devalue the role of civic government in protecting public morality. Consider this example from Raymond Gaita in The Age

"Our sense of a common humanity is premised on seeing in all human beings their capacity to make meaning, that we respect, of the big facts that define the human condition – our mortality, our vulnerability to misfortune and, of course, our sexuality."

Sin overlooked

On this definition, the Church seems to deny our common humanity. But this is not a proof of the Church's error; it is merely a product of Gaita's description of society. Not only does Gaita reject the moral consensus I previously mentioned, but he doesn't consider the relevance of sin. 

But what if our description of common humanity acknowledges sinfulness? What if the bond I have with homosexuals is not merely the result of our common ideas but our common weakness, our imperfections and habitual sins? What if in homosexuals’ struggle toward chastity, I see my own struggles toward virtue?

On this view, laws defending public morality are not opposed to civil unity but instead are the very foundation of society. They are a civic aid to help us live in freedom. I think perhaps this point is the biggest bone of contention in the whole debate. 

5. Again in relation to the two points outlined above. Toleration is very different from approval. To tolerate so as to avoid unjust discrimination of homosexuals is a great good. To approve however is a whole other matter. We cannot formally cooperate in any way with moral evil. 

Consider the following, if an astrologer attends a dinner party of astrophysicists there are bound to be moments of uncomfortable politeness, where the conversation is hurriedly changed. Such politeness preserves the peace, allows the party to continue. However such politeness is completely different from asking physicists to approve astrology for inclusion in the high school science curriculum. That is something they could never approve and should never be asked to. 

This analogously applies in moral contexts. 

6. There seems to be a real tension between recognition of homosexual marriage and the rights of women. 

Polygamous relationships

Marriage is the heart of the social fight for female rights. Even in ancient times an equality of persons was essential to the understanding of marriage. This is why in the west polygamy was always condemned for the damage it did to female equality. The institution of concubinage was an elaborate fabrication to avoid polygamy and protect the wife's rights in the face of overt infidelity. 

Other obvious problems include the situation of a polygamous relationship. A wife could not, for example, withhold sexual privileges from her husband without risk of being undermined by another wife.  Or the common situation of the pretty wife being kept infertile, while the less attractive produces children (or vice versa in other times), is another grave inequality in polygamous relations. Countless such examples are possible. 

Even today a divorced woman for example, will be far less likely to meet another man, earn considerably less money and be far more likely to rear the children alone then her divorced husband. 

Thus women have had and continue to have special reasons to ensure legal protection of the marriage vow. 

Sexual inequality can obviously not apply in homosexuals relations and thus an important aspect of marriage law is missing. One may wonder why they should be granted the protections due to married women. 

I don't think answering all the above questions is easy and therefore it is very far from obvious, that homosexual relations should be approved of by any positive legislation such as civil union or marriage.


Simon RowneySimon Rowney is a CathNews reader who blogs from Corrimal, NSW.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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