Marriage. What image does the word invoke when you contemplate its meaning? Most of you probably envision two people making a commitment to support each other through adversity and intimately experience every aspect of life together, united as one by the strength of their love. On a practical level, you might also consider marriage to be a voluntary contract between individuals formally declaring their intent to equally share financial and legal responsibilities.
Perhaps it may be useful to first look at marriage from a legal perspective and provide a foundation from which to proceed. Marriage is first and foremost a contract, the meaning of which is fully defined by the dictionary as a formal agreement between two or more parties, a document that states the terms of such an agreement and marriage considered as a formal agreement.
If we assume that the above definition is correct and the practice of marriage is a contract between two parties (or more for practitioners of polygamy), is it reasonable to then legally prohibit those parties from entering into a contractual agreement based on gender? Before you reply, consider this: what if you were to apply the same question to any other contract, say a land purchase deal, for example. Is it acceptable to prohibit individuals from buying or selling real estate based on their gender? Allow me to answer for you – of course not. Any state attempting to enact such legislation would be bankrupted by the endless number of discrimination lawsuits that would follow such a decision, and rightfully so.
From the viewpoint of the law, there can be no justifiable objection to the practice of same-sex marriage. Any argument against its practice must come from a religious source, although the reasoning behind such argument is universally flawed. Let’s take a look at the recent attempts by the Catholic Church to denounce same-sex marriage.
In Pope Benedict’s 2012 Christmas message, His Holiness makes a clear case against gay marriage in his call for Catholics to join together and oppose the practice. He states that “People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.” He further goes on to say “When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God.”
In his message the Pope provides an incredibly clear distinction between Pagan and Christian religious philosophy, for Pagans do not believe that humanity is subservient to God or that our physical body is essentially the sum of all being. We recognize that the freedom to determine one’s own identity and to create one’s personal reality through the power of perception is an existential process which cannot be denied or prohibited, although the Catholic Church is certainly making a concerted effort to try.
Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago expanded on the Pope’s message in a letter to Chicago Catholics denouncing the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act being considered by the Illinois legislature. The Cardinal begins his letter by stating that “Marriage comes to us from nature. The human species comes in two complementary sexes, male and female. Their sexual union is called marital. It not only creates a place of love for two adults but also a home for loving and raising their children. It provides the biological basis for personal identity.” He also says that “It is physically impossible for two men or two women to consummate a marriage, even when they share a deep friendship or love.”
I would like to point out that if the legitimacy and acceptability of an intimate relationship between two beings is derived from nature, not from doctrine, then Nature herself does not agree with the Catholic Church. In Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (1999), Bruce Bagemihl describes statements like the Cardinal’s as essentially being a “single-minded attempt to find reproductive (or other) explanations for homosexuality, transgender, and non-procreative and alternative heterosexualities.”
Intimate same-sex relationships have been observed in close to fifteen hundred species thus far, including humans of course, and such relationships are not rare by any means. In order for same-sex intimacy to be considered an abomination against nature it would have to occur infrequently at best, by necessity. The fact that such inclinations are hard wired into our genetic makeup is proof positive that one cannot legitimately use the “nature of man” argument to protest gay marriage; at least, not without exhibiting complete ignorance on the subject to begin with.
Additionally, the process of consummation in this instance must be defined as the completion of an arrangement or agreement by the signing of a contract. To argue that sexual intercourse is required for the Church to consider a marriage valid in the eyes of God would effectively prohibit any man suffering from erectile dysfunction from ever participating in a Catholic marriage. I find it disturbing that the Pope and Cardinal George, both of whom are intelligent and highly educated individuals, have chosen to lay out their respective arguments against gay marriage with such transparent dishonesty.
I should like to return briefly to Cardinal George’s letter for a moment and here I address the Cardinal directly when I refer to his assertion that the Catholic Church is not anti-gay. In short Your Eminence, yes, you are. Claiming that “the Church welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to convert to God’s ways and maintain friendship with Christ” is at best a slap in the face to any gay person. Please don’t claim that you welcome and respect homosexuals with one breath and call them unnatural defilers of God’s grace with the next. Do not insult our intelligence, Sir. It would be far better for you to be honest about your prejudices rather than disguise them with a poor attempt at politically correct dialog.
For the Catholic Church to say that recognizing civil rights in turn destroys natural rights is completely absurd; to claim that human dignity can somehow be negatively affected by enacting laws that promote freedom and equality is ridiculous. And the next time they decide to invoke the Gods of Nature I suggest they consult with a Pagan first and avoid further embarrassment. Nature is our specialty, after all.