What is so special about marriage between a man and a woman that same-sex couples are not allowed to share in it?
is one of the most hotly-debated issues of our time. Many people instinctively
understand that marriage is a faithful, loving and life-giving union between a
man and a woman. But they are unsure how to reconcile this truth with the
growing push for same-sex marriage. In the following dialogue, I will look at some
common arguments in favour of homosexual marriage.
Marriage is a natural institution
where a man and a woman give themselves to each other exclusively for life in a sexual
relationship that is open to procreation. It is publicly recognised, honoured
and supported because of its unique capacity to generate new human life and to
meet children’s deepest needs for the love and attachment of both their father
and their mother.
Marriage is different and
distinguished from other sexual or caring relationships because of its
permanence, its natural orientation to life, and the way it brings
together and expresses the fullness of humanity in male and female.
marriage have to be about the ability to have children? Older couples and
infertile couples have always been allowed to marry.
When a married couple cannot have
children, for reasons of age or infertility, they are still truly married
because their lovemaking is designed
to give life, even if it cannot give life at a particular point in time, or
ever. Their sexual union is procreative by its nature, because husband and wife
unite in an act that is naturally meant for the creation of a new human being.
This is why sex deserves to be treated with a special reverence.
marriage is more about two people in love than what kind of sex they have. Why is
procreative sex special?
Sexual intercourse that is open to life
is essential for marriage because marriage is not just a caring relationship
between two people, but a union of love
and life. In marriage a man and a woman pledge to love each other for life
and to lovingly welcome and raise any children of their union.
Sadly, through the normalisation of
casual sex, contraception, homosexual acts, condoms, abortion and IVF, our
culture has denigrated and obscured the life-giving aspect of marriage and
sexual intercourse. In spite of this, people still, deep down, know that the
sexual act is about life – that it
bonds a man and a woman together in a profound way because of the baby they may
People still sense the grandeur of the
sexual act, its implicit promise of life-long love and commitment – “I will be
here for you for always” – and this is why there is so much pain and heartache
when sexual relationships break down or when a marriage is violated by
right to marry a basic human right?
“The right to marry and found a family”
is written in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights (1948). But international human rights law has always
understood and affirmed the enduring truth that marriage is a life-giving union
of a man and a woman. The United
Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors international human rights
treaties, has stated that the right to marry “implies, in principle, the
possibility to procreate”. The right to marry and found a family is a basic human right, but this right
has an objective meaning and content – forming an open-to-life union with a
person of the opposite sex.
about human dignity? Homosexual people can never feel that they are fully
accepted and worthy of love if they are not allowed to marry their same-sex
To love someone sexually means being
able to accept them completely, including their fertility. Sexual acts that are
closed to life, like anal sex, oral sex and contracepted heterosexual
intercourse, may seem loving. But
they cannot be truly loving because they reject the deepest part of the
person’s sexuality – their capacity to give life, to be a father or a mother.
No one can deny that many homosexual persons sincerely care about their same-sex partners. But, as hard and painful as it is for those who
suffer from same-sex attraction, real love demands chastity – the integration
of sexual desires into unselfish love for the other person. This means
abstaining from sex that is not marital and open to life.
Unfulfilled sexual desires can be a
painful cross to carry. But a chaste life brings us true inner peace and joy,
because we are living in harmony with the way our bodies have been designed and
we are treating the person we love as a gift
– loving him or her for their own sake, and not for the sexual pleasure they
can give us.
condemning homosexuals to a life of loneliness and misery?
The human drive for sexual intimacy is
strong, but we have an even deeper need to be loved for who we truly are. Part of what drives homosexual activity
– and heterosexual activity outside of marriage – is that people are lonely and
hungry for real love and deep friendships with their family and friends.
However, no one – whatever their sexual
orientation – should be made to feel unloved, or be deprived of real friendship
and support. Sadly, the world is constantly telling us that sexual intimacy is
the only kind of intimacy worth having – that you must be in a sexual relationship to be happy or you will be doomed
to a miserable life with nobody to love you. The real life experience of
unmarried people around the world can testify that this is simply false! Millions
of unmarried people around the world live happy, fulfilling lives – loving
others and being deeply loved in return – without having sex. Our need for love
is much, much greater than our need for sex.
allowing homosexual marriage weaken the institution of marriage as a whole? Two
men getting married won’t threaten me or my marriage.
definition of marriage to remove the elements of male and female will
profoundly change us as a culture. “Expanding"
the meaning of marriage to include same-sex couples ignores what is unique and
beautiful about the gift of a woman and the gift of a man. Men and women are
created with a purpose and a specific and loving design, and we are called to
strive towards fulfilling this as much as we can, despite our physical,
emotional and spiritual brokenness.
Allowing two men or two women to “marry”
would involve a fundamental change in our understanding of marriage, from a
life-giving and sexually complementary union to a personal, romantic
relationship where there is no true communion or connection to procreation.
It will entrench, in a public way, the
separation of sex from babies and marriage from children. It will move marriage
from a child-centred institution to an adult-centred one. It will trivialise
the meaning and dignity of motherhood and fatherhood and declare that having
both a father and a mother is an unnecessary duplication.
Men and women will always
aspire to marry because this desire is deep within the human person.
But it will deeply affect young people to grow up in a culture which
says that marriage is no longer about giving yourself unconditionally to
another and having children together. The cultural confusion about the
true meaning of marriage will make it ever harder for them to attain
what they long for.
In fact, society has no power to change
what marriage is. Even if the law change the definition, it cannot alter the
reality. A union between a man and a man or woman and a woman cannot be a
marriage. It would be like saying that combining broccoli and roast potatoes
has not always been defined as the union of one man and one woman. How do you
At different times and in different
cultures, the practice of polygamy (one man having several wives) has been
allowed, but not all of the individuals involved became spouses of each other. A
man always married a woman. A man might have several wives, but his wives would
not be married to each other. The two people getting married would always be a
man and a woman – always forming a union that was open to life. At no point
have two men or two women ever been able to marry each other.
Christianity did not create our notion
of marriage. It clarified what nearly all major cultures have taught. With the
coming of Christianity, the law’s understanding of marriage as a lifelong union
of love between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, has
grown and deepened.
Joseph is a project officer at the Life, Marriage and Family Centre of the
Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.