At the end of Danny’s e-mail, he asked:
P.S. This I would really enjoy if you would respond to. I just want you to tell me what your position is on gay marriage since it’s such an issue these days. I’d also like to know just your whole stance on homosexuality in general. Thanks again.
I said Wednesday I’d get to it Thursday, but as you can see, I didn’t. So today, I shall. Let’s look at homosexuality first, then gay “marriage.” But to understand Catholic teachings on homosexuality and gay marriage, you need to understand Catholic teachings on God, love, sex and marriage first.
I. What the Catholic Church Teaches on Love, Sex, and Marriage.
Marital love and sex is intended to mirror the Holy Trinity. We believe that the Holy Trinity, God, is Love (1 John 4:8): the Holy Spirit proceeds from the loving Father to the beloved Son, from the loving Son to the beloved Father, and that this love is the creative impulse for all of creation: that is, each part of the Godhead so loved each other part of the Godhead, and was so animated by love, that they’ve created everything in the universe to (a) reflect that love, and (b) invite all of us into that love. (A) is the reason that inanimate nature (having no capacity for evil) is universally beautiful. The really ugly stuff, factories and whatnot, have to be created by us. As we discussed last time, we’ve got free will, which gives us the power to love, but also the power to be selfish, shortsighted, sinful, and destructive.
Sex, then, is meant to be unitive and procreative. That is, it’s supposed to draw the couple together, make them one entity, and it’s supposed to (at least potentially) create new life. In drawing the couple together, the two are one, and they create a third, so you have a three-in-one concept. Three persons, one entity (the family) — it’s the closest earthly comparison to our God, the Holy Trinity.
Obviously, this view of sex requires that it be marital, because sex is about making a family – bringing the spouses together, and creating a loving environment in which children can be brought into the world. Canon law defines marriage as a “covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Can. 1055 §1.). Marriage and sex, then, are totally related. Sex consumates the marriage, and without a marriage, sex is a sin.
II. What the Catholic Church Rejects
There are two views common in society which are totally wrong. The first is that the point of sex is to feel good, or to be pleasurable. Don’t get me wrong: sex ought to be pleasurable. But it’s much too important to be done simply for pleasurable purposes. Eating is created to be pleasurable as well, but it’s not supposed to be done just for fun. Our culture right now is racked by obesity, heart disease, AIDS and other STDs, non-marital pregnancies, abortion, adultery, and so forth because we eat and have sex just for fun. We’re gluttons for sex and food, and millions of people literally are dying as a result of it. According to the WHO, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing over 7 million people annually, while AIDS is sixth, killing over 2 million. The WHO doesn’t consider abortion murder, but it is. If you include those deaths, add over 42 million more deaths every year. Nothing else on Earth kills, or has killed, 42,000,000 people in a single a year: not the Holocaust, not the Stalinist purgings, not the Cultural Revolution, not heart disease, not AIDS, etc. One in every five people conceived today will be killed by abortion. So just like drinking and driving may seem fun, but is actually deadly, recreational sex is a killer.
The other view rejected is that marriage is just about “being in love,” and wanting to show the other person how in love you are: that is, that marriage is all about romance. Again, romance in a marriage is great. But let’s be honest: much of that romantic attraction is based upon pheremone-triggered releases of dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine in the brain, something which you have no control over, and which wanes naturally as time goes on. Biologically, romantic impulses are to make you desire marriage, because it’s a stable unit in which to raise a family. Likewise, the pleasure in sex and eating are biological enticements to get you to engage in them, because if no one had sex or ate, we’d all be dead (or never conceived).
As a society, we’ve bought into the Hollywood myth of what a romantic “Happily Ever After” marriage looks like. No one’s bought into it more than Hollywood actors and actresses themselves. But look at how long their marriages last, and you’ll immediately see the problem. If a marriage is based just on how you feel, it’ll never last. Every relationship goes through hard tiems. Instead, our wedding vows pledge commitment for better or for worse: we stick together even when it’s not romantic to do so (or even if we feel romantically attracted to someone else). It’s not as glamorous as the Hollywood image, maybe, but it’s a lot more practical.
III. What This Means for Homosexuality & Gay Marriage
Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the subject (CCC 2357-2359):
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
I don’t think that there’s a whole lot I can add to that, but let me say a few things on some of the Catechism’s points.
- Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
Being attracted to those of the same sex isn’t a sin, because you didn’t choose it. But it’s still disordered. That is, your body still wants something which is against the natural order. There are people who, because of how they were born or something which happened to them growing up, find themselves sexually attracted to young children or even to animals. These people are often victims of some sort of sexual abuse, and should be treated with compassion and love. They didn’t choose to have these disordered desires. But we don’t then say, “since you desire it, it’s not a sin to indulge that desire.” Instead, we say, “try not to think about it, don’t act on it, don’t put yourself in a near occasion of sin, etc.” The Catholic Church simply says the same thing for homosexuals that it says for anyone else whose sexual attractions are deviant.
It says, in fact, pretty much the same thing to say, a married man who finds himself attracted to his secretary rather than his wife: don’t indulge the secretary fantasy, don’t act on it, and don’t put yourself in a compromising situation where you may slip up. In this case, his desire is natural: he’s attracted to a member of the opposite sex is who is likely more fertile and capable of bearing young — but acting on it, for obvious reasons, is still sinful.
Here, even a simple evolutionary perspective, absent religion, should lead to the same result. Sex is the means by which the next generation of the species is created. Any sexual desire that can’t result in reproduction is an evolutionary dead end.
- They are contrary to the natural law.
Virtually every society in history, prior to 1970 (so thousands of years now, mind you) has forbidden homosexual marriage. There are possible exceptions under Emperor Nero in Ancient Rome, for example, but he’s hardly a model of morality or sanity: he murdered his pregnant wife and made his horse a senator. Even societies which valued man-boy love, like ancient Greece, ancient Rome, samurai Japan, etc., viewed these relationships as temporary. They weren’t stable or lasting. And for that matter, what’s the point of a lifelong marriage if you’re not capable of having or raising children? The normal answer here would be morality – that it’s morally right to marry someone instead of just having sex with them – but that answer doesn’t apply when both the sex and marriage are instrincally immoral.
- They close the sexual act to the gift of life.
I mentioned this above. The purpose of sex is to be unitive and procreative. Homosexual sex cannot be procreative, and as will be seen before, can’t be truly unitive.
- They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.
Sexual attractions, rightly ordered, are for those of the opposite sex, and manifest themselves in marital sex which propagates the species and brings life into being. Homosexual sex is intrinsically incapable of creating new life, so the sexual desire is unattached to procreation: something is out of whack, so to speak.
Finally, Professor Robert George has an excellent article on what marriage is and isn’t, showing that it’s impossible for a truly unitive relation between members of the same sex. Note that he argues simply from the basis of natural law: he doesn’t say, “The Bible says…” or “The Church says…” and yet his argument is incredibly strong. I strongly suggest that you read it.