We’re all familiar with the frantic push for homosexual marriage and/or civil unions. As people of faith striving to live peacefully within a society in growing crisis, we’re probably much more acquainted than we’d like to be with this ideology washing over us from all sides of our popular culture. If we put our collective foot down and declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman, a matrimonial covenant, we’re quickly accused of being homophobic, or worse. The very word homophobic, describing only a personal fear, carries a connotation now of something akin to deep-seated racism and hate; it’s bearer is the new pariah. In the minds of many, the campaign for civil unions is viewed as the logical successor to the fight for civil rights undertaken by African Americans a few decades ago. Not desiring to be unfairly branded a bigot, no one is particularly excited at the prospect of joining this cultural debate on the side of traditional marriage. So, many good Christians remain relatively silent on the sidelines when it comes to this extraordinary fight for ordinary marriage. After all, if God is Love (1 John 4:8), it’s sometimes challenging to charitably articulate what’s so terribly wrong with homosexual marriage. Isn’t it simply about two people publicly declaring their love for each other?
The first dimension of this discussion to touch on is likely the least important. If homosexual marriage does become “the law” throughout these United States, life will continue. The laws of physics won’t suddenly cease working in grinding protest. Christians are called to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), and living lives for Christ demands that we sacrifice lives of ease in exchange for taking unpopular stands for what is right. If we accept that the world is in a death-spiral until the return of Christ, then setbacks like these are to be expected. That expectation, however, doesn’t excuse us from endeavoring our best to oppose movements which run contrary to both Scripture and tradition--not to mention societal good.
Any exploration of the Christian position concerning marriage would be incomplete without quoting from the beautiful and profound words of Christ found in Matthew 19:5-12 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery." The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."
Since the Church is also recognized as the spiritual bride of Christ, the believer should understand the centrality and foundational dimension of the marital institution within our families, society, culture, as well as faith; God’s very nature is explained in familial terms. The uniqueness of male and female speaks to the majesty of God Himself. Dismissing marriage as merely symbolic misunderstands what this sacrament reveals of God and the nature of the “domestic church.”
The issue of demographics also must be briefly touched upon. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with a man of deep faith who is both a respected scientist and mathematician: Dr. Emir Shuford. Whether working as a professor at Harvard or a researcher for the United States Air Force or the Rand Corporation, he is continually searching for new and practical applications for mathematics and science. One of Dr. Shuford’s recent areas of study and exploration combines population trend analysis with epidemiology. He has developed a mathematical formula which forecasts future population changes based on a set of complex variables. He has identified a danger facing world population and calls it the “Contagious Infertility Syndrome”(CIS); it is a disease that attacks nations. The unsuspecting carriers of the disease are people and their behavior. If one has ever read the novel by P.D. James entitled The Children of Men, one is familiar with the ramifications of a steeply falling population within a fictional tale. Unfortunately, Dr. Shuford’s real world conclusions and analysis forecast a plummeting population among many western countries, but there are changes we can support to increase our chances of surviving unscathed as a nation. Christian principles and Catholic practices--encouraging large families, for instance--offer distinct rays of hope, if our culture would but listen.
According to Dr. Shuford’s calculations, our nation has lost 114 million Americans due to the drop in domestic fertility rates between 1950 and 2000. During this half century, our nation’s fertility was cut in half. To put this loss in clearer perspective, we might turn to recent US Census figures. To reach a population figure nearing the 114 million range, we would need to add the total populations of California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. While it is true that the total United States population has continued to grow from about 123 million in 1930 to an estimated figure of about 304 million, the key is that the rate of growth is falling sharply. Of course, these “lost persons” represent potential taxpayers, statesmen, writers, poets, doctors, priests, neighbors, friends, etc, a loss of incalculable proportions.
Although those personally embracing a homosexual lifestyle are unlikely to take an active role in having their own children, it’s neither appropriate nor wise for a society to endorse or approve a lifestyle which runs so contrary to its own continued health existence. A parent’s group might just as well endorse the benefits of lead poisoning. It’s also a spurious argument to suggest that simply because one is born with a particular inclination, this biological dimension morally excuses taking the associated action. While we arguably may not yet know whether the homosexual condition is born or rather influenced by environment, genetic predispositions don’t excuse the resulting immoral behavior. My Viking ancestors, for instance, seldom lived in peace, but instead preferred a life of pillaging and destruction. Whether, or not, I have have a some old genetic predisposition for this manner of lifestyle is irrelevant; my faith and culture demand a much higher standard.
A personal experience may shed greater light on the wider implications of the gay marriage debate. In the fall of 1987, I was a freshman at Seattle Pacific University. One of my assignments was to interview various people from campus. A friend and I decided to interview Steve Swayne, the Director of Campus Ministries. Now, Seattle Pacific University is a Free Methodist university, which some might broadly categorize as “Fundamentalist.” While I don’t generally care for labels, and I care even less for this particular one for a variety of reasons, the university was and is known for conservative positions regarding faith and morals.
Steve Swayne’s job was to coordinate and direct everything related to Campus Ministries. For most of us, he was the face of that department. Between his virtuosic piano performances and his charismatic speaking, many of us students looked up to him. Years passed, and I didn’t hear much of his career following a relatively quiet departure from SPU. I was shocked to learn more than a decade later that this gifted Episcopalian and Dartmouth College music professor today professes a much different set of beliefs than he did in 1987. He advocates for a radical arm of the homosexual movement in which he supports the abolition of marriage altogether (at least in regards to secular recognition). He wrote the following in “I Do/I Don't: Queers on Marriage” from Suspect Thoughts Press in 2004.
The dominant voices from our community have demanded marriage for gays, and marriage has been the rallying cry ever since we came so close in Hawaii. But some of us want to see something that is at once more radical and more conservative: civil union for all.
Christians must understand that gay marriage and even civil unions present fundamental changes to the social and moral fabric of society. It places the will of the individual ahead of the good of the larger community, and its ramifications could potentially lead to a serious undermining of the institution of marriage. This, in turn, would arguably mislead many into the notion that laws change the meaning of things. That is, a “marriage” can be declared as legally binding being between two men or two women, but this only represents a legal cloak. Just as laws can’t decree that up is down or white is black, Natural Law remains unchanged and untouched. When a society’s laws ignore Natural Law, trouble is just around the corner. Since Natural Law fails to recognize a homosexual relationship as marriage, we would be wise to do likewise. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Memory and Identity, Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium, “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this [gay marriage] is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”
Be sure to read Doug Mainwaring's The Myth of the Same Sex Marriage Mandate!
A revised version of this article also appeared on Catholic365.