Sunday, 20 January 2013
'Same-Sex Marriage', 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
Before I begin may I repeat my warning last Sunday and in the newsletter: I’m about to preach about ‘same-sex marriage’ and, while I’m not going to be explicit, you may feel that you’d rather your child was not present. If so you can take him/her to the childrens' liturgy in the dining room at the back of the hall.
I'm aware that our bishops, and I, have repeatedly asked you to write to our MPs to oppose the recent proposals to re-define marriage, however, I'm also aware that I've not spoken to you to explain any reasons WHY. I'd like to do so today.
Let me start by referring to the Gospel scene we just heard, of how Christ blessed and exalted marriage by choosing to work His very first miracle at a wedding. He chose to raise marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. Christians have thus always held marriage to be very important.
We can read in history, and in the Scriptures, that the Jews and the early Christians had a view of marriage that was very different from that of the ancient pagans. They also had a view of homosexuality that was different from that held by many of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Yet, we can also note, as a simple fact, that even in the pagan world there was never such a thing as 'homosexual marriage’ –marriage was always viewed as a different thing. It was always acknowledged that the committed heterosexual union of a man and a woman gave something to society that other unions could not. That society NEEDED marriage, needed this stable union of a man and a woman to be the place where new children would be brought forth and nurtured. [Ancient Greek and Roman literature contain a couple references to a man who married another man, but this is presented as a comic and aberrant act – an exception that shows that even though the Greeks tolerated homosexual behaviour they did not see it as equivalent to marriage.]
Sometimes these things are most clearly seen when we reduce them to simple straight questions. Sometimes children see this more clearly than 'sophisticated' adults. I can remember hearing a child's reaction to hearing about proposals that two men should be allowed to marry. The child said, "But that's silly. Who would have the babies?"
That simple question goes to the heart of what makes marriage different from other possible unions, namely, an orientation to children. Marriage is about family, or at least about an orientation towards it and a hope of it. This orientation is written into our nature, even at a bodily level.
To make that children's question (“Who would have the babies?”) into an adult one: “How would the babies come into being?” -that question focuses the issue: A homosexual union is inherently incapable of bringing forth life. In a homosexual union the only way a child can come about is with the addition, presumably transitory, of some third person of the other gender, with the intervention of someone OUTSIDE the union. Such an intervention is contrary to the whole nature of marriage, of an exclusive life-long union.
A key point follows: This intrinsic need for a third person is a sign that the type of union they have is NOT what has always been called 'marriage'. To re-label same-sex unions as ‘marriage’ is to remove this orientation to children from the nature of marriage, to divorce family and marriage.
[added after the homily, but not included in the homily, the 'third person' getting involved would be:
(1) in a man-man same-sex union: a woman as a surrogate mother would be needed to have a child;
(2) in a woman-woman same-sex union: a man would be needed to be a sperm donor;
(3) IVF variant: in the (near) future we can speculate that a woman-woman same-sex couple might be able to have a child that combines their DNA without a male gamete. Note, however, that while this wouldn't involve a third person to provide sperm it would involve a whole group of technicians in a laboratory who would thus be 'outside' the union, and thus indicate the the nature of the union was something that wasn't inherently able to bring forth life.]
What then is this thing that has always been called 'marriage'? It is a union of a man and a woman, an exclusive union, a committed union, for life. More than this it is a bodily union, a union with certain bodily acts that are more than just bodily, that are proper to love, and are inherently ordered to the procreation of children. This is what marriage is.
In addition, we can note that there are features of this union suitable not merely to procreating children but to RAISING children. There is the matter of it being a STABLE lifelong union, a feature standard across all sorts of cultures, histories and religions. More than this, and this is another key difference to a homosexual union, there is the innate difference and yet COMPLEMENTARITY of man and woman. A man and a woman are different, and bring different things to the union, and bring different things to parenting. A difference such that the two together make a whole. A difference such that there is a real lack when children, for all sorts of reasons, many of which are accidental and not blameworthy, when children lack a mother and father at home.
To bring this in to a conclusion: What does our modern secular society say to all of this? It emphasises individuality and freedom and self-determination. In contrast, our Christian Faith teaches us that there is something in our bodies, and with that in our gender, that defines us, that we are not ‘free’ to ‘liberate’ ourselves from. Our body is an essential part of us, gives us our identity. And we find our fulfilment in it. Of course, we know, there are people who in different ways do not ‘fit’ the norm, including those attracted to sexual acts that are not capable of being fruitful. To those who feel attracted to this behaviour we need to gently but firmly say that acting out on this will not fulfil them, will not be to their good.
And, for the good of our society, for the stability of the family that is its foundation, we need to say that marriage needs to be recognised as something for a man and a woman.
The January 2013 paper by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (UK) and be read by clicking here.
The recent letter to the Telegraph signed by over a 1000 priests (including me) can be read here. This letter was described by the Telegraph as "one of the biggest joint letters of its type ever written".
The Pope recently "issued a powerful critique of attempts to redefine marriage, and of the 'gender ideology' through which, he warned, 'the very notion of being--of what being human really means--is being called into question.' The full text of his speech can be read here.
The January 2012 paper by SPUC on same-sex 'marriage' can be read by clicking here.
Posted by Fr. Dylan James, Catholic Priest in West Moors, England at 00:05