Thursday, June 13, 2013

A reply to Maolsheachlann on gay marriage.

Maolsheachlann left a nice polite comment to my post on gay marriage:-

 Dear Gavin

Thanks for your reply to my (unpublished) letter to The Irish Times. I don't doubt the validity of anybody's love for anybody else. Nor do I fail to understand the desire to have this love acknowledged by the wider society.

I think where we disagree is that you seem to view marriage as a convention, which society can redefine at will, whereas I view it as something rooted in biological, cultural and (yes) spiritual reality. I hope this is a fair comment.

Do you think it possible that Catholics like myself are not simply blindly following the dogma of their Church, but that they are Catholics in the first place because the Catholic worldview fits their perception of reality?

I think the inescapable fact that marriage is between a man and a woman is based upon many realities; the reality of the complementarity between the sexes, a reality which is reflected every day in our behaviour, jokes, and assumptions. (Indeed it strikes me that even in the gay culture, the poles of masculinity and feminity seem to be mirrored, with more effeminate and more "butch" gays.)

I think it is based upon a child's need-- in fact, everybody's need-- for a father and a mother. Don't we hear of so many people who seek out a "mother figure" or a "father figure" even later in life?

I think it is based upon the ideal of a child being reared by their biological mother and father. Look at the lengths people go to find out their biological parents when they don't know this.

It is true that many man-woman couples are sterile but you don't build an institution around hard cases, you build it around the norm.

More than anything else, my reply to Fintan O'Toole was in protest at his claim taht opposition to same-sex marriage can only be motivated by bigotry. Doesn't it seem like one side in this debate is shouting down the other? And what does that say for the strength of the argument?

Many thanks

Maolsheachlann

****************

Reply:

You provide an ontology definition of marriage which I do not agree with. That is, you say marriage is between a man and women for reasons which you then list.  But I think this misses the point.

Those who support gay marriage expect pragmatic arguments:  they want to know why allowing gay marriage will affect existing marriages and negatively affect the common good.  It's the failure to answer those challenges that result in charges of bigotry.

The modern cultural understanding of marriage is of a long term commitment to another person due to  romantic love.  I believe that allowing an additional small, but non-trivial,  percentage of the population to avail of this institution will neither void existing marriages nor negatively affect society in any way.  I believe this because I am not aware of any persuasive argument to the contrary.

Roman Catholics assert marriage is between man and a women for the purpose of raising children. They ignore that a cultural redefinition of marriage has already occurred: the link between marriage and procreation was shattered generations ago.  It was shattered when divorce was legalized.   It was shattered when contraceptives were legalized.   It was shattered premarital sex became normalized.  It was shattered in Hollywood films and American TV shows.

The debate has not acknowledged this difference between what Roman Catholics think our understanding of marriage should be and what our understanding of what marriage actually is.  I suspect the Roman Church is still obsessed with the battles of modernity in a post-modern world, that the State will 'redefine' marriage.  But marriage has already been redefined.   Gay marriage is just a highly visible symptom of this change and the State will simply legalize for what the majority of people already believe.  The shift to permitting homosexual marriage is much less dramatic than the cultural shift which has already occurred.

Indeed, the link between marriage and procreation is so irreparable that support for gay marriage can be viewed as a conservative position :-

But the real question is what should be done about the sexual instincts of gay people. And here, I think that the Christian conservative response is intrinsically flawed. If they were prepared to argue in favour of properly recognised, blessed and celebrated civil partnerships, there would be a much stronger case for keeping traditional marriage separate. But that would require the social approval and even the sanctification of some sexual relations outside marriage. This, in turn, requires the separation of sex from the procreation and nurture of children.

Catholics can't do that, at least for the next couple of centuries, because they have been committed to the position that God planned the plumbing. But Anglicans, or Protestants generally, can take a broader view of sex. They can see it is something which is a good in itself, within permanent, faithful, stable relationships.

This is a conservative position, but it is not necessarily hostile to gay people.
Andrew Brown [link].

In summary: Roman Catholics are labeled as bigots for opposing gay marriage because they fail to recognize marriage has already been redefined and they fail to state the consequences of allowing a small percentage of the population to avail of the institution of marriage.  The Church can only offer a dubious ontological definition and stubbornly claim the definition cannot be changed.

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