Thursday, 7 February 2013

The identity of discernibles


If two men or two women want to make a life-long commitment of love and support to one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, why shouldn’t that be called marriage? Why do many religious people have an issue with this and why don’t they just recognize and appreciate the love and commitment such couples have for one another? Doesn’t a lack of support for same-sex marriages show an elitism, judgment and discrimination that are foreign to Jesus’ message? As heterosexual couples can marry, why should that right be denied to homosexual ones? And why is it that same-sex marriage should be a threat to the very idea of marriage?

Questions like the above have, I believe, a great deal of profound Christian appeal: love, commitment, not judging, equality and taking the beam out of one’s own eye before proceeding to the splinter in another’s are all deeply Christian principles and when Christians are criticized for their seeming lack, they better take them seriously. Actually, when I say they, I mean me, so let me make this train of thought more personal. What do I think? Where do I stand?

First, let me be super clear about one thing: I believe God has a plan for every single human being and loves each one of us immensely. The late Patriarch Athenagoras saying that “God loves everyone equally, but secretly each one of us is his favorite,” Martin Luther saying “It is not because we are beautiful that God loves us, but because God loves us that we are beautiful,” John Paul II adding that “The person who does not decide to love forever will find it very difficult to really love for even one day,” and Benedict XVI tweeting yesterday that “Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace,” sum it up for me. Everyone is loved by God, who sees beauty in them, and my love for all mustn’t be selective, jealous or fretting either. So, I believe God loves homosexual men and women and I too need to do the same to call myself a follower of Jesus.

I am therefore vehemently opposed to any lack of love shown towards homosexual persons and am strongly against homophobia, bullying, marginalization or any other respect and care that is not extended to them. Violence against homosexual men or women horrifies me, with cases where it is the state that fuels it (as in Uganda and countries where there are criminal penalties for homosexuality) being particularly abhorrent to me. This is a position that I hold beyond doubt and one in which I feel fully in line with the position and teaching of the Church.

The Catechism states clearly that homosexual persons “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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2358). Several bishops have emphasized that there is good in relationships among homosexual men or women, such as Bishop Woelki of Berlin saying “I also try to acknowledge that they take responsibility for each other on a permanent basis, have promised each other faithfulness and want to look after each other,” the Bishops of England and Wales stating that “We also recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes,” or the late Cardinal Basil Hume affirming that “Homosexual people […] can, and often do, give a fine example of friendship and the art of chaste loving.” As recently as last Monday, there is also the determination by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, for the Church to “do more to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal. […] In the world there are 20 or 25 countries where homosexuality is a crime, […] I would like the church to fight against all this.”1

So, am I in favor of same sex marriage then? Actually, no … My reason for this is that marriage is a lifelong commitment of one woman and one man to each other. This commitment results in the birth of a family, which, at least in principle, is open to the procreation of children. As this is what the concept of marriage means, it is not applicable to same sex couples. But isn’t this discriminatory and doesn’t it fly in the face of everything I have said above? I honestly don’t think so, and I am fully in agreement with the Bishops of England and Wales, who say:
“We disagree that the signal that is sent currently, by restricting marriage to opposite sex couples, is one of disparagement of same sex relationships. The basic argument that is advanced in favour of same sex marriage is one of equality and fairness. But we suggest that this intuitively appealing argument is fundamentally flawed. Those who argue for same sex marriage do so on the basis that it is unjust to treat same sex and heterosexual relationships differently in allowing only heterosexual couples access to marriage. Our principal argument against this is that it is not unequal or unfair to treat those in different circumstances differently. Indeed, to treat them the same would itself be unjust.”
This to me is the crux of the argument: the outcome of even the commitment expressed by marriage vows results in two different states depending on whether it is done by two people of different sexes or the same sex. While there are similarities (i.e., the value and sincerity of the commitment and the love that it springs from and subsequently supports), there are categorical differences too (i.e., the possibility of bringing children into the world and the complementarity of the male and female sexes). Ignoring such differences is the beginning of a loss of clarity of thought and consequently of judgment and action. It is akin to suddenly deciding that we will call an ear an eye - they are both organs and result in sensory perception and surely the ear is just as good as the eye. It is certainly possible to do this, but it will result in confusion (were all the pre-ear=eye statements about eyes meant to apply to the new eye or only to eye-eyes and not ear-eyes?).

The motivation for extending marriage to same sex couples may in many cases be good and be underpinned by principles that I fully subscribe to, but the result is a delusion and a divorce from reality.

Nonetheless, I believe that many homosexual men and women do not feel welcomed by the Church, which to me is similar to the lack of unity among Christians - both pain me, but for both I place myself firmly inside the Church and try to understand what it is that I can do towards overcoming them. With Christian unity too we could decide from one day to the next that we will declare ourselves to be united, that we’ll just change the definition of a couple of terms so that they span previously exclusive concepts. But what would we achieve with that? Not only nothing, but it would be a step back, as it would hinder a true understanding of underlying reality and efforts to arrive at a loving solution that has its eyes wide open.2

1 Even though it is not the topic of this post and addressing it even just briefly would make it way too long, I can’t not mention the Church’s classification of homosexual relationships as “objectively disordered.” This, I have to say, is an unfortunate choice of words. Cardinal Hume felt the same and provided the following reflection:
“The word ”disordered” is a harsh one in our English language. It immediately suggests a sinful situation, or at least implies a demeaning of the person or even a sickness. It should not be so interpreted. First, the word is a term belonging to the vocabulary of traditional Catholic moral theology and philosophy. It is used to describe an inclination which is a departure from what is generally regarded to be the norm. The norm consists of an inclination towards a sexual relationship with a person of the opposite sex and not between persons of the same sex. Being a homosexual person is, then, neither morally good nor morally bad.”
This is an argument I do agree with: the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is constituent of what it means to be human, while such relationships between persons of the same sex are a departure from the inherent purpose of sexuality (without meaning to restrict it to its procreative function). I do believe this to be a fact, but that does not mean that homosexual men and women should not be welcomed by the Church in more effective and constructive ways than is the case today. What these ought to be is not clear to me, but I am convinced of their necessity.
2 Thanks to my überbesties KM, PM and MR for reviewing a draft of this post and for their great feedback!