The issue of same-sex “marriage” seems to be everywhere these days. Anyone who voices an objection to it is also, more and more frequently, accused of discrimination and labeled a “bigot.” Now, state and federal governments may very well change the age-old definition of marriage to include people of the same gender and marry two men or two women in civil ceremonies; but these ceremonies will not take place in the Catholic Church – nor do I see how they could in any Christian church – and the reason has absolutely nothing to do with bigotry. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses deep love for homosexual persons:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible … 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 Christian, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (CCC 2358)
The Church loves men and women living with same-sex attraction; but she has always defined “marriage” as a life-long, male-female relationship, open to bringing new life into the world. That is her Faith.
As you read that last line, I bet you recalled hearing someone say, “But Jesus never spoke a word against same-sex marriage!” I’ve heard it too, from fellow Christians. The assertion is that Christianity’s two thousand year history of opposition to same-sex relationships has been misguided. (Never mind everything St. Paul wrote on the subject [Rom.1:21-32, 1 Cor.6:9-11] under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.) Marc Barnes countered this argument from the silence of Jesus in a recent blog, noting how Jesus never uttered a word against rape, suicide, or pedophilia either; but to “assume a man’s approval of everything he doesn’t mention is silliness to the highest degree.” All of those issues, homosexual relationships included, were settled matters in Jesus’ first century Palestine; He would have been wasting His breath. As I read the Gospel passage the other day (Mt.19:3-12, August 17) however, I realized how Jesus’ words do undercut any question of same-sex “marriage” occurring in the Church.
Stay with me for a couple of minutes:
Jesus’ stance on marriage was strong. When the Pharisees asked Him whether it was lawful for a man to give his wife a bill of divorce He responded, “The Creator ‘made them male and female … 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. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt.19:4-6).
The apostles were stunned when He went on to say that only death could dissolve a (valid) marriage, and how anyone who divorced and remarried lived in adultery. “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry!” (Mt.19:10 ) Jesus didn’t back-pedal; they had understood Him just fine. That was marriage in the Kingdom – marriage as it was before humanity’s Fall. Jesus knew it would be difficult, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted” (19:11).
Pay attention to what Jesus said next: “Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (19:12). A man’s ability to be united to his wife, sexually, was what made him a candidate for marriage. If he was unable to achieve sexual union because of a) birth defect, b) castration, or c) a vow of celibacy; then marriage was not his vocation.
The foundation of Jesus’ whole argument is biological. Unless “a man” and “his wife … become one flesh,” there is no valid marriage. For Jesus, and for anyone committed to His teachings, it is impossible to speak of a “Christian same-sex marriage.” Jesus’ words rule it out absolutely. The parameters for marriage between Christians, the parameters for a sacramental marriage, have been set by Jesus and cannot be changed. “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (Lk.23:33).
Christians who argue differently undermine their faith. To make their argument they would have to assume that either a) Jesus was wrong on the nature of marriage (If so, He’s not God); or b) the Bible puts false words in Jesus’ mouth (If the Bible got Jesus’ words on marriage wrong, why believe it when it says that God loves us or Jesus died to save us from our sins?) There are some questions where Christians can honestly disagree with one another, but this is not one of them; Jesus teaching is plain, as is His warning to those who try to water His teachings down, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Lk.9:26).
When a Christian expresses his belief in “traditional marriage” it is absolutely wrong for others to jump to the conclusion that he does so out of hate and bigotry toward gay men and women. People can have valid, principled reasons for opposing the redefinition of marriage. (A strong argument, for example, can be made from natural law, rooted in the biological complementarity of the spouses.) As a Christian I think I have the most unassailable reason imaginable to love and respect gay men and women, living their lives as they choose, as well as to say that the Christian Faith views “marriage” as a life-long, male-female relationship, open to new life: the Person I believe to be God told me to. I can do nothing else. Western society can and will do what it wants in this matter (as it has with contraception, no-fault divorce and remarriage, and abortion), but within the Church the Sacrament of Marriage will continue on unmodified.
No hate here, just faith – the historic Christian Faith received from Jesus and His Apostles.