government be in the marriage-recognition business? Some libertarians and
conservatives say no. They argue that marriage is a private contract.
Consequently, the state ought not to be involved with it. Of course all sort of private contracts
involve the state, but many libertarians and conservatives reject government
involvement in these areas of contract, too, so they have no difficulty adding
marriage to the list.
private arrangement without government licensing, marriage would, on this view,
not entangle the citizenry through their government in the messy business of
same-sex marriage. Some libertarians and conservatives even go so far as to
argue that it would be unjustly discriminatory for government to endorse one
view of marriage (one man/one woman) over another (same-sex marriage or
polygamous marriage). Many, if not most,
libertarians and conservatives who argue this way claim to be traditional
Christians, who uphold on religious and (they would say) private grounds
marriage between one man and one woman.
libertarians and conservatives who argue in favor of so-called privatization of
marriage do not adequately consider a key point regarding it: the public
interest in government encouraging couples who engage in procreative kinds of
acts publically and legally to commit themselves exclusively and permanently to
one another and, by implication, to their offspring, should they have any. The
legal institution of marriage encourages such commitment between sexually-active
government have a stake in this? Because it has a stake in encouraging the
parents to provide a stable, loving, committed relationship as the morally best
environment for raising children. Government has a stake in encouraging couples
together to raise their children and to provide examples for their children of
parental relationship. Children, after all, are the future of the state. They
provide the foundation for society’s future success or failure, so government
has an interest in encourage certain behaviors in relation to children and in
course, proponents of same-sex marriage will argue that many couples who have
children don’t marry and many who marry don’t have children, either by choice
or by circumstance. Thus, child rearing shouldn’t be involved in the rationale
for state recognition of marriage. Such an objection misses the point. Even
when a couple chooses not to have or cannot have children, the state’s publicly
and legally recognizing their heterosexual, committed relationship as marriage
reinforces marriage as a procreative, child-rearing institution in general. The
state says that marriage between a man and a woman is important because from
such relationships children are brought into being, even if in this particular
marriage that will not happen, whether by choice or circumstance.
of same-sex marriage will also argue that children reared by same-sex couples
do just as well as those reared by heterosexual couples. Needless to say, some opponents of same-sex
marriage dispute the claims, depending as those claims do on what we mean by “just
as well”. But regardless of the arguments back-and-forth on the point, a
crucial issue is whether children have a right to a father and a mother,
regardless of whether on sociological grounds we think children raised in
same-sex relations to “just as well”. Yes, there can be desperate circumstances
where children have no father-mother options, where a single parent or a
heterosexual couple not a child’s biological parents must raise a child. But these
are unfortunate situations that ought not to be taken as the ideal. Adoptive
children have a right to a father and a mother, as much as children who are not
adopted. Where that literally cannot happen, it cannot happen. But that doesn’t
mean children should be adopted into situations even less like the natural
familyfor example, situations with two mothers or two fathersthan adoption by
a father and mother who aren’t a child’s biological parents.
that’s the adoption debate, not the marriage debate. Of course a lot more could
be said by way of arguments for marriage and against so-called same-sex marriage.
Here, though, I would like to call attention to the Catholic Church’s view of
the state’s obligation regarding marriage. For Catholics, the Church’s teaching
is no mere suggestion to keep in mind as one thinks about the pros and cons of
government recognition of same-sex marriage or even of whether government
should be involved at all in the marriage recognition business. Catholics are obliged to form their
consciences according to the Church’s teaching and act consistent with it,
including in their political lives.
to the Second Vatican Council, "Public
authority should regard it as a sacred duty to recognize, protect and promote
[marriage and family's] authentic nature, to shield public morality, and to
favor the prosperity of home life" (Gaudium
et Spes , no. 52).
Some Catholics may dismiss that
statement as a prudential judgment by Church leaders, rather than a binding principle. Since Catholics may generally disagree in
matters of prudential judgment, so the argument goes, they may agree or
disagree about government’s role in recognizing the authentic nature of
marriage and family. Not that these Catholics would themselves approve of
same-sex marriage. They just think it’s a prudential matter whether or not the
state legally recognizes unions as marriage. They favor a more libertarian
But Gaudium et Spes no. 52 does not say that whether or not government
protects and promotes marriage is a prudential matter. It states that public
authority has “a sacred duty to recognize, protect, and promote the authentic
nature of marriage and family life”. A sacred
duty entails more than a prudential option.
This is a fundamental principle, which Catholics are obliged to accept.
As the push for same-sex
marriage intensifies, watch for more libertarian and so-called conservative
politicians to look for ways to accommodate it. The informed Catholic will be
alert to government’s responsibilityits sacred dutynot simply to uphold some
broadly-defined relationship called marriage but “to recognize, protect, and
promote the authentic nature” of marriage and family life. The authentic nature of marriage is the union
of one man and one woman, not same-sex marriage. It is that definition
Catholics are morally obliged to work to maintain in law, not simply in private practice. Catholics should accept no legal substitutes, especially
not same-sex substitutes or marriage as a mere “private union” justified in the
name of “freedom”.