Larry Lamont and Jerry Slater take part in a symbolic same-sex marriage ceremony outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh Feb. 4. The Scottish Parliament passed a bill that will allow same-sex marriages to be performed later this year, but religious organizations have the right not to perform them. (CNS photo/Russell Cheyne, Reuters)
Surveying history for anything
resembling same-sex marriage in any culture, clime, or era is a fruitless
search. It has never been proposed, not even in ancient Greece, as some would
like to argue. So why does this enigma of history seem like just the next
progressive step in our own culture?
The answer, oddly enough, seems to be
locked up in the birth control pill. Let me explain.
Healthy cultures and civilizations all
have one thing in common. There is a deep understanding (even if not always
acted upon or articulated) that my life has meaning because of the sacrifices I
make for those who come after me, through loyalty to a clan, tribe or wider
society. This simple "our lives for theirs" approach is what has
animated history for centuries. Think of the building of Notre Dame Cathedral
in Paris, which the early masons knew would never be finished in their
lifetimes. "Our lives for theirs" is an easy barometer to see if a
civilization is on the rise or on decline. When that order becomes inverted,
like ancient Rome or late Renaissance Venice, where each man and woman lives
just for himself, the civilization will decay and cease to exist.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s is a
marked example of this inversion in the West with the arrival of the pill.
Never in the history of the world had the fundamental link between human
sexuality and reproduction been so decidedly unhinged, ushering in a new
conception of sexuality. Sex became about many things: self-expression,
self-gratification, exploration, desire, etc.…but not about its main reason for
existence: to propagate the species. The general "our life for
theirs" attitude lived out by parents for centuries suddenly became
suspect as self-gratification came into vogue. "Why would anyone
voluntarily put themselves through all that hard work to raise more than two
children?" became the new model under which we live today.
While contraception of various sorts
was nothing new, the wholesale use of it was. Without the "baby
bonus," concepts of self-control, self-mastery, self-donation have not
only became outdated, but an object of mockery. Denuding sex of its natural
procreative character made sex simply about "me," not my spouse, my
children, my family, or my community. Porn, "twerking," and the
over-sexualization of young children are only the latest additions in the
"sex is about me" trajectory.
Aristotle (384 -322 BC) was the first
to argue for the link between what we find pleasurable and what is needed for a
healthy polis, or more
generally, society. An act was pleasurable to ensure that it would take place,
but was not the most important reason for the action. Food tastes good so we
will eat. The connection between sexual pleasure and procreation is why
same-sex marriage has never been accepted in the history of the world before.
It was always generally understood that such a "marriage" is not
fruitful no matter what the feelings may be of those involved.
Generations of couples coupling without
conceiving have led to the misperception that sexuality is, in fact, merely
another contact sport, or whatever else you may want it to be, without a fixed
meaning other than pleasure. Sex in the minds of most no longer has any natural
link with making babies. And if the link dares to happen biologically when
nature asserts herself, it is a failure, a mistake, an accident not the
natural course of things.
How, then, one asks, could Catholics be
so cruel to want to deny same-sex marriage to those who just have a different
idea about sex? Why limit ourselves to heterosexual activity within marriage?
Can't pleasure and satisfaction be found elsewhere? Well, clearly they can, to
a degree. But babies cannot. And the stable families necessary to raise healthy
children, study after study has shown, cannot be reformulated into any shape of
Statistics show that 95 percent of Catholics are
using contraception to limit family size. Clearly there has been a dramatic
failure to educate ourselves about what the Church teaches on love and
sexuality in the pews, in classrooms, and in Catholic media. But at the heart
of it, the Christian ethos, embodied in Christ's own sacrifice of himself for
all of us, needs to be revived. Ultimately, are our actions life-giving or
sterile? To this question, our answer should always be "our lives for