The Bishop’s Letter: Don’t mess with marriage
From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, May 2012
No to unjust discrimination
The Catholic Church opposes all forms of unjust discrimination. We deplore injustices perpetrated upon people because of religion, sex, race, age, etc. The Catechism calls for understanding for those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies for whom this may well be a real trial. “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (2358)
But not every difference of treatment is unjust discrimination. Only women are admitted to women’s hospitals and only children to primary schools. Justice requires programs targeted to Aborigines, refugees, those with disabilities or reading difficulties, etc. Privileging or assisting particular people in relevant ways is not arbitrary but an entirely fair response.
Societies have always paid very special attention to the lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to live in mutual support and with a view to raising a family. Marriage is not the only kind of friendship or even the most important. (Friendship with God comes first.) But it is essential to the stability and future of society and so has rightly been given special protection and support.
Lately there’s been a campaign to remove any privileges particular to marriage and call other relationships marriages. Some are pushing to change the definition of marriage at law and include ‘same-sex marriages’.
Whithering of marriage
Marriage was never easy but in recent decades people have become very confused about what a marriage is and how to live it. The sexual revolution of the 1960s invited sex without love, love without commitment, and sex and love without babies.
With the ’70s came unilateral, no-reasons-given, divorce-on-demand and thus marriage without permanence.
In the 1980s, IVF enabled the flipside of sex without babies: babies without sex. The post-moderns taught that male and female are merely social constructs.
By the 1990s we had ‘de facto’ marriages, civil unions, try-before-you-buy cohabitation, sex changes, you name it.
In the 21st Century permanence, sexual complementarity, even children, are all viewed as optional extras. All that’s left of the old marriage idea is emotional-sexual union: “It’s enough that people love each other.”
But if that’s all marriage is, it’s hard to deny it to any two people who say they love each other. It can’t be limited to a man and a woman. Or even two men or two women. How about polygamy? How about two siblings who want to marry? How about people who want to marry for, say, 10 years, with an option for renewal?
Right now, it’s same-sex marriage that’s on the cards. People say equality requires it; that it’s cruel to exclude someone from marriage who was ‘born that way’; that religions shouldn’t dictate marriage laws.
Yet no one is opposing our law’s refusal to call the close relationship between a man and his grandmother a marriage. So what makes marriage different from other kinds of friendships?
What is a marriage?
Three things are essential:
a ‘comprehensive union’ of spouses;
a special link to children; and
a pledge of permanence and exclusivity.
Marriage is ‘comprehensive’ in the sense that it involves a union of minds, bodies and wills, a sharing of lives and resources, a new identity as spouse and potential parent.
Our faith describes this as a man leaving his parents to join his wife so that the two become one (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5-6; Eph 5:31). This kind of ‘one flesh union’ presumes a deep difference between men and women – physically and psychologically – so that each is incomplete without the other.
When ‘the two become one’ in marriage, each provides something the other lacks. This kind of comprehensive union is only possible between a man and a woman.
What’s more: only a man can enable a woman to become a mother; only a woman can enable a man to become a father. Only the union of a man and a woman can be fertile.
The intrinsic link between marriage and family explains why societies, including legal systems, take it so seriously. The union of a man and a woman is crucial if children are to come to be. And their lasting union is essential if children are to have the ongoing benefit of a mother and father.
Such a comprehensive union and dedication to children is secured by a permanent and exclusive commitment of spouses to each other and their family. Put simply: marriage makes more likely that kids will be reared by their biological parents. Thus deliberately short-term, open or child-free ‘marriages’ are no marriages at all. Neither are ‘same-sex marriages’.
The only reason the state gets involved in marriage – as opposed to other sexual relationships, friendships and commitments – is that the life-long commitment of sexually complementary persons has such a bearing upon children and thus the future of society. The state cannot produce the virtuous people it needs as citizens: it is the family, the ‘domestic Church’ that does this.
Where are we going with marriage? With the best will in the world many people we love find it terribly hard to sustain marriage in today’s world. With the institution already under so much pressure we should surely be strengthening and supporting it, rather than experimenting upon it. Let’s tell our leaders: don’t mess with marriage. An archive of Bishop Anthony’s Letters in Catholic Outlook, homilies, addresses, interviews and audio recordings is available at: www.parra.catholic.org.au
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