Two stories this week pose the same question: what is marriage?
The first story concerns the condemnation by Cardinal Francis George, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, of the decision of a federal judge to overturn the so-called Proposition 8, a California voter-backed initiative that essentially banned same-sex marriage: eventually the matter will be decided by the US Supreme Court.
The second story is the decision of the Charity Commission not to allow Catholic Care, the last Catholic adoption agency still operating in England, to restrict its services to heterosexuals only. Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, it pronounced, “departs from the principle of treating people equally”. They added that same-sex couples can be “successful” adoptive parents and that even if Catholic Care does close down, the children it would have helped will be placed with new families through “other channels”. It finally repeated the old mantra: “Clearly the interests of children are paramount.”
Certain questions present themselves: what, precisely, is the authority of the Charity Commission to pronounce that same-sex couples can be successful adoptive parents? What does this dire quango actually KNOW about this or anything else? And how can it be in the “interests” of children to be adopted, not by a stably married couple, but by a gay couple instead (apart from anything else, gay relationships are notoriously unstable), “through other channels”?
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has concisely explained the Church’s position on marriage. It is an explanation equally relevant to both these stories. Catholics, of course, will still find it convincing; but in its essentials, it was once, almost instinctively, universally accepted, even by the non-religious (before so many of them were battered into submission by the tyranny of the Spirit of the Age).
A same-sex union, the bishops explained, “contradicts the nature of marriage: it is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female; it cannot co-operate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union.” They went on to explain why “the marital union … provides the best conditions for raising children: namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and father present only in marriage.” Furthermore, “it is not unjust to deny legal status to same-sex unions because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities [my italics].”
The point is that all this is entirely rational. It is simple common sense. Catholics are routinely accused of believing the irrational, of naively allowing themselves to be bludgeoned by their priests into unquestioning faith in the most grotesque absurdities. But it surely requires the most extreme credulousness to believe the opposite of what the US bishops say: that marriage and same-sex unions are essentially THE SAME reality and that a gay couple can therefore give adoptive children the same benefits as a man and wife. I very much fear that precisely the opposite is the case and that what is involved here is very far from being “in the interests” of the children involved.
We are currently passing through a kind of cultural blip, in which these things go unchallenged (except, as usual, by the Catholic Church). Our descendants will look back and marvel at our gullibility. But in the meantime, in the name of human rights, of liberation from “outworn shibboleths” (remember them?) there will be many human casualties. “Oh Liberty,” in the famous words of Madame Roland as she mounted the scaffold, “what crimes are committed in thy name.” It was, I fear, ever thus.
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