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Justice and Same Sex Marriage

by Dr. William E. May
Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute

Advocates of same-sex marriage claim that opponents of such marriage are guilty of unjust discrimination, denying to persons of the same sex a basic right. This is simply not true. Those who reject the idea of same-sex “marriage” in no way seek to deprive homosexually oriented persons of basic rights. Even the Vatican insisted, in a document considering proposals to give legal recognition to homosexual unions (June 2003), that such persons “can always make use of the provisions of law…to protect their rights in matters of common interest.”

The Vatican, and American citizens utterly opposed to recognizing same-sex unions as marriage, realize that it is permissible to recognize that households formed by individuals of the same sex (male or female) have definite rights on the basis that they form a valid kind of socioeconomic unit built on friendship, e.g., two widows or widowers, a son and his elderly father or a daughter and her elderly aunt, and in general two males or two females who choose to live together for purposes of friendship, economy, etc.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco and the City of San Francisco legally recognized the rights of such households in 1997, when some sought to coerce the Archdiocese to grant full spousal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of diocesan employees on the basis of their sexual relationship. This effort to compel the Archdiocese to violate its own principles was successfully thwarted by recognizing the just civil demands of households formed by persons of the same sex for purposes of economic stability and friendship and not for the purpose of engaging in homosexual acts (see

But it would be an injustice both to marriage and to married couples to equate same-sex unions with marriage. Married men and women ensure the succession of human generations and of human society insofar as they can beget new human life in the act proper to them, the conjugal act. In this act in they literally become “one flesh”; in it the husband gives himself to his wife in a receiving way and she receives him in a giving way. By so ensuring the survival of society married men and women render indispensable service to the common good. The sex acts of same-sex couples in no way do this.

Some champions of same-sex marriage claim that sterile husbands and wives cannot generate life, and they are not refused marriage, so why refuse it to persons of the same sex? Although sterility prevents such husbands and wives from having children, they nonetheless can and do become “one flesh” in their acts of coition; moreover, those acts are the sort of bodily acts, and the only sort of bodily acts, apt for receiving new human life.

Furthermore, it is only an act of that kind that “consummates” their union. Since same-sex persons cannot engage in that kind of behavior--the kind of behavior spouses are supposed to do--they simply cannot marry. How would they “consummate” their union and become “one flesh”? It is absurd to think that cunnilingus, fellatio, sodomy, and similar behavior make the persons engaging in such acts to be “one flesh.” And it is also absurd to think that same-sex persons can “marry.”


Dr. May is Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America


John Paul II Institute  DC, US
Dr. William E. May - Professor, 202 526-3799




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