Skip to content

Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: One and the Same?

Activists Lose Some Battles, But Debate Goes On

NEW YORK, NOV. 22, 2003 (Zenit) - Same-sex "marriage" is once more in the headlines after Tuesday's controversial decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to civil marriages, according to the provisions of the state constitution. The decision follows recent defeats for same-sex couples in state courts in New Jersey and Arizona, where appeals may still be made.

The judgment, written by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, affirms that the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman unjustly "deprives individuals of access to an institution of fundamental legal, personal and social significance" just because they are of the same sex.

There is a lot more at stake than just a case of simple discrimination, as a wide-ranging collection of opinions entitled "Marriage and Same-Sex Unions -- A Debate," published just a few months ago, reveals.

Edited by Lynn Wardle, Mark Strasser, William Duncan and David Orgon Coolidge, the work pairs off contributors in a debate format on a succession of topics, from the nature of marriage and what same-sex unions imply, to notions of equality, discrimination and constitutional rights.

One of the main themes running through the book is the nature of marriage itself as an institution. Arguing in favor of same-sex marriage, Evan Wolfson sees marriage mainly as a source of benefits. He maintains that married couples receive from the state multiple protections and responsibilities, which are being unjustly denied to same-sex partnerships. In this sense, putting same-sex unions on the same level as heterosexual marriage is an essential part of the battle to gain equality for homosexuals, he says. Wolfson sees positive elements in establishing legal recognition of civil unions, such as has occurred in the state of Vermont. But "they do not provide equal benefits and they leave couples and those who deal with them exposed to legal uncertainty," he said.

In response, Maggie Gallagher points out that Wolfson's argument ignores a key question: whether marriage is just another word for a private, intimate relationship or if it is something more. Affirming the latter position, Gallagher explains that marriage is a normative social institution; its reason for being is to support and encourage a certain type of union that is long-lasting, child-centered and faithful. Marriage is a key institution in producing, rearing and nurturing the next generation. Therefore, putting same-sex unions on the same level as marriage would be a move in exactly the wrong direction we need to take in order to cope with family difficulties, Gallagher contends.

Gallagher also notes that the forms of marriage in diverse societies share some common features. Marriage creates rights and privileges between the couple and their children. It is also normative, defining for the children what the relationship is and what purposes it serves. Same-sex marriage puts all this at risk.

"Wholly malleable"

William Duncan also addresses this theme, noting that activists are attempting to use the state to redefine marriage in the name of reshaping civil society. The new marriage model has a number of characteristics. To wit: Marriage has nothing to do with sexual difference; it is a wholly malleable social institution; same-sex couples are held to be just as capable of looking after children; it is to be distributed by the state as a matter of basic fairness.

This is a "dramatic redefinition" of marriage, argued Duncan. The relationship between a man and a woman is qualitatively different from that of a homosexual couple. He also observed that marriage pre-exists the state and has been recognized by the latter because of its intrinsic value. This is not a theological argument, he noted. Marriage did not come into being by statute and "is not, therefore, wholly malleable."

In relation to procreation, Duncan pointed out that marriage law has recognized the reality that only the sexual relationship of a man and a woman can lead to the conception of a child. "This creates a state interest in the marital relationship that just does not exist in other relationships," he wrote.

Marriage has also always been considered to require a man and a woman, continued Duncan, "because the unique contributions of men and women to child rearing cannot be duplicated by any other contexts in which child rearing takes place."

Teresa Stanton Collett, in her essay, defends the proposition that marriage should receive special protection. She looks into the roots of why homosexuals are having success in trying to redefine the institution. She sees as factors the introduction of no-fault divorce, the changing sexual mores that no longer view intimacy outside marriage as reprehensible, and the use of birth control to render marital unions sterile. All these have combined to change both how society sees marriage and how couples see the law in relation to their union, Collett contends.

With marriage increasingly seen as an "at-will affiliation of affection" and child bearing as an optional extra, it is much more difficult to defend limiting state recognition of marriage as something inextricably linked to procreation and formation of a family unit. But the answer is not to further weaken marriage by extending it to same-sex couples, says Collett. Rather, we need to "begin the more difficult work of re-establishing the formal recognition of the connection of marriage to self-giving, sexual restraint and procreation."

Polygamy next?

In his defense of same-sex marriage, Mark Strasser proposes that allowing homosexual couples such legal status would bring benefits for the state. Since marriage promotes stability for adults and children and helps them to lead happier and more stable lives, allowing more couples to enter into this status would be a plus, he argues. The state would benefit from the mutual economic support that a married couple provide for each other, Strasser says. Public health benefits might also be achieved and eventual separations of couples could be dealt with in a legally ordered way, he contends.

In a separate essay dealing with some of the same matters, Arthur Leonard also argued that giving same-sex unions the status of marriage will enable greater regulation of those couples who raise children, thereby looking after an important public policy interest.

But John Witte Jr. warns that it is too "glib" to affirm that collective interests and productivity will be enhanced by allowing same-sex marriage. Public opinion is very divided on the issue, Witte notes, and granting such rights precipitously will only exacerbate the current turmoil and set the stage for serious social conflict in the future. Moreover, if social expediency and individual happiness become the criteria for reforming marriage laws, "then arguments against incestuous, adolescent and polygamous marriages must also fall aside," he writes.

And Lynne Marie Kohm points out that marriage is not a social construct but exists according to an original design pre-existent to the law. Thus, parenting by a same-sex couple would not be a source of public benefit because it denies the child either a father or a mother, inevitably leading to problems.

Adding their voices to this debate, the bishops' conferences of England and Wales, Canada, and the United States have all recently published documents arguing against granting legal recognition to same-sex unions.

The Pope too has spoken out on issue, in particular during his Oct. 23 address to the English and Welsh bishops in Rome for their five-yearly visit. Of particular concern, noted John Paul II, "is the need to uphold the uniqueness of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman in which as husband and wife they share in God's loving work of creation. Equating marriage with other forms of cohabitation obscures the sacredness of marriage and violates its precious value in God's plan for humanity." A heavy responsibility lies on politicians and judges as they ponder this issue.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Marriage, Homosexual, Gay, Catholic, Life, Family

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.