About twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral instruction in which they urged homosexual persons to try to form committed long-term relationships among themselves for mutual support. This recommendation came despite some additional risk of failing to always live the chaste lives the Church still expects from them. More recently, historical researchers claim to have found evidence from medieval times that indicates that the Church may even have had special blessings for such partnerships. But if this is the case then why the Vatican's recent blast against the current drive to legalize marriage between homosexuals? Would not such a move be simply the next stage in recognizing a facet of current reality?
The answer to this question is not simply a question of language, as many, may think. True, if one looks up the term "marriage" in the dictionary, one is hard put to extend the term, in any proper sense of the word, to the "domestic partnership" between gays or between lesbians.
Instead, what we see here in the Vatican response is something that goes much deeper -- a conviction that the relationship between man and woman is a sacred, privileged share in the whole grand work of creation and that sexuality, when divorced from this creative relationship, becomes disoriented and ultimately meaningless. In other words, the reasons for the Vatican condemnation of the idea of homosexual marriage is the same as its condemnation of contraception and a whole host of modern techniques that the Church sees as destructive of the natural order of things -- even when those techniques are being used to promote reproduction.
Certainly there is a kind of irony in all this. The institution that is seen as being most concerned with the "supernatural" aspects of life seems to base so much of its moral reasoning one what is or is not to be considered "natural". But this really shouldn't surprise one. From the very earliest days of Christianity, the nature was seen as a revelation of God's ways. Indeed, is this not the assumption behind many of the parables found in the Gospels?
So too, the widespread rejection of the idea of gay or lesbian couples adopting children. The Vatican, deeply troubled over the sexual misbehavior of many of its own clergy, was recently advised by a special panel of psychologists (most of them unbelievers) that "homosexuality is a risk factor, but not a cause of sexual abuse." No doubt that risk is very much on the Church's mind, but apparently, even if that risk could be minimized, the Catholic Church, along with many other Christian denominations, seems equally concerned that these children could be influenced in ways that might adversely affect their own future sense of sexual identity.
No doubt all this idealism seems pretty remote from the real world where many children lack fathers or mothers to care for them, or where some persons, unable to form a lasting relationship with another person of the opposite sex, will otherwise find themselves, against their wishes, condemned to live alone. In our pluralistic society, which has people of many different beliefs, setting goals and ideals is what religion should be most about, but setting minimum standards -- like who is allowed to live with whom -- is perhaps best left to the consensus of all citizens.
R. W. Kropf 8/12/03 GayMarriage.doc 03-08-12.html