Same-Sex “Marriage”?

 

With the US Supreme Court about to tackle the tricky question of same-sex marriage, even while divorce rates in this country run close to 50% and with many couples, both young and old alike, living together without either the legal or religious sanctions of matrimony, one can readily understand why most religious organizations, be they churches, synagogues, mosques, or whatever, are very nervous as to what the court

will decide.  In fact, it is not just tradition, but even the logic of language takes for granted that the words marriage (derived from the Latin word maritus, meaning “husband”) and matrimony (from mater or “mother”) mean the union of a man and a woman, a male and a female. Thus, taken literally, any other meanings that might be given to marriage or matrimony seem to be patently absurd, or at the very least, something of a stretch.

            Yet, consider this, even within the hallowed sanctuary of religion, we find the term “marriage” being used metaphorically. In fact among communities of religious women in the Roman Catholic Church it was for a long time the custom to dress up the young novices in bridal outfits before they processed into the church or chapel to pronounce their vows which officially “married” them, as it were, to their religious community and to Christ. Likewise, the tradition of bishops wearing a special ring was long understood to signify their being “married” to their particular church, to which they were expected to be faithful for the rest of their lifetime. If so, then what is so bad if two men, or two women, who wish to share their lives together, want to seal or solemnize their intent by going through something like a marriage ceremony or signing a contract before a magistrate, a minister, a rabbi, or a priest?

                      Obviously, the problem is really something else. It is not so much what one might call the legal form or religious setting of the commitment being made by two persons, but rather the fact that calling such a commitment a “marriage” would seem to be sanctioning (here I take the word in its original sense — which is to declare something to be “holy”) something which in eyes of almost every religion that has ever existed has been held to be an abomination, that is, sexual relations between persons of the same sex. 

                      To go into the origins, biblical or otherwise, of this taboo, might take a whole book to explain. But to put it as briefly as possible, one might say it is rooted in confusion between what is normal (in the sense of “average”) and what is natural. In biological terms, whatever occasionally happens, at least without human  interference, no matter how infrequently, is “natural”.  In other words, that there is some homosexual activity to be found among some individuals in almost every species is well-known to scientists today.  Thus, even though in among humans there may be additional psychological or societal influence  that account for homosexual tendencies, still, on the whole it cannot be credibly maintained that sexual attraction is entirely a matter of personal choice.

                     So if this is the case, how should society, both civil and religious, respond?  As odd as it may seem, I would suggest that it was the Catholic Church that not too long ago has pointed out what might be seen, perhaps even if somewhat idealistically, as the way to go.  Back in the 1970s the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document on the pastoral care of homosexually inclined persons, suggesting that they should be urged to form lasting and committed partnerships rather than turning to fleeting, and, all too often, promiscuous relationships with persons of the same sex.  And, of course, in keeping with its strict biblical views regarding sexual behavior, the Church urged that such a partnership should aim at living an entirely chaste or celibate life.  So while one might worry that such a living arrangement might prove to be “an occasion of sin” that should, if possible, be lessened or which might even be entirely avoided if one choose to live alone, one also got the impression that the moral theologians saw this kind of arrangement as a kind of “lesser of two evils” — a view that could have saved countless lives when AIDS began devastating the gay community in the 1980s.

In fact, one might even say that all the Church failed to do at that point, but should have done, was to institute a corresponding official ritual of blessing or commitment to go along with this recommendation.  So now, if the US Supreme Court decides, as might be predicted is likely, that the individual states may continue, if they wish, to authorize same-sex marriages, or even decides that these marriage be legally recognized by other states, perhaps it will also be high time that the Catholic Church and other religious institutions do their best, even if they refuse to call it “marriage”, to sanctify the deal that nature, or perhaps even nurture, has dealt.

 

R W Kropf       2/15/2012                    Same-sex Marriage?.doc   13-02-15.html