With the US Supreme Court just having heard the preliminary arguments on two cases regarding same-sex marriage, 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. And while recent polls seem to indicate that that a growing majority of people — including, by the way, the new pope — believe that people of the same sex should be able to live together with a certain amount protection and rights, nevertheless, there still seem to be many — again including the new pope ― who have strong objections to calling such civil unions or domestic partnerships a “marriage”.
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 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 — again including the pope — 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, or even 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 influences 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, back in the 1970s, if my memory is correct, it was the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that 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, that document 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 advising the bishops saw this kind of arrangement as a kind of “lesser of two evils”. It is a view that, if it had been publicized, perhaps by the Church offering to publically bless such commitments, might have saved many lives when AIDS began devastating the gay community in the 1980s.
R W Kropf 3/24/2013 Same-sex Marriage3.doc 15-04-04.htm