(I wrote this as a handout for members of my parishes. Please let me know if you think it states Catholic teaching appropriately, is appropriate for all ages, is clear, etc.)
The legislature and governor of New York recently acted together to change the definition of marriage, to apply to people of the same sex.
The Catholic Church opposes this redefinition of marriage. As a result, we’ve been criticized as against “progress” and even called bigots. This is so often cast as a question of “rights,” we may wrestle with this, or else feel awkward defending our position.
Let me briefly explain what the Church teaches and why it is important.
This may surprise you, but our stance isn’t based on religion; marriage existed before anyone wrote the first words of the Bible. Marriage arises from human nature itself. Human beings are designed to come together and make a family. This is part of being human and obviously necessary. Marriage is important to the well being of us all .
Still, many will say, “So what? Why not just change the law to accommodate the wishes of those who don’t fit this mold? What’s the harm in that?”
There are several harms, some immediate, some long-term.
First, this is a power-grab by government. The state is imposing a very fundamental change on the whole of society. To some degree, we all must go along with this. What marriage means for our society is changed by this. And we should all ask, Who gave the government the right to do this? Redefining marriage, redefining family, ultimately means redefining what it means to be human. This is social engineering.
Second, society lives in harmony because of shared values. Some say, “we shouldn’t impose our values.” But we can’t avoid it; this is what law does—it reflects shared values that shape how we all live together. So this represents an imposition of new values—which may, or may not, work out so well. It is already spawning conflict.
Third, this affects everyone. Marriage and family are so fundamental, that when we deconstruct the very meaning of such things, it pulls out the foundation stones of our common society.
Parents understand this. When you try to maintain certain values in your home, what your children experience in the other houses on the street affects you; how can it not?
Finally, this is reckless tampering. In recent years, we appreciate better the importance of treating our natural environment with respect. It is complex system which we don’t fully understand; but we do know that we depend on it in order to flourish.
So, with our natural environment, we’ve been chastened to be more humble—because we realize how not respecting it ultimately threatens our own well being. And yet, politicians are re-engineering marriage and family. As Catholic writer Mark Shea often says, the “what can it hurt?” phase will eventually be followed by, “how were we supposed to know?”
We might ask more broadly: What does our faith say about same-sex attraction?
Why some people—2-5% it seems from most reports—experience this attraction, no can fully explain. For some, it is a phase, for others it’s deep-seated. Coming to grips with this at a young age can be very difficult. Some never share this, others are open about it.
Sadly, teasing, cruelty and rejection take a terrible toll. Some young people go through awful trials, and make rash decisions with life-long or even fatal consequences. A lot of folks have serious soul-searching to do about attitudes and behavior toward gay people.
The truth is, that our family and friends who wrestle with these feelings ask the same questions everyone asks: who am I? Why did God make me? How do I fit in his plan?
The answers—for everyone—are: We are made in God’s image. God made us to know, love and serve him in this life, to be happy with him in the next. We spend our lives discovering our particular vocation, but we are all part of his plan.
Many say, this same-sex attraction comes from God; it’s how God made us.
On the basis of what? Certainly Scripture doesn’t support this. But set aside Scripture; human evolution doesn’t support this either. People will often say things like, God made me this way, in order to affirm their sense of worth, to combat shame originating from others or themselves.
But every human being learns that one way or the other, our human nature is wounded. No one can claim to be a flawless image of God. This is a result of Original Sin.
So, when we say same-sex attraction is “broken,” or disordered, not according to the norm God created, this is what we also say of those who eat too much, who can’t stay faithful in marriage, who are filled with rage, and so forth. We’re all broken.
But: the wounds in our human nature do not define who we are, or our value.
One of the errors of our society is to tell us, “we’re fine the way we are.” But we’re not. Coming to grips with our own brokenness is part of our salvation. Lots of folks face life-long struggles and shame because of their trials or flaws. Christ accepts us where he finds us, but loves us too much to leave us there.
Jesus said, “Take up your cross.” This has always been a hard sell. Why did he say it? Maybe because he knew that there’s no other way to become truly human.
One of the reasons our message is a hard sell is because our culture demeans chastity so completely. As a result, the idea of life-long chastity seems ridiculous. But is it?
This is the same society that exalts over-consumption and gluttony. Maybe it’s our culture, and its values, that are ridiculous?
Let’s remember, that Christ calls everyone to chastity, not just some.
Married people are called to be chaste in their relations with each other and with others. This, along with the dying to self that comes in marriage and family, are costly.
Still others (with heterosexual feelings) find, for other reasons, they can’t make marriage work. They, too, are called to the same chastity, as divorced or single persons. And then Christ specifically called men and women to be chaste for the kingdom of God—which is what brothers, sisters and priests do. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
Instead of accepting our society’s (low) value of chastity, we might pause and contemplate how messed up our culture is about these things.
Our society’s warped values about sexuality have created terrible human suffering which we’ve grown used to. We don’t, however, have to accept it as “normal.”
The call to take up the cross is hard; it’s the hardest thing we ever do. We all take up our cross, only to want to put it down as soon as possible!
Everyone, without exception, must come to Christ and admit he or she is broken in some way. We all need his grace throughout our lives to become fully human. Saying these things to those with same-sex attraction is not “hatred” or bigotry—unless we mistakenly think these things don’t apply equally to ourselves.
In every era since Christ came, some part of his message wasn’t listened to, because it was such a challenge to the culture of its time. If, instead of continuing to confront the culture, we had simply re-tailored the Gospel to be “up to date with the times,” the Gospel would have become empty centuries ago.
Jesus told us plainly: his message wouldn’t always be received. We will be criticized and even hated for speaking Christ’s word. He told us to expect that. His command is not to respond in kind, but to turn the other cheek, and to pray for those who persecute or speak ill of us.