Moral theologian Fr David Garcia comments on the issue



IT SEEMS that prohibiting people of the same sex from getting married is a case of blatant, unjust discrimination. Clearly, homosexual persons can love each other just as much as heterosexual persons love people of the opposite sex, and if so, don’t they deserve the same right to marriage as anybody else?

Is it even conceivable that people who claim that all human beings are equal in dignity regardless of their religion, race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation, could deny homosexual couples their right to marriage?

All this presumes a premise that often goes unnoticed, namely, the assumption that the institution of marriage is a conventional, social construct.

According to such premise, what marriage is will be determined by societies or human legislation based purely on conventional agreements. It presumes that we decide what marriage is. As a legal decision, it seems, it is the fruit of legislators’ wills and so, deciding to deprive some persons of the privileges of marriage is guilty, unjust discrimination.

Such a view forgets that marriage is three things: a natural association, a social institution and an ecclesiastical sacrament.

As members of the human species, people associate for reproductive purposes in a particular arrangement called marriage. As social persons, we enshrine that association in a juridical framework recognised in society called the institution of marriage. As members of the Church, marriages between baptised Christians are sacraments.

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall focus on the first two.

Natural association

Animals associate according to their nature. Fish associate in schools, lions in prides and wolves in packs. The nature of the species in question, not the will of the scientist, determines what those associations are.

The nature of lions dictates what a pride of lions is. Scientists have the authority to teach what they discover, but not the authority to determine how animals should associate.

Among the most important forms of associations in animals, there is the sexual association. Ravens form monogamous pairs for life, geladas associate in harems etc. Each species associates sexually according to its nature.

The human species is not different. It also has a sexual form of association that we call marriage, and like other forms of association, it is determined by human nature and not by human convention.

Marriage institution

This natural association is recognised in human societies as the institution of marriage. Not all natural human associations are considered a social or legal institution. Friendship, necessary as it is, is not enshrined in a juridical framework of rights and duties, and thus we do not speak of the institution of friendship. In the case of marriage, we do.

One reason, among others, why societies and states give social and legal recognition to marriages is because the persons implicated in a marriage, namely the spouses and their children, engage in a relationship of rights and duties that need the protection of society.

Another reason, among others, is that the association of marriage contributes to the common good of society in a unique way, unparalleled to any other form of association; namely, it creates society by procreating the next generation.

Society and the state have therefore the obligation to protect the natural association of marriage with a juridical structure that protects, sustains and defends the most vital form of association in any society. Marriage predates the state and the state should be at the service of marriage, and not contrariwise.

Human convention

Obviously, humans not only associate according to their nature, but also according to their free, conventional decisions. Associations like country clubs, nations, and football teams are only some examples. The concept of those associations is purely arbitrary and dictated by human convention.

This is the crucial difference between marriages and other kinds of associations, including same-sex unions. We are simply not free to decide what marriage is. We don’t have the authority to decide what marriage should be; human nature does. This distinction is often ignored but clearly decisive in the topic at hand.

People of the same sex, homosexual or not, may be free to associate in terms permitted by the law, and that would be their liberty, but that liberty is far from being a basic human right equivalent to the right to marriage.

Other conditions

It is not the mutual affection, important as it is, that makes marriage an institution. Love alone does not give the right to marriage. There will be other conditions that make a person fit for marriage, i.e. to be of mental capacity, sexually mature, free of coercion… and be of the opposite sex.

Certainly all human persons enjoy the same basic human rights, among them the right to marry a sexually mature person of the opposite sex, mentally competent and free to marry. And persons may enjoy the liberty to associate according to their affection, their religions commitment (as religious communities do) or many other reasons, but none of those is marriage, no matter how loving they are.

Discussions on the right to marriage equality are often barking up the wrong tree and bypass altogether the central issue: there is such a thing as human nature and it does not depend on us.

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