Human sexuality is a complex and fragile thing – far greyer than black or white. It is best tended to by gentle, wise, and humble hands.
Alas, there hasn’t been much gentleness or wisdom surrounding the same sex marriage debate, let alone same sex attraction in general. Witness the recent furore over an alleged homophobic slur directed at a player during a Super 15 Rugby match between the ACT Brumbies and the NSW Waratahs at the weekend.
Like most issues of public importance, we tend to hear from the voices of fear that inhabit the extremes – and how the mainstream media thrives on such unseemly polemic.
Those advocating same sex marriage have cleverly positioned themselves under the canopy of civil rights, of marriage equality: “Thus, if you oppose us, you are not only homophobic, but support continued discrimination as well.”
This approach is difficult to counter because people with same sex orientation are emerging from a proven and longstanding history of marginalisation – one that is still quite prevalent. And, churches of all persuasions need to reflect on their contribution to this injustice; for too long same sex attracted people have been made to feel like lepers.
Given this painful historical backdrop, the civil rights approach is both compelling and persuasive. After all, who wants to wear the responsibility of saying yet another “No” to those who have been excluded and refused entry into much of the mainstream for so long?
Meanwhile, in the other corner, those against same sex marriage have come out boxing with a bible in the hands, wielding it as though it were a hammer and, too often, preaching intolerance and bigotry: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” they scoff. Indeed, one might say that thanks to these purveyors of ignorance, the Christian position has itself become marginalised.
So, where to from here?
When we reflect on the fact that committed relationships are at the heart of a healthy society, we realise how important it is to respect, encourage, and celebrate the giving and receiving of love between heterosexuals and same sex couples. We must also dialogue with the hope of deepening our understanding of experiences that are foreign to us. The loving commitment of same sex couples to each other needs the kind of protection and support that heterosexuals have taken for granted.
Surely we can achieve this while recognising that the two forms of union, heterosexual and same sex, are different, and significantly so. All societies, including our own, acknowledge the importance of heterosexual unions for the very continuance of the society. We call it ‘marriage’, and while not every heterosexual union leads to procreation, the union, of its nature, is geared to it. This is not true of same sex love.
Of course, a same sex couple can love and care for children whose nurturing is a fruit of their love. Children, however, do not come into existence as a result of their sexual union. And surely, as much as is possible, children have an inherent right to be nurtured by their biological parents? If this has merit, one needs to consider the potential for same sex marriage to further entrench the separation of children from their natural parents, a separation that is becoming more and more prevalent thanks to new technologies, a prevailing individualism, and a collective infatuation with the self: “If I want it, I should have it; that’s my right.” The danger is children can become commodities to meet the social and emotional whims of adults, something for which we are all responsible.
Indeed, too often the voices of the adults drown out those of the children. Dawn Stefanowicz, has something to say about this:
“I was raised in a gay household from babyhood in Toronto, Canada. I loved my father and respected his business ethic, but he did not value or love women, and that left me deeply hurt.
“Children of gay parents are not just blank slates. We are a combination of both nature and nurture. Gay parenting removes one of our biological parents, creating an unrecoverable, permanent loss for us. We are silenced as dependents and cannot speak about this loss for fear of offending our parent(s) and their partner(s).
“Parenting is not just about care-giving, making meals, cleaning the house, or putting on sticking plasters. A grandma or an auntie can do these things. Parenting has to do with children’s identity and security above all else, and supports complementary genders, as male and female in relationship with each other, so that children see both their biological parents being equally esteemed and loved.” (UK Tablet Blog, 20 March, 2015)
For the sake of the child and ultimately for the dignity of all, it needs to be clearly understood that one does not have a right to a child, whatever underpins one’s aspirations for parenthood.
The committed love between same sex couples is sacred, is beautiful, is creative – but never complementary nor pro-creative. It is a different expression of love and it should be treated and honoured differently. Thankfully, in relation to legal protections, same sex couples have been afforded what is justifiably their civil rights; and while a union sanctioned by the state that honours and embraces their love also has merit; I do not subscribe to the view that marriage is a civil right for same sex couples.
In seeking to call different unions – indeed, different realities – by the same name, the result is confusion, not clarity or truth. In the matter of marriage, we discriminate because we recognise the differences between heterosexual and homosexual unions. We discriminate, not to advantage one union and disadvantage the other, but to acknowledge the difference.
Peter Day is a Catholic Priest in Canberra.