Peter Day.  Mum and Dad, or Mum and Mum, or Dad and Dad?

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.

 

 

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5 Responses to Peter Day.  Mum and Dad, or Mum and Mum, or Dad and Dad?

  1. Gregan McMahon says:

    Shakespeare, as we are often reminded inappropriately, spoke of “the marriage of true minds”; he wasn’t talking about the lifelong union of a man and woman. The word means different things in different contexts, and no doubt will be accepted eventually as including same-sex unions. After all, the concept of marriage in Australia today is vastly different to what it was before the Family Law Act, and most of us have learnt to live with that.

  2. Kieran Tapsell says:

    Peter Day argues that there is an essential difference between heterosexual couples and same sex couples, and that difference is that “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.” If that is the difference that must be honoured with a different word and legal ceremony, such as a “civil union”, then post menopausal and infertile heterosexual couples should also be forbidden to marry, and if they want some legal recognition of their relationship, they should be required to enter into civil unions. Nature creates the menopause, and women who pass through it are by their very nature not geared to having children. The same can be said of infertility whether of the man or the women. They are, by nature, incapable of having children. Peter also quotes from a UK Tablet blog where a child of a gay relationship states: “Gay parenting removes one of our biological parents, creating an unrecoverable, permanent loss for us.” The same can be said of IVF, the death of a parent, and in many cases of divorce. On this argument, IVF and divorce should be banned as a matter of law. I am not sure what we can do about death.

  3. Peter Day says:

    In relation to Kieran Tapsell’s comment re procreation etc., I offer the following from Canadian ethicist, Margaret Somerville:

    “Advocates of same-sex marriage argue … that the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman means that opposite-sex couples who cannot or do not want to have children should be excluded from marriage; or, more extremely, that only a man and a woman who produce a child should be allowed to marry.

    “Even if a particular man and woman cannot or do not want to have a child, their getting married does not damage this general symbolism. The reproductive potential of opposite-sex couples is assumed at a general level and is not investigated in individual cases. To do otherwise would be a serious and unjustifiable breach of privacy.”

    Meanwhile, while the loss of a biological parent through death and divorce does indeed represent a deep and permanent sense of loss for a child, we are not seeking to institutionalise death and divorce. But by seeking to institutionalise same sex marriage, we are also potentially institutionalising the further separation of children from their biological parents. Before doing so, we need to take a lot of time looking very closely at the potential consequences to children beyond the needs of adults – i.e. is it not the case, for instance, that the often prohibitive expenses of reproductive technologies means the poor are immediately excluded from having/’creating’ children this way; and what of the exploitation of poor women in developing countries who are being asked to birth children for ‘wealthy’ same sex and heterosexual couples.

    I do not say any of this with a sense of self-righteousness or condemnation – as pope Francis has said, “Who am I to judge.”
    Rather, and as alluded to above, I am concerned that too much of the debate/discussion around these issues is not only adult-centric, but also too heavily reliant on emotion.

  4. Kieran Tapsell says:

    The flaw in Margaret Somerville’s argument comes from her own statement that the “reproductive potential of opposite sex couples is assumed at a general level”. It is impossible to assume at a general level that 50+ year old men and women who want to get married have a “reproductive potential”, because we know they don’t. I am not advocating that infertile or post menopausal couples should not get married. I am simply saying that the argument that relies on “reproductive potential” as a touchstone for determining who should or should not get married flies in the face of the reality of who gets married now. Besides, we now know that every human cell has the potential to create another human being, and that it is quite possible in the near future that same sex couples may well be able to have children which are biologically descended from both of them. I am not suggesting that this is a good or a bad thing, but simply to point out that any argument based on “potentiality” is doomed. It is the same kind of flawed argument that is found in Humanae Vitae – one can use time to limit one’s family but not space, physics and chemistry. The Church lost the contraception argument decades ago even amongst its own adherents, and it is fairly obvious that it is also losing the same sex marriage argument for exactly the same reasons – they don’t make sense.

  5. Edward Fido says:

    I think Peter Day and Kieran Tapsell have both argued the case for one side of the same sex marriage debate extremely well and with great civility. If same sex marriage becomes legal in Australia, as it has in Spain, a traditionally Catholic country, I don’t think it will break the Church or others opposed to it. They may be sad, but, as long as their right to retain their own beliefs and integrity are not compromised, they will continue their good work. Far more challenging to anyone interested in ascribing some sort of moral order to life and the universe are the continuing developments in reproductive technology referred to.

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