Whether we like it or not, secularism is the dominant mode of public discourse today. Even those we encounter who are not "anti-faith" often place a high value on their understanding of "separation of church and state."
Catholics must therefore be prepared to support moral positions without recourse to Scripture or religious vocabulary. That is an enormous challenge to Catholics who want to defend and preserve marriage as the only healthy model for an orderly society.
Before we go any further, we should make it clear that using secular terms to make the case for marriage in secular terms in no way suppresses or denies the faith. While it does omit a higher dimension of marriage, the secular case is effective because all truth—including the truth about men and women, marriage and family—is God’s truth. As such, it has an internal coherence that is part of the created order. One need not credit God with the physical laws of nature, such as gravity, to know that gravity works. Where the physical laws are violated, breakdown occurs. The same goes for the moral realm: A violation of God’s moral order brings chaos in human relationships. The evidence of that chaos is the source of the daily headlines and the nightly news broadcasts. When people of faith make the case for marriage using this kind of evidence, it is less likely to be perceived as "imposing religion."
There is a secular argument for preserving natural marriage as the only legal definition of marriage and the one model of family life deserving of tax relief. The major building blocks are these:
- Nations that fail to form families suffer grave consequences, including loss of workers, loss of tax base, and decline in human ingenuity and productivity.
- The question is not about denying individual rights but about promoting the good of the whole society.
- Marriage and family provide benefits to society by producing, raising, and educating the next generation.
- A strong family life offers the benefits of mental and emotional health.
These blocks build on the foundation of the common good: shared commitment to a society ordered to the good of the most members.
No Marriage, No Civilization
The assumption behind the "can’t impose religious values" argument is twofold: First, that to propose is to impose if a person of faith makes the proposal, and second, that natural marriage is valid only within a religious framework. Both assumptions are false, but let’s look more closely at the second.
The question that Catholics can expect to address is "How does legalizing same-sex unions imperil natural marriage?" The short response is two provocative questions: "Why have governments regulated marriages historically? Why not leave the matter of intimate relationships and family to individuals and remove the state completely?"
After a short pause, most people realize that the state has a vested interest in marriage and family exactly because it is the bedrock of the nation. This is the lesson European politicians are now learning (See "Family Day in Italy" p. 14). Same-sex pairs cannot benefit the whole of the nation by bearing the next generation. The population plunges, and all the attendant ills come roaring onto the political and social landscape. Those same ills have begun to reach American shores as well: no families, no citizens, no economy, no national future. The state regulates, and up until the recent past, elevated, marriage as a particular category within the culture to keep this vital institution as healthy as possible for the good of all citizens—what Catholics term the "common good."
Good for All, Not Just Some
Communities and nations survive where its participants act in accord with what benefits the whole, not the few. Some will argue that the state has no "right" to prevent a same-sex pair from forming a union. Western cultures are too deeply enamored of the concept of "individual rights" to subscribe easily to the idea that individuals ought to moderate their personal choices to benefit the entire community. We have become an atomized culture, in which each person is his own autonomous government, the Self as Supreme Command. To many, the very idea of the common good violates "personal rights." But there is no "right" to a sexual relationship. In truth, it is merely a personal choice—not a right—that is circumscribed.
This principle is quickly illustrated by proposing an analogy to traffic laws. Suppose each driver were permitted to set his own rules of the road—what would happen? Within hours roads would be strewn with crashed cars and injured people. The resulting traffic jams delay others from reaching work, school, or doctor’s appointments. Cities would screech to a halt. The grief and loss of loved ones would be enormous, necessitating days off for funerals, grief counselors and all manner of personal complications.
The point is that such laws are enacted for the safety of both the individual and the public at large and serve the common good of the citizens. The common good means some will drive slower than their preference, stop where they think they should be permitted to proceed if left to their own accord, and park only where designated rather than anywhere they choose. The simple truth is no one objects to elevating the common good over individual preference for the sake of orderly traffic and public safety. We can make a similar analogy based on the care of the environment. In fact, there are many categories where the state makes laws and public policy based on what best serves the whole.
Protection of heterosexual marriage is simply the state regulating and protecting the unique institution that forms an orderly community and benefits the future of the society. We must stress that there is a difference between laws made for the common good and individual preferences. Laws are not made to serve individuals.
Sex Makes Babies
After establishing the concept of the appropriateness of a communal commitment to what’s best for the whole of society, the next step is to show how that principle applies to marriage too. How is it that reserving marriage to one woman and one man is the best for society?
The answer is elemental: Sex is powerful; sex makes babies. Its effect on individuals and communities is such that it is never unregulated in any society. Imagine a culture where marriage and sexual relationships have no regulations, no taboos. No stable families are formed, and thus the work of families goes untended or must be assumed by the state: Children are not properly educated, children and women are abandoned, no one is responsible for sick family members or the elderly, because where all are family, none are family, merely autonomous individuals with whom you have had a temporary liaison. Inheritance laws have no meaning, and the community is marred by jealousies, sexual violence, and pedophilia.
Clearly, this "free love" model does not work, since no such model of a culture has ever survived. In early societies or primitive tribal societies of today, chiefs regulate sexual relationships—principally via marriages—so that the whole of their community does not devolve into violent chaos. This example helps people envision the truth about the meaning of sex other than as a personal activity.
In an argument for a secular audience, we must point out that the preservation of marriage is not a negative force against personal choices. Those choices are not made illegal by preserving natural marriage as the only model of marriage legally recognized by the state. In actuality, preserving the definition preserves the truth that men and women make babies; men and women and their babies make families. To acknowledge that observable reality in no manner detracts for the legal freedom to make a "lifestyle choice."
What About Same-Sex Rights?
Advocates of same-sex unions often insist that because 10 percent of the population is homosexual, some legal provision ought to be made for them to establish families. But that is an erroneous figure; reliable statistics put the number at closer to 3-5 percent. The 10 percent figure is a political number that has been largely manufactured by the homosexual lobby. Much as the abortion movement crafted statistics to move public opinion, so too have advocates exaggerated the numbers of persons with homosexual inclinations.
Others object that same-sex pairs can be parents and provide for families. To rebut this suggestion, we can remark that they cannot without enormous bending of the natural process, both physical and psychological. The legal woes of surrogate mothers and shared parentage where same-sex pairs have split up is a knotted tangle where the child is the victim, as celebrity cases have demonstrated. The psychological confusion and education failures of children raised in same-sex households is widely documented.
Few moderate-minded people have thought about the actual lives of children exposed to same-sex households. Children raised in same-sex environments are five times as likely to suffer physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect. AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases reduce the life expectancy of homosexual persons, increasing the likelihood of early loss of a parent or surrogate parent.
With these facts in mind, we must be aware that possibly few other subjects in our nation are as difficult to approach as the status of same-sex unions. All of us know and love persons who struggle to find balance and contentment between their public and private lives. It is crucial for Catholics to understand the anguish this topic can cause among people of good will. Those who promote same-sex unions seek to ease the hurt they see in their loved ones and co-workers. Their intention is to be compassionate. Our goal in a secular discussion is not to show why homosexual acts are wrong. Rather, we must begin with a positive approach. Our goal is to show how preserving and strengthening marriages and families is the best for the whole of society, including those with same-sex attraction. We must take care to avoid a tone or a vocabulary that stigmatizes any person.
Join the Debate
We live in a "post-Christian" era that has turned a deaf ear to Scripture, but that is hungry for truth. This situation shows the urgency of the lay vocation. The state is the regulator of what the common good is, and, in our Western democracies, the state takes its cues from the people. This is why our Catholic participation in reasoned public debate is so critical to the process.
Where will such discussions take place? The most effective exchange arises out of a natural situation. Perhaps your state has marriage amendments under consideration. That is an opportunity to become involved in a political defense of marriage. Other natural opportunities include PTA meetings (where textbooks promoting same-sex unions could be opposed); at the soccer field where other parents gather; in your parish.
By engaging others in discussions about proposed legalization of same-sex unions, Catholics can accomplish much. In many cases you may be known as a practicing Catholic who never once "pushed religion" during the conversation. It will not be lost on your audience that you made persuasive, cogent points that referred only to the civic consequences. Soon enough it will occur to them to wonder, "How is it that what the Bible and Catholic Church teach is also what is best for our communities?" That question is a powerful evangelizing tool.
She Needs a Father, Not a Sperm Donor
by Donald DeMarco
I have a Catholic friend who is blessed with the fortuitous combination of striking good looks, personal charm, musical ability, and apostolic zeal. These gifts are an invaluable asset for him in his special mission of reaching out to troubled teenagers. He has worked with young people between 12 and 20 for more than ten years, and he has heard many sad and shocking tales of woe. But a recent personal revelation set even him a little back on his heels.
He was getting ready for one of his talks when he kept noticing a girl, 16 years of age, who could not take her eyes off him. Finally, she approached him with a curious question: "Do you know how to surf?" The query was, at first, merely baffling. When he told his young admirer that he had, indeed, done a little surfing, he saw her eyes light up with excitement. Then, her face brimming with hope, she revealed the meaning behind her curious question: "My parents are gay and my mother got pregnant from a sperm donor who was a surfer dude. I was wondering if you were my father."
The sparkle in her eyes quickly vanished when he informed her that he could not have fathered her. The pain he felt, witnessing her sudden dejection, impelled him to offer her some hope and consolation: "To be honest, I wish I were your father because I can see how beautiful your heart is." How important it is, as Pope John Paul II pointed out in Love and Responsibility, to be "spiritual parents" for young people. "Spiritual kinship based on the union of souls," he wrote, "is often stronger than the kinship created by the blood tie. Spiritual paternity and maternity involve a certain transmission of personality" (261).
My friend will continue to minister to this girl as a retreat master and friend and prays that she might resolve her search in a personal relationship with her heavenly Father. But her anguish and desperation is truly heartbreaking.
A Child’s Hopeful Heart
The desire to know one’s father is both natural and ineradicable. It is a cruel and thoughtless act to bring a child into the world while deliberately depriving that child of knowledge of his father. The 16-year-old girl knows intuitively that her mommy’s girlfriend does not satisfy her need for a father. Children’s needs are usually far more realistic than adult desires. How unjust parents are when their personal desires are incompatible with their children’s spiritual needs.
Will this young woman continue to approach athletic men who are complete strangers to her and ask which of them might be her father? Her own biological father had no concern for her spiritual needs whatsoever. It would be a mercy if she never met him. On the other hand, it would be a blessing for her to meet a spiritual father who can minister to her needs.
The Vatican document on reproductive technology, Donum Vitae ("Gift of Life"), tells us:
Heterologous [involving a third party] fertilization violates the rights of the child; it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personal identity . . . Such damage to the personal relationships within the family has repercussions on civil society. (DV 5§II)
Another friend of mine, known to her readers as Maggie Gallagher, returned to the Catholic Church "because of its realistic, uplifting teachings on love and family." Maggie makes absolutely no concessions to political correctness or voguish ideas. "We have to stop pretending," she writes, "that all choices are equally good—that single motherhood is just an alternate family form and that fathers are just another new disposable item in the nursery."
And how does Maggie understand a child’s need for a father? "Children not only need a father, they long for one, irrationally, with all the undiluted strength of a child’s hopeful heart."
Fathers Are Not "Lifestyle" Options
Karin Hoenig, a single mom, remembers the day when her daughter, barely three at the time, came to her with the inevitable question, "Do I have a daddy?" Ms. Hoenig, a New York City nursery-school teacher, knew that the real story is far too complicated and therefore gave her daughter a simplified version: "No, you don’t have a daddy. But there was a man who provided the seed I needed to make a baby" ("Single Mothers by Choice," New York Times, August 5, 1993). This "agricultural" explanation does not begin to deal with the void this child has in not having a father. A "seed" is not an adequate replacement for a daddy. No child has ever had a natural desire for a mommy and a seed!
"Single Mothers by Choice," is a national organization with 3,000 members spread out over 20 chapters. But rationalizations, workshops, and newsletters will never efface a child’s need for a father. Would the rhetoric of "Single Mothers by Choice" have brought peace of mind to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, to take but one notorious example, whose desperate searching in the wrong places for her father led to her tragic downfall?
There is no political or rhetorical solution to the problem of fatherlessness. The need for a father is natural, just as natural as the need for food, love, peace, happiness, and, most of all, for God. Fathers are not merely lifestyle options, as many have been duped into believing. They are, in a word, indispensable.
The Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Albert Camus, was killed at the age of 46 in a car crash near Paris in 1960. Near the wreckage, investigators found a black briefcase that contained 144 pages of an autobiographical novel he had been preparing. When it was finally published, 34 years later, it contained these poignant words, reflecting how much he lost when his father was killed in the First World War in 1914: "I tried to discover as a child what was right and wrong since no one around could tell me. And now I recognize that everything had abandoned me, that I need someone to show me the way, to blame and praise me . . . I need a father."