By Deborah Savage
Deborah Savage is a professor of philosophy at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas and the co-director of the Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture.
In my mind, virtually none of the arguments we have heard so far have gone to what is really the heart of the matter in the marriage debate. Certainly our children deserve to be raised by a mother and a father; the simple fact is, children only come into being because they have both, at least somewhere along the way.
Despite the position taken (apparently) by some that there is "no difference" in measureable outcomes for kids raised by gay parents, there is plenty of evidence that children do best in an intact home with both a mother and a father.
But, as advocates of gay marriage point out, marriage as an institution is not exactly the exemplar of stability it used to be. The sad fact is that the same factors that have contributed to its fragmentation — a misunderstanding of the complementarity of men and women, the divorce between the procreative and unitive dimensions of the sexual act, promiscuity, etc. — are at work in the breakdown of traditional marriage as well.
At first glance, it may seem somehow mean-spirited to deny people who love each other the "freedom to marry." But the ubiquitous lawn signs insisting that we not "limit the freedom to marry" are really nothing but an appeal to people's emotions, even to a certain American patriotism, and do not reflect any truly substantive argument. No one has a "right" to marry just anyone; we already place legal limits on who can marry whom in perfectly understandable and — so far — indisputable ways.
This is not just another skirmish in the culture wars. Perhaps for those on both sides of the issue, but certainly for those who believe that marriage, by definition, is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, it is D-Day. Auguste Comte, the father of positivism, said that the only safe way to destroy something is to replace it. It seems clear that this is what is underway.
So, it is necessary to articulate what the stakes really are at this moment for our community. I believe that, no matter what side of the issue you are on, they are higher than you think. It is time to return to first principles, the self-evident truths from which human reasoning proceeds on the way to logical conclusions.
First principles that everyone agrees to are virtually impossible to come by these days, especially since the default position for most people is that such things are merely a matter of personal preference. But what is at stake in this debate is a first principle that has permitted human reason to pursue an understanding of the world and create conditions in which human persons can flourish for centuries.
It is a simple thing, really. We count on it from the moment we open our eyes: That which is, is. We might call it the "law of identity," otherwise known as "A is A." Its corollary is known as the law of non-contradiction: that something cannot be "A" and "B" at the same time. Whether we can articulate it or not, we count on these laws from the moment we are born and, in one way or another, every day of our lives.
The Catholic Church's position is grounded in such laws, in self-evident principles derived first of all from an encounter with reality itself, a world created by God and held in existence by him. It is a world that makes sense, inhabited by creatures with natures composed of both matter and form, soul and body — and headed toward some purpose. This is the basis of the church's position on same-sex marriage and a whole host of other issues: that the world as we encounter it is given to us, that it is intelligible — and that human beings can know it.
The "freedom" to marry is only secondarily a political freedom. Men and women have a freedom to marry that emerges naturally from the design of their bodies. Surely no one can dispute that they are designed for each other in a way that is clearly meant to be. I don't doubt for a second that homosexual persons can and do love each other. How they express that love is up to them.
At its heart, any attempt to make "gay marriage" legal, to pretend that homosexual persons are designed for the union that is at the heart of the marriage covenant, is to ask all of us to suspend the evidence of our senses. And to ask our children to accept that a man may marry another man is to force them — without their consent — into a world where nothing is as it seems. It is to ask them to suspend their capacity to judge the world around them and judge it truly.
I cannot ask my daughter to do that. If advocates of gay marriage would pause long enough to think first of the needs of children instead of their exclusively adult desires, they wouldn't ask them to do it either.