As I mentioned in my post on gender from the other day, I have a dear friend from childhood who is, now, a professor of queer studies. Over the years we’ve managed to build a deep mutual respect despite our deep differences. That respect has enabled us to have some frighteningly direct conversations with each other.
This past weekend we had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time together as he was in town visiting family. He surprised me by bringing up the topic of marriage equality (I’m usually the one who can’t help himself).
After listening to–and largely agreeing with– some of his points about the dignity of the homosexual person, I had the opportunity to share that my opposition to gay marriage had nothing to do with homosexuality. Of course he thought I was trying to play him. I assured him that I was sincere. I explained that the point of marriage is to create a social institution that protects children’s rights to know and be provided for by their natural mother and father. Children born in any other arrangement (cohabitation, surrogacy, donor-conception) do not have any right to find their natural parents (especially if their natural parent’s don’t wish to be found) much less be provided for by them. That leads to two problems.
First, saying that gay marriage is “equal” to marriage is the same as saying that children raised in households with only one parent or any two parents is, in fact, “equal” to the experience of children raised by a mother and a father and that it is wrong to even suggest that children raised by their natural mother and father have any advantage over children raised in any other context. Children raised by single parents, or grandparents, or divorced parents or adoptive parents can grow up to be “just fine”, but we recognize that they have had to struggle at least a bit more than their counterparts raised in homes with their natural mother and father because they are missing something; because those home arrangements are not equal to those homes in which a child is being raised by his natural mother and father. Saying that gay marriage is “equal” to traditional marriage means that a same-sex couple can provide everything that a mother and a father can provide, and that as long as a child has at least two caregivers of one sort or another, that child has no right to feel sad the absence of a natural mother or a father. Currently, there is no other context in which we think it is appropriate to tell a child that he shouldn’t feel sad about not having a connection to his natural mother and father. Gay marriage would change that. To say, “you must not feel anything about the absence of the parent we could not provide you with because, after all, we are equal” would be a serious injustice against a child and do violence to the child’s emotional and psychological well-being.
Second, to say that a same-sex couple’s relationship is the same as (literally “equal to”) a marriage between a man and a woman is to say that both couples must have the same rights to try to have children. Of course, that means that more and more same-sex couples would feel obliged to turn to artificial reproduction so that they could be truly “equal” to straight families. There is just no way to support gay “marriage” without also supporting the massive expansion of IVF, donor conception, surrogacy and other forms of immoral, assisted reproduction technologies which, in turn, leads to countless more children who would be denied the right to know or be provided for by their natural parents.
It was at that point that my friend, who really does try to be a sincere and faithful Catholic despite his struggles on these issues, had a lightbulb moment.
“So, wait. You’re saying, that you see this as a life issue?”
I admitted that, yes, I do.
And a remarkable thing happened. He looked at me, blinked, and said, “Well, you got me there.” It honestly hadn’t occurred to him before. Especially as a pro-life Catholic, this argument really stung him.
I don’t pretend that I “won” anything. I really wasn’t in it to “win.” I also know that we are still miles apart on a lot of the fundamentals in this debate, but what happened in that moment was both honest and more than a little miraculous, and I wonder if taking this approach wouldn’t be a lot more effective on the whole than much of the other ways people attempt to discuss this issue.