Love, Life and Language
This week The Economist reported on the subject of legalising gay marriage that ‘one poll suggests the British public is ready to go all the way’. I sometimes struggle to reconcile my deep conviction about the nature of homosexual acts with the fact that some of my dearest friends are gay. I, as a Roman Catholic, hold everything the Church teaches to be true but that does not mean that there are not many homosexuals who are fantastic company, people I do not wish to fall out with.
In that sense I want to have my cake and eat it. I should very much like to be able to argue the impossibility of gay marriage without simply falling back on the teaching of the Church while also not offending people who are dear to me.
The main argument made in favour of homosexual marriage by some members of the gay community is that heterosexual and homosexual love are ‘equivalent’. This equivalence, they assert, should be recognised not only in terms of property rights (as is already the case) but also in the language we use to describe relationships.
Gays and straights alike may have difficulties in love: some will be committed and some not. The first ‘conservative’ argument for non-equivalence seems, therefore, to fall at the first hurdle. Given high contemporary divorce rates among (straight) married couples, mean levels of faithfulness are hardly going to be acceptable indicators of non-equivalence between varieties of sexual attraction. This argument also runs the risk of pre-judging every individual relationship on the basis of general social trends.
A second argument is based on procreation. This is a thornier and more emotionally fraught subject. Heterosexual marriage naturally tends towards procreation. This does not, however, mean all married heterosexual couples will have children. Indeed, there are, unintentionally childless couples who are no less married, nor less loving, than those with children. It is, therefore, argued that procreation must be left off the list of elements of non-equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
I believe, however, that this is where the argument in favour of equivalence fails. It is a mistake to focus on heterosexual marriages having a tendency towards procreation. As with faithfulness it is often implicitly counter-argued that homosexual relationships just have a lower tendency towards making babies than heterosexual ones. This, however, is not really the case.
While heterosexual marriages may not always produce children it remains true that procreation is inherently bound up with heterosexual relations. That I can write this blog, and you read it, is a testament to this fact. There is no person alive who is the natural product of a homosexual relationship. Indeed, even the relationship of a heterosexual couple using the contraceptive pill cannot not be considered equivalent to an active homosexual relationship. The possibility of the heterosexual female in question conceiving might be less than 1%, but it remains extant. With a homosexual couple this would be naturally impossible under any circumstances. That a couple resorting to chemical contraceptives might naturally have a child must be taken into account in discussion of equivalence.
‘So what?’ some argue. Homosexual partners can be just as caring and supportive as heterosexual ones. ‘Surely, on this basis these relationships can be held as equivalent?’ This may be true but if partnership is the only necessary category of equivalence then we are ignoring the importance of procreation as procreation.
Some economists have speculated as to the monetary value of a human life but their approach has, thankfully, not yet fully caught on. Indeed, we generally hold the right to life to be unalienable precisely because of its incalculable value. It follows logically that the source of human life must share, to some extent, in the value of life itself. Indeed, as the source of human life, heterosexual marriage should really be held as being of similarly incalculable value to the life it leads to.
Given this, the possibility of new life ensuing within heterosexual marriage cannot be left off the list of its essential characteristics, however unlikely it may be in a given case. For this very reason heterosexual and homosexual relationships cannot be considered equivalent. If the government does decide to include homosexual relationships within the purview of marriage we shall simply have to find another way of recognising procreation in our description of heterosexual relationships.
There are homosexual couples who would like to have children. As with all caring human beings they would like all children to grow up with the love and security of a family. For them, recognising their relationships as a marital would be one step closer to achieving this. However, this would require that the two kinds of relationship were truly equivalent in all of their essential features. Given the value of the life that may issue from heterosexual union itself this is not the case. Recognising homosexual partnerships as marriage would require that we ignore the creation of life in our definition of marriage. I do not believe this to be either beneficial or reasonably possible. Life is a gift we all possess and one of indescribable value. I believe in everything the Roman Catholic Church teaches as true and this may discredit my arguments for some. But I would also articulate my objection to recognising homosexual relationships as marriage not only on religious grounds, but also on our shared appreciation of the indescribable value of human life.