The issue of redefining marriage to include unions of people of the same sex is very much in the news. Is this move something Catholics can support? What effect will it have on the understanding of marriage? What are the effects on children of having been brought up by two men or two women? I append here three of my recent columns in Catholic newspapers on the question.
Gay marriage – why not?
Now that gay marriage is in the news again, everyone is talking about it and many of my friends are in favour. Can you remind me of the reasons why the Church is opposed to it? Shouldn’t gay people be entitled to the same respect and rights as others?
Marriage is not just a “social construct”, a concept invented by man that can change with time at the whim or even the vote of the people. It is a reality deeply rooted in human nature and it has been in existence from the beginning. All civilisations have had the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman destined to bring forth children.
God created humans male and female and gave them an attraction that leads them to want to spend their lives together, expressing their love among other ways in the act of marital intimacy through which children are born into the world. This was God’s plan for the fulfilment of individuals and for the continuation of the human race. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (CCC 1601).
Marriage comes from God himself as the Second Vatican Council teaches: “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws… God himself is the author of marriage” (GS 48). Marriage between a man and a woman is written in human nature, as Aristotle observed hundreds of years before Christ: “Between man and wife, friendship seems to exist by nature; for man is naturally inclined to form couples – even more than to form cities” (Nicomachean Ethics 8.12).
The Australian Marriage Act 1961, in clarifying the terms used in the Act, gives us the traditional definition of marriage: “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This definition has stood the test of time. It is founded on human nature.
We cannot change the nature of marriage by an act of parliament any more than we can change the nature of person so as to extend the term to dogs, cats or chimpanzees. Animals, by nature, cannot be persons. Two persons of the same sex, by nature, cannot call their union marriage. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
What is more, as we have seen, marriage is intended by God for the procreation and education of children. Love between a man and a woman naturally tends to bring children into the world. It is naturally fertile. Two people of the same sex, on the contrary, cannot bring forth children from their love. Their union is naturally sterile. If they have children by artificial means or they adopt them, these children will grow up without the complementary care of their natural father and mother, which is God’s plan for their well being. Indeed, studies have shown that children of same-sex couples do not fare as well as those of natural families.
But shouldn’t people with same-sex attraction be shown respect and given the same rights as others? They should always be shown respect, for they too are human beings, children of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. And they can live together if they want and even commit themselves to remain together for life, but there can be no right to call that relationship marriage. Marriage, as instituted by God and written in human nature, is a union of a man and a woman.
If people of the same sex want legal recognition of their union, they already have access to it. For example, the New South Wales Relationships register, which commenced operation in 2010, provides legal recognition for a couple, regardless of their sex, by registration of the relationship.
Looking further down the track, if the definition of marriage were changed by law to include the union of two persons of the same sex, there is no reason why sometime later it might not be broadened further to include more than two persons or a relationship between persons and animals. The best way to destroy marriage is to call everything marriage. When everything is marriage, nothing is marriage. We must do everything possible to protect this institution.
Children of same-sex parents
It seems to me that children of same-sex parents must suffer in some way from not having a mother or father to nurture them and that this would be an argument against allowing same-sex marriage. Is this the case?
There are sociological studies that bear out the truth of what you say and there are also personal testimonies of the children themselves. In this column I will comment on one of those testimonies and in the next I will refer to the results of sociological studies.
Katy Faust was raised by a lesbian couple and is now married with four children. On 2 February 2015 she wrote an open letter to Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court not to redefine marriage to include the union of two persons of the same sex.
Knowing first-hand what it is like to grow up in a same-sex household and also what it is like to raise children in a natural marriage, she writes that “when it comes to procreation and child-rearing, same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are wholly unequal and should be treated differently for the sake of the children.
“When two adults who cannot procreate want to raise children together, where do those babies come from? Each child is conceived by a mother and a father to whom that child has a natural right. When a child is placed in a same-sex-headed household, she will miss out on at least one critical parental relationship and a vital dual-gender influence. The nature of the adults’ union guarantees this. Whether by adoption, divorce, or third-party reproduction, the adults in this scenario satisfy their heart’s desires, while the child bears the most significant cost: missing out on one or more of her biological parents. Making policy that intentionally deprives children of their fundamental rights is something that we should not endorse, incentivize, or promote.”
She went on to say: “Now that I am a parent, I see clearly the beautiful differences my husband and I bring to our family. I see the wholeness and health that my children receive because they have both of their parents living with and loving them. I see how important the role of their father is and how irreplaceable I am as their mother. We play complementary roles in their lives, and neither of us is disposable. In fact, we are both critical. It’s almost as if Mother Nature got this whole reproduction thing exactly right.”
She says she has a great love for her mother and her partner, but observes: “If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding ‘yes!’ Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.”
With respect to studies showing that children of gay parents actually fare better than those raised by their biological father and mother, she comments: “If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out ‘even better!’ when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by ‘two moms’ or ‘two dads’ came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods. Does being raised under the rainbow miraculously wipe away all the negative effects and pain surrounding the loss and daily deprivation of one or both parents?
“Redefining marriage redefines parenthood. It moves us well beyond our ‘live and let live’ philosophy into the land where our society promotes a family structure where children will always suffer loss. It will be our policy, stamped and sealed by the most powerful of governmental institutions, that these children will have their right to be known and loved by their mother and/or father stripped from them in every instance. In same-sex-headed households, the desires of the adults trump the rights of the child. Have we really arrived at a time when we are considering institutionalizing the stripping of a child’s natural right to a mother and a father in order to validate the emotions of adults?”
This is powerful language based on personal experience. It deserves to be heard.
Studies on children of same-sex parents
A friend recently told me there are studies showing that children raised by same-sex couples actually fare better than those raised by their natural father and mother. Is this true?
Over the years there have been numerous studies to determine whether there is any difference between children raised by two persons of the same sex and those raised by their natural parents. As you say, some of these claim that the children fared better when raised by same-sex couples.
Common sense and a little experience of life would tell us that such findings cannot possibly be valid. Let me quote from the open letter of Katy Faust to Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2015. Katy, who was raised by a lesbian couple, wrote: “If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out ‘even better!’ when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by ‘two moms’ or ‘two dads’ came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods. Does being raised under the rainbow miraculously wipe away all the negative effects and pain surrounding the loss and daily deprivation of one or both parents?”
As regards the sociological studies themselves the American Psychological Association, in a 2005 Policy Brief, cited 59 studies by its members which found that not one of those studies found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. But in an article published in the journal Social Science Research in July 2012, Professor Loren Marks of Louisiana State University analysed those studies and found that “not one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children.” He observed that only four of the studies met the APA’s own standards by providing evidence of statistical power.
Meanwhile, that same issue of Social Science Research published the results of the most rigorous and methodologically sound study ever conducted on the issue. Carried out by sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, it surveyed almost 3000 people between the ages of 18 and 39 from both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The study found that the children of gay or lesbian couples fared worse on 77 out of 80 outcome measures compared with those from biologically intact families.
Among the most important findings were that children of homosexual parents were much more likely to have received welfare, had lower educational attainment, reported less safety and security in their family of origin, reported more ongoing negative impact from their family of origin, were more likely to suffer from depression, had been arrested more often and, in the case of women, had more sexual partners, both male and female.
Children of lesbian mothers in particular were more likely to be cohabiting, almost four times more likely to be on welfare, more than three times more likely to be unemployed, nearly four times more likely to identify as something other than entirely heterosexual, ten times more likely to have been “touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver”, more likely to have attachment problems related to the ability to depend on others, used marijuana more frequently, smoked more frequently, watched television for long periods more frequently and pled guilty to a non-minor offence more frequently. Children of lesbian mothers were 75% more likely to be in a same-sex romantic relationship and children of homosexual fathers three times more likely.
An article reporting these findings on the website of the Family Research Council by Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, concluded: “The myths that children of homosexual parents are ‘no different’ from other children and suffer ‘no harm’ from being raised by homosexual parents have been shattered forever.”
These findings are important and they deserve to be taken into account when considering whether same-sex marriage ought to be legalised.