I have written quite a bit about sex, but I haven’t written anything about homosexuality.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talked about why he did not address the issue of gambling:
Ever since I served as an infantryman in the First World War I have had a great dislike of people who, themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a reluctance to say much about temptations to which I myself am not exposed. No man, I suppose, is tempted to every sin. It so happens that the impulse which makes men gamble has been left out of my make-up; and, no doubt, I pay for this by lacking some good impulse of which it is the excess or perversion. I therefore did not feel myself qualified to give advice about permissable and impermissable gambling: if there is any permissable, for I do not claim to know even that. . . . I did not think it my place to take a firm line about pains, dangers and expenses from which I am protected; having no pastoral office which obliged me to do so.
Likewise, Lewis did not address homosexuality for the exact same reason—the behavior never interested him. As I have no interest, inclination, or temptation to homosexual activity, I am not qualified to write about whether it is right, wrong, or otherwise. Nor am I qualified to give persons struggling with same sex attraction any sort of useful advice on the matter.
The Meaning of Marriage
I am not gay, but I am married, so I do have something to add to the gay marriage conversation.
My belief about marriage is that God intended for marriage to be between one man and one woman. You can read Theology of the Body, or other sources about marriage to get an understanding behind the theological reasons for why the complimentary nature of the male and the female are an essential element to marriage. “Complementary nature” does not refer to legalistic rigid gender roles, but more in the sense of the French phrase “vive la difference“, which celebrates the qualities that make the sexes unique.
At the most concrete, physical level, the complementary nature of the sexes is necessary to have sexual intercourse and to have children together. Our experience is that there is nothing more intimate than sexual intercourse and nothing that has had a greater impact on our marriage than having children. Our children are, in a very real sense, the product of us and our union: One daughter looks like her and acts like me, the other looks like me and acts like her. I find this incredibly amazing.
A gay couple can do sexual things, but they cannot have intercourse. They can adopt children or use assisted reproduction, but they cannot have children with each other. (As for infertile couples, those struggling with infertility know more about the difficulties this causes than I could ever write.) While marriage is about far more than sex and reproduction, my own experience is that if these things were missing from our marriage, it would be would a bit like a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips.
The Matter of The Law
There is, as I see it, a difference between “what God intended marriage to be” and “what relationships the law should recognize”. God “hates divorce”, but the law allows it. Even the Law of Moses allowed divorce, despite God’s opinion of it. C.S. Lewis addressed the difference between Christian marriage and legal marriage in his native United Kingdom on the issue of divorce:
Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The conception of marriage is one: the other is the different question – how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
The purpose of legal marriage, as I see it, is to encourage a stable, healthy society. It is about more than reproduction, otherwise, there would be an age cutoff. Likewise, if marriage were about reproduction, the minimum age for marriage would be puberty, not legal adulthood.
The law encourages marriage and discourages divorce. Even with “no fault divorce”, in my state, it takes 24 hours to get married and one year to get divorced, unless evidence of fault is proven. The law encourages relational stability: North Carolina still has Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation laws, where an aggrieved spouse can sue a third party “homewrecker” for breaking up their marriage. Stable families create a stable society. Monogamy and fidelity prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The state has good reason to encourage marriage for reasons beyond reproduction.
So, where do gay couples fit in?
Some have argued that gay people have the same right to marry a member of the opposite sex as anyone else. I know several gay people who have married opposite-sex friends. Nearly all of them eventually divorced. Encouraging gay people to marry friends they aren’t sexually attracted to isn’t exactly a recipe for relational and social stability.
Others have argued that gay relationships are less stable than heterosexual relationships. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true, the issue in allowing gay couples to marry isn’t preferring same-sex relationships over heterosexual relationships, but preferring stable same-sex relationships over unstable transient ones.
Still others make a quasi-theological argument based on Natural Law. They argue that gay sex is unnatural and harmful, therefore society shouldn’t recognize same-sex relationships. The problem with this line of thinking is that if such activity is indeed harmful, then gay marriage opponents should be able to provide clear evidence of the harms to those who choose to engage in them vs. those who have the inclination to pursue them, but choose not to. Arguments based in the Natural Law must be supported by nature, otherwise, they are merely arguments from authority in disguise. In this case, the evidence that most people with same sex attraction are worse off in a committed gay relationship instead of attempting a heterosexual relationship or remaining celibate is scant. The argument is philosophically sound, but the facts to support it are lacking.
Others make the argument that “marriage” means something. I irritate those on both sides of the debate by disagreeing with this assertion. I do not care if legal recognition is called “civil union” or “civil marriage”. Words describe principles and concepts, they do not have “inherent meanings”. I doubt that many gay marriage opponents are fighting for the “one man, one woman, children optional, for as long as we feel like it” that is the reality of civil marriage.
Finally, some argue that gay marriage will have all sorts of negative consequences for adoption law and for religious freedom. Both of these issues are legitimate concerns, but they are best dealt with separately. In the case of adoption law, adoption law is based on the best interest of the child, not the rights of the parents. If children are indeed better off with a heterosexual couple than a same-sex couple, then you are going to have to show that this is so and convince society to make sure that adoption laws reflects such findings.
As for religious freedom, if gay marriage has a negative impact on religious freedom, then the problem is that protections for religious freedom are too weak across the board. The controversy over religious groups providing contraceptive coverage has everything to do with religious freedom and absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage. (What do gay couples need with contraceptives, anyway?) If religious freedom is ignored over gay marriage, it will probably be ignored in many other areas, and the problem should be recognized for what it really is.
Faith and Reason
People on both sides of the debate are very sure of themselves, but this issue isn’t an easy one. Especially for heterosexuals who really can’t understand what it’s like to have same-sex attraction.
There can be no conflict between true faith and sound reasoning. True faith leads to truth; sound reasoning leads to truth; truth cannot contradict truth.
If faith appears to contradict reason, the problem must be either mistaken faith or flawed reasoning. Truth is not hidden—it wants to be found. What is true in faith will be confirmed by reason and the natural world, but if the natural world contradicts what the faith believes (such as the case of the theology of the Ptolemaic solar system) then we must re-examine our faith to see if we have misunderstood something.
To say something is “natural” or “unnatural” requires an understanding of nature and while nature doesn’t change, our understanding of it does.
As for the politics, my own prediction is that in the broader view, gay marriage is much ado about nothing. The most stable gay couples will take advantage of it, heterosexual couples will marry (and unfortunately, divorce) like they always have, and life will go on. It is neither the “Civil Rights Movement of our era”, nor the end of Western Civilization.