I must confess that today’s judicial ruling out of California which overturned Proposition 8 has riled me up, suprisingly so. I heard about the ruling while listening to the livestream of a tech podcast in which one of the three podcasters is a lesbian (previously “married” in CA) and the other two (middle-aged married men) evidently supported the decision. The ease with which they threw out bromides (“finally, equality!”) bothered me, primarily because it revealed two things: 1. a group of intelligent people couldn’t grasp that there might be real objections to same sex “marriage”, and 2. as I’ve noted previously, too many (probably most) Americans simply don’t understand the essential nature of marriage. Simply put, the state’s interest isn’t strong feelings or commitment… it’s children. And — to state the obvious — a homosexual relationship isn’t structured towards procreation the way marriage is.
But people don’t understand that anymore. Most people think of marriage as an institution which indicates the strong feelings which two people have for one another. But the state doesn’t have any interest in privileging strong feelings. Rather, the state is interested in the perpetuation of society, which — to again state the obvious — requires procreation. That is why marriage has historically been privileged, not because of the warm fuzzies two people have for one another.
I was recently in Steubenville for catechetical conference and had the opportunity to have lunch with some of my former professors and colleagues. One of them is Patrick Lee, a philosopher who has focused his attention of late — in collaboration with scholars such as Robert George, John Finnis and Germain Grisez — on bioethical questions. Lee and George are currently working on a book specifically addressing the question of SSM, and Pat is actually optimistic about the future of traditional marriage in the US. I must confess that I am less so: as numerous commentators have noted, once contraception and divorce achieved normative status, a rational opposition to SSM became almost impossible, and hence said opposition retains the force of a mere taboo, and with time, a taboo will eventually crumble unless it is reinforced with some substantial rationale.
So regardless of how the Prop 8 case is ultimately decided — and I tend to think that Prop 8 itself will be upheld & traditional marriage will remain the law in CA, at least for now — it remains incumbent upon us as Catholics to educate others (beginning with our fellow Catholics!) about the true nature of marriage and its twofold purpose: the growth in love of the spouses and the procreation of children. Only if society comes to see that children occupy an essential place in the institution of marriage and that it isn’t merely about strong feelings will there be true hope for this fundamental cell of society in our nation.