To the Reader:
After yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, I have seen many anti-Christian (in general) and anti-Catholic (in specific) attacks which seek to dismiss our teachings as the inventions of “homophobic bigots.” The rhetoric has gotten sharp—and I confess to sharing the guilt. However, many of the attacks I have seen demonstrate a profound lack of understanding about our beliefs. So I thought that rather than do a sarcastic blog with a Condescending Wonka theme (it wasn’t very nice), I should try to just write this open letter trying to explain why we must hold our position even in the face of misunderstanding and hostility.
I hope this does not come across as rude or condescending. I hope to give an insight into our beliefs on sexual morality without getting too technical or passionate. But I am only human and therefore a sinner who needs the grace of Our Lord, just like everyone else. So some things might slip past my editing. So let us begin.
We do understand the justification people use in championing “same sex marriage.” It is a combination two things. First, of thinking that love between any two consenting adults is love regardless of gender (hence the #loveislove hashtag), and feeling sympathy for people with a same sex attraction who (until yesterday) were unable to marry. Second, the belief that the situation of people with a same sex attraction is similar to the situation of persecuted minorities in American history, and that the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges is seen as something similar to the victories of the Civil Rights movement. Because you do see things in this way, it is easy to understand why you see those of us who think the Obergefell ruling was wrong as filling the same role that Southerners filled in opposing Civil Rights. Certainly we deplore the fact that some who held the title of Christian have taken part in the mistreatment of minorities which causes you to mistrust us and our motives.
But, though we understand your perspective, we cannot accept it as being accurate. The two situations only have a superficial resemblance. The Civil Rights case was about ethnicity, which was apparent by simply looking at the individual. People were judged as inferior simply because of the color of their skin. There was no behavior to modify. In the eyes of those who were racist, no matter how the black man acted, no matter how educated he might turn out to be, laws were aimed at preventing them from being equal to whites in the eyes of the law. Segregation and Slavery before it were dehumanizing and aimed at telling non-whites to “stay in your place."
But this is not the case when it comes to the support of “same sex marriage.” The area of contention is not in believing that ethnicity is a stigma. The division is over the claim that a sexual relationship between two people of the same gender is morally acceptable and there is no reason to forbid them from getting married. Right and wrong is recognized by most people. If we didn’t acknowledge that some acts were always wrong, we would be unable to condemn Nazis, Slave Owners, Terrorists or Rapists. The difference between the two sides in this dispute is over where the line is to be drawn between right and wrong.
That brings us to the problem. We understand, even though we do not accept, your reasons for supporting “same sex marriage.” The problem is, many seem not to understand our reasons for opposing same sex marriage? Let me deny some of the common accusations against us. It is not, as is widely claimed, that we have a fear or hatred of people with same sex attraction. Nor is it the “ick factor” that we are accused of holding over the physics of the sexual act between two people of the same gender. The reason of our opposition is based on what we believe the purpose of marriage is for.
We do not accept the idea that marriage is a sexual relationship where the partners have feelings for each other and undergo a civil ceremony. We believe that the sexual act is properly based on the complementarity of one male and one female in a lifelong relationship aimed (to the best of their circumstances and ability) at establishing a family (Father, Mother, the children they brought into the world) with the aim of raising new generations, teaching them the values needed to sustain that society.
Thus, Christianity must speak out and label as “misuse of the sexual act” those actions which either cannot or refuse to accomplish this. Thus the Catholic Church says that acts such as masturbation, fornication, adultery, same sex acts, and contraception all fall under the category of “misuse.” (Other sexual acts like polygamy, rape, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia are condemned for not only violating the purpose of marriage but for other reasons as well. But since many people jump to conclusions and assume that the mention of this means the person is equating them with same sex acts, I will not use them as examples to avoid useless distractions).
The point is, we do not single out people with same sex attraction as being wrong. (Completed acts of sodomy and oral sex between husband and wife are also condemned). Rather, we include sexual acts by people of the same gender alongside other sexual acts which misuse the purpose of what the sexual relationship is intended for.
Unfortunately, many people do not understand our technical terms and assign them a meaning that we never intended in the first place. For example, the term “unnatural act.” People do not understand what the term means and assumes it means “extra special bad, go directly to hell.” But that’s not what it means. What we mean runs along these lines:
- A sexual act which would ordinarily be considered morally acceptable between husband and wife (i.e. male-female genital acts), but is used in ways not part of the marriage act (rape, fornication, adultery etc) are considered “natural sins.”
- A sexual act which uses the sexual organs in a way for which they were not designed (masturbation, sodomy, oral sex) is considered “unnatural sins.”
The reason for this difference of classification is not to say that homosexuality is “worse” than rape (Rape is more serious). The classification is intended to show how it is wrong. The “natural sins” use the sexual act in the way it was physically designed but not for the purpose it was designed for. But a person who misunderstands what we mean by these terms will draw the wrong conclusions and accuse us of saying something we never said.
When a person understands how the Catholic Church understands marriage, it becomes clear that the teaching that says homosexual acts are a sin is not based on the hatred of the people who have such an attraction. It is based on the belief that God designed the sexual act for marriage, and this design precludes everything except the relationship of one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship with the openness to raising children (if possible).
Now it is true that some Christians have done reprehensible things to people with same sex attraction, and we deplore that. But, while I can only speak about my own religion (if you want to hear non-Catholic perspectives, I believe you should speak to someone who is an informed member of that faith),I can point to our teaching that while sexual acts between people of the same gender are morally wrong, the Catholic Church recognizes that this inclination is a trial and that we may not treat such people unjustly. Our Catechism says:
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)
Now, you the reader may not agree with what we hold. But please understand that we do not hold our beliefs out of hatred of the people who do what we call wrong. We believe that acts which are sinful separate us from God and must be avoided if we would show our love for Him (see John 14:15). Since we believe that God made clear, for reasons which are not arbitrary, that marriage exists between one man and one woman (see Matthew 19:4-5). Since we believe this command is from God and is not manmade, we do not believe that we have the right to change this teaching.
I hope this open letter helps explain our concerns.