Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.
With several states now having legalized same-sex marriage, we are faced by a constant stream of propaganda designed to persuade us that this revolutionary change in our ethical and social norms, and in the whole legally recognized nature of family life, is both morally imperative and historically inevitable.
Perhaps the most effective rhetorical weapon currently being wielded in this campaign is an appeal to a supposed precedent, namely, the legalization of interracial marriage in the earlier civil rights struggle. Indeed, we are being bombarded with propaganda to the effect that opposition to “gay marriage” is a form of outrageous “bigotry”, just like racism. In a decision several years ago that prompted last year’s ‘Proposition 8’ referendum, the California Supreme Court reasoned that just as that State’s prohibition of black-white marriage was ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional back in 1948, so now its existing prohibition of same-sex marriage should be overturned for the same reason.
However, there is a huge and glaring logical fallacy in this reasoning. The parallel with interracial marriage is patently false, because both before and after the 1948 decision, the State’s definition of what marriage is remained exactly the same as it had always been for millennia in Western civilization: the union of one man and one woman. The difference was simply that now, certain man/woman couples who had previously been barred access to that unchanging institution were now admitted to it. In the same way, African-Americans were then being gradually admitted to schools, buses, etc., from which they were previously excluded, while those schools and buses themselves remained the same things they were before.
But with same-sex “marriage”, the institution bearing that title no longer remains the same thing it was before! Activist judges and leftist legislators have changed the very definition of marriage from “the union of a man and a woman” to “the union of one person and another person” (or, to use the delicately romantic phraseology chosen for Iowa’s new marriage certificates, “Partner A” and “Partner B”). Now, in order for a given law to constitute unjust discrimination, it has to be excluding people unreasonably from something for which they are in reality qualified. Hence, to show that laws disallowing same sex “marriage” constitute unjust discrimination, judges and legislators first need to prove that marriage is in reality (that is, independently of what the existing law says) something for which any two persons, regardless of gender, are qualified. But since in fact no religion, no culture, and no legislation anywhere on earth before the year 2000 ever even hinted that this was the case, these civil authorities have been unable to provide any such proof. To satisfy militant homosexual demands, therefore, they have therefore simply assumed what they needed to prove – a gigantic begging of the vital question! This capricious activism is not only absurd. It is also morally pernicious, not least because it logically opens the door for still further redefinitions of marriage, potentially expanding that word into a ‘big tent’ covering polygamy, incest, avowedly temporary unions and even bestiality. This would water down the very notion of “marriage” into something virtually meaningless.
Same-sex “marriage” is not something merely bad or undesirable, as racists considered black/white marriage to be. Rather, it is something impossible – a contradiction in terms. Homosexual couples can no more complain of “discrimination” and “inequality” in being denied admission to marriage than a violinist can complain of “discrimination” and “inequality” if he is denied admission to a brass band.
Fr. Harrison is scholar-in-residence at the Oblates of Wisdom Study Center, attached to St. Mary of Victories Church in downtown St. Louis.
(This article was published in the Saint Louis Review, July 24, 2009, p. 12.)