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In spite of vocal opposition, the Church continues, to defend the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman against those who demand recognition of same-sex relationships as “marriages.” The word marriage has a sacred and a secular meaning. For Christians, marriage is a sign of God’s love for his Church, the great mystery, a covenant relationship that is designed to faithful, permanent, and fruitful. For a Christian, marriage between a man and a woman should reflect that reality, and also be faithful, permanent, and open to new life. In the secular realm, marriage also requires fidelity, the commingling of assets, special rights of spouses, and the recognition of children conceived by the wife as children of the husband.
A true marriage has two requirements: consent and consummation. The man and woman must promise freely to be faithful to one another, to remain so until death, and to welcome children. But consent is not enough; consent must be sealed by consummation. Together the married couple must engage in that one act that is by divine biological design possible only between a man and a woman. Without that act, there is no marriage.
Two persons of the same sex may promise fidelity until death and engage in other acts, but they cannot consummate their union. Nor are they are capable through an act of love and mutual self-giving able to conceive a child who is the offspring of both the husband and wife.
Any child acquired by a same-sex couple has a biological father and/or mother somewhere from whom the child has been separated. Separation from one’s biological father and/or mother is felt by the child as a profound loss. When it occurs by death, divorce, desertion, artificial insemination donor, or surrender for adoption, adults should do the best they can to create a situation for the child that is as normal as possible, that is a family with a substitute father and mother. Tragedies happen, but no one should purposefully make a tragedy. No child who has already suffered one profound loss should be placed in a second-class situation, and a family with no father or no mother is by definition lacking an essential element.
We can see the confusion caused by pretending that the partner in a same-sex relationship is the parent of a child conceived in that relationship can cause in the case of Lisa Miller; Miller had a child while in a same-sex relationship in Vermont, became a Christian, renounced the relationship, and moved to Virginia. The child, who is now eight, has been the subject of continuous litigation. Recently a court in Vermont awarded custody of the child to Lisa Miller’s ex-partner, who has no biological relationship to the child. To avoid turning the child over, Miller and the child have gone into hiding.
While those pushing the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples argue that same-sex relationships are no different than man/woman marriages, new research has found that many same-sex couples do not pledge or intend to be sexually exclusive. Rather from the beginning, many same-sex couples expect to have an “open” relationship, one in which they are free to engage in sexual relations with persons other than their legal partner. Several studies also show that same-sex couples are more likely to divorce.
Those promoting the redefinition of marriage argue that many man/woman couples are unfaithful, divorce, and are not open to children, so what is the difference? And in this, they have a point. It is all too true that many married couples fail to live up to their vows. If male/female couples treat marriage with such disdain, why should same-sex couples not be allowed to write their own definition of marriage?
Because two wrongs do not make a right. What is needed is a revitalization of marriage both as a sacrament and as secular duty. It is important to recognize the damage done to children by divorce, desertion, conception outside marriage, and artificial insemination donor. Children have a right to be conceived in love between a married husband and wife who are committed to each other and to the child for life. Children should not be sacrificed to satisfy the transitory emotional urges of adults.
The winds of public opinion will not change the Church’s position on this.
Dale O’Leary is the author of “One Man, One Woman.”