The Nuts and Bolts of Marriage
President Obama recently announced his support for same-sex marriage during an interview with ABC reporter Robin Roberts. He joins fellow Democrats Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and others favoring the legal union of two men or two women. He says his belief evolved after meeting many same-sex couples and seeing the love they shared between themselves and their adopted children. For us Catholics, this is one of the non-negotiables, putting us in complete opposition without compromise.
Many well-meaning people, including some Catholics, wonder what the big deal is. If two homosexuals love each other, why not allow them to marry? We may not be comfortable with the thought, but why should we care what they do? Is it not their own business? What right to do we have to deny them happiness?
It helps to understand that Catholic teaching is based on natural law, the laws of nature as created by God. Without getting into a deep philosophical discussion, simply stated, all humans, animals, objects, and all creation possess nature.
I do not pretend to have a firm grasp of philosophy beyond a one semester course I took in college some forty years ago, but an Internet search has led me to a lecture from International Catholic University that sheds some light. One commonly used example of nature is that of the chair. The casual model used to explain nature identifies four causes, they being matter, form, agent and end. In the case of a chair, the matter is the material from which it is made, such as oak. The form is the shape or design. Matter and form and called internal causes. The agent is the craftsman who made it, and the end is the objective or purpose the craftsman had in mind when he made it. These are the external causes. Once made, the chair retains a relationship to its maker. These four factors make up its natural chairness, so to speak.
It is possible to violate the nature of the chair. One might be able to cut off the back and make it into a table. Doing so would alter the form and the end as determined by the agent. Only the matter retains its originality, and it is no longer a chair as intended by the agent. This might not be a problem as long as the agent has relinquished any custody of his product.
Let us look at another example. Think of a nut and bolt. They have matter, form, agent and end. The agent designed the nut and bolt to be complementary. When coupled together, they form a bond holding two objects together. Taking away the nut and replacing it with another bolt violates the end or purpose. It is no longer effective for its intended purpose. Similarly, removing the bolt and adding another nut is also fruitless. When either the nut or bolt is absent, the possibility of a bond no longer exists.
God, the agent of all humanity, in His infinite wisdom, designed human beings as male and female sexes. They are meant to be complementary. Absent either one, the possibility of a sexual bond no longer exists. Substituting another male for the female, or vice versa, does not restore the end. Attempting to do so violates the natural design. Adding children to the arrangement by artificial means or adoption is a further violation of the nature.
Governmental officials occasionally think they can legislate the laws of nature. In 1897, the Indiana General Assembly considered passing a law that would have effectively changed the mathematical value of pi. The bill nearly passed until the senate came to realize they lacked the power to define mathematical truth.
Marriage derives from a biological truth, and more precisely, an anatomical truth by God’s design, not civil law. Genesis 2:24 says, a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Two men or two women cannot become one flesh. It is not anatomically possible.
God retains custody over all creation and especially our human nature and the Church acts as God’s custodian on earth. We must acknowledge that Jesus is God, and He established His Church with the authority to bind and loose. (Matt 16:18-19, 18:18) He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to all truth. (John 16:13, 1 Tim 3:15) The Church has the responsibility to uphold the natural law, including the external causes. She will not capitulate. She can’t.
Matt 18:15-17 says, if your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
President Obama is not likely to listen to the church, but supposed Catholics like Biden and Pelosi certainly should. Even many of our Protestant brothers and sisters at least understand and uphold the natural law. The complementary nature of male and female, not only anatomically speaking, but also in their respective child-rearing roles, cannot be discarded as irrelevant, even to those who have little concern for God or Church. The moral underpinning of the traditional family cannot be trifled.
There are those who will say all of this is just a convoluted argument to justify our bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must all have deep compassion for those who experience same-sex attraction for whatever reason. We must pray for them as we would pray for the grace to overcome any other temptation. Yet, we must stand firm in our support of true marriage by God’s design.