“The Marriage Ideal”

August 9, 2010

An editorial entitled “The Marriage Ideal” appeared in the New York Times today (link here), defending the principles behind the overturning of California’s proposition 8.  The author, Ross Douthat, lists several common arguments against gay marriage (heterosexual marriage is “an ancient institution,” “natural,” “universal,” “time-tested”), and then states flatly that they are “wrong,” using arguments from comparative culture and evolutionary biology to support his assertion.  He then recognizes that what is at stake in this debate is the Judaeo-Christian view of monogamy: it is by no means the universal view, he tells us, but it has been the Western standard.  Until now, that is.  As he remarks: “Lately, it has come to co-exist with a less idealistic, more accommodating approach, defined by no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy.”  He concludes that, although it requires “giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization,” American society is incapable of “even entertaining the idea” of honoring and preserving the Western ideal of marriage.

The Catholic response to this is unambiguous.  (If at this point you object, “But I’m not Catholic,” read the last four paragraphs of this post.)  Douthat’s argument is wrong from the start.  The “Western ideal” is, in fact, a “natural,” “universal” and “ancient institution.”  It was instituted by God Himself when man was created.  The Roman Catechism quotes the words of Genesis: “God created them male and female, and blessed them, saying, Increase and multiply.”  And: “… a man … shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh” (Gen. i. 27-28, ii. 24).  The Catechism concludes, “These words, according to the authority of Our Lord Himself, as we read in St. Matthew (xix. 6), prove the divine institution of Matrimony” (TAN Books edition, p. 367).  The Catechism further teaches that in instituting marriage, God made it perpetual and indissoluble.

This confirms what could already be perceived, namely that Douthat’s arguments against marriage are completely groundless.  They consist essentially of two principles: 1. Many cultures do not observe strict monogamy; 2. Strict monogamy is not in accord with biological instincts.  Neither of these premises is grounds for abolishing the institution of marriage.  1.  The fact that many cultures do not observe strict monogamy is due to the negative influence on the conscience of original and actual sin, leading people either to disobey or become blind to the natural law.  It therefore does not follow that strict monogamy is not a natural law (as in fact it is).  2. What are the grounds for establishing a new morality based on “biological instincts”?  Douthat’s implication that this is how the majority of Americans define the term “natural” is the exact opposite of the truth: it is in fact only Douthat and his colleagues in the media, along with liberal academics and upper-middle-class elitists (and perhaps a few members of the judiciary branch), who think that “natural” means “congruent with our biological instincts.”  But even if all America agreed with that definition, it would still not be a logical basis for a system of morality.

“So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.”

This is an exceptionally clear example of moral relativism, even for the New York Times.  Marriage is not “universal,” we are told: it’s only one view, a particular view, based on a particular tradition.  It obviously can’t be imposed on everyone.  The problem is that Douthat is using “universal” to mean “universally accepted.”  The institution of marriage is obviously not “universal” in this sense, for the reason noted above – but it is “universal” in the sense that its responsibilities and prohibitions are binding on all who marry.

Much of the rest of the column does not call for detailed comment.  Douthat describes marriage (i.e. real marriage) from a utilitarian standpoint rather than one of objective morality (which is not surprising, but not relevant to the discussion).  He repeats his argument from cultural relativity, and observes that the institution of marriage is already seriously crippled in America: divorce, re-marriage (i.e., adultery), fornication (he doesn’t use that word).  Again, his arguments are purely utilitarian – not to mention shamefully deterministic (“Since this is the way things are now, there’s no point in trying to turn back”).

Douthat concludes with the following statement: “I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea” – that is, the idea that there should be a difference acknowledged between hetero- and homosexual marriages.  Passing over Douthat’s thinly veiled attempt to make his own clique’s narrow ideology a sort of populist test of patriotism, we will consider, not the idea of acknowledging a difference, but whether gay marriage can be declared a “fundamental right” or even a right of any kind.

As the Catholic writer Michael Davies notes, “The Oxford Companion to Law informs us that the term right is ‘a much ill-used and over used word’ … The Random House College Dictionary defines it as ‘a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive or moral.’  The word just is of the greatest importance, for where a claim is not just there can be no right to make it” (The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, Neumann Press, 16).

The question then becomes, is the demand for legal recognition of gay marriage just?  The answer is clearly no.  To quote Davies again, Catholic teaching is that “no man can lay claim justly to anything that is contrary to the eternal or natural law of God” (ibid).  Gay marriage is clearly contrary to the eternal or natural law of God: 1) it is a perversion of God’s institution of marriage, because it replaces the good and fruitful union of a man and a woman with the fruitless and, yes, “unnatural” union of two persons of the same sex; 2) it legitimizes the act of sodomy, which in Catholic morals is not only a mortal sin, as is adultery between a man and a woman, but also one of four sins that “cry to heaven for vengeance.”  The other three are willful murder, defrauding workers of their wages, and oppressing the poor.

The obvious objection to all this is, “What if I’m not a Catholic?  You have no right to impose your beliefs on me or on others.  This is a free country.”  Although this objection is extremely common, it is nonetheless completely illogical.  Either the Catholic religion is true – it is the way things actually are, regardless of whether we like it or not – or it is not true.  If it is true, every person who will ever live has the moral obligation to follow its teachings.  (A Catholic government does not force non-Catholics to follow its teachings, but neither does it allow them to give their errors the force of law.)  If, on the other hand, the Catholic religion is not true, then dismiss the Catholic (“Judaeo-Christian”) morality entirely and tell us what is actually true.

It is impossible to remain neutral on this subject.  An opponent of gay marriage is dogmatically taking the side of natural morality, but a defender of gay marriage is equally dogmatically taking the side of moral relativism.  Gay marriage either is, or is not, an offense against God and man.  If it is, it cannot be given the sanction of law.  If it is not, there are no grounds to prevent legal protection being given to something some people consider very important.

Nor is it a valid argument to point out the obvious facts that we do not live in a Catholic state, and that civil marriage, even for heterosexuals, falls far short of the Catholic law.  The issue is one of principle, which allows of no compromise whatsoever: The government does not have the power to declare lawful that which is contrary to the law of God.  The abortion laws of this country, for example, are in fact not laws at all, but “acts of violence” (St. Thomas Aquinas), because they are contrary to God’s law, to which all valid human law must conform.

Now, this obviously raises the question of how this can be enforced in the context of the American Constitution, which is based on the erroneous liberal premises of the “Enlightenment.”  Justice Walker writes in his decision overturning Proposition 8: “A state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature.  The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose.”  The short response to this is that Justice Walker is wrong, but I will need another post to show why.


One Response to ““The Marriage Ideal””

  1. M. Heerschap Says:

    See the Declaration of Independence. . . America’s founding document upon which the American Constitution is based. It speaks of “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”, indicating our country was founded on Christian principles. The Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution by 11 years and therefore has precedence.

    Refer to book titled: “Look What Happened While You Were Sleeping”. Indeed this is contrary to God’s law!

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