Catholic Defense of Same Sex Marriage
Daniel C. Maguire
a Catholic Theologian teaching at Marquette University, Milwaukee,
The Catholic Church is beginning to rediscover what it once
knew; that not all persons are heterosexual, that many people
are homosexual and that this is just fine. In the past, the
Church accepted homosexuality more openly and even had liturgies
to celebrate same sex unions.1 There was a
recognition that different sexual orientations are clearly part
of God's plan for creation-some people are heterosexual and
some are homosexual-this is the way God made us and we have
no right to criticize God.
Wherever the human race is found we find persons of differing
sexual orientations. (We find the same thing in God's animal
kingdom.) Human history shows that some humans have same-sex
attractions and unions and others have opposite-sex attractions
and unions. The desire to bond lovingly and sexually with persons
of the same sex or of the opposite sex, is a fact of life, a
fact of God's creation, and we have no right to call it unholy.
As the Acts of the Apostles says in the Bible, we have
no right to declare unclean anything that God has made (Acts
of the Apostles 10:15). To do so, in fact, is a sin.
not all Catholics have heard this message. Prejudice against
homosexual persons is common. Theologians call this the sin
of heterosexism, a sin like racism, anti-Semitism, and
sexism. These are sins that condemn people for being what they
are, not for what these people do. These sins of prejudice are
cruel sins that condemn people no matter how good these people
are. If people are not white or are not male or are not heterosexual,
they are condemned, even if they are saints. This is what racism,
sexism, and heterosexism do. If homosexual persons live out
their reality and enter into beautiful, same-sex relationships
full of love and commitment and fidelity, we condemn them. Even
if their unions are more successful, more lasting, more exemplary
than some heterosexual unions, we still condemn them. Surely
that is unjust.
the Catholic theologian Father Andre Guindon wrote: "Christian
communities should begin to receive homosexuals in their midst
as full-fledged brothers and sisters and as those to whom God
also offers his love."2 Catholic theologian
Mary Hunt asks: "What could possibly be wrong with loving,
mutual, safe, consensual, community-building sexual relationships
between committed male or female partners?"3
same-sex unions really marriage?
All the religions
of the world give marriage a very high place. Marriage
can be defined as the unique and special form of committed friendship
between sexually attracted persons. This definition
does not say that the persons have to be heterosexually
attracted. Persons attracted to a person of their same sex can
still be married. Marriage is a supreme human good involving
exclusive, committed, enduring, generous, and faithful love,
and this kind of love is not something that only heterosexuals
can achieve. (In fact, some heterosexuals are not very good
at it. Theologian Mary Hunt points out that "In fact, heterosexual
marriages end in divorce as often as in death." 4)
Friendship and love and commitment are human virtues and gay
and lesbian persons are human and fully capable of a healthy
human committed love in marriage. We have no moral right to
declare marriage off limits to persons whom God has made gay.
We have no right to say that marriage, with all of its advantages
and beauty, is a reward for being heterosexual.
also points out how unfair it would be to say that heterosexual
Catholics have seven sacraments but homosexual Catholics only
have six if marriage is denied them. Who could imagine God creating
people who are gay and then denying them the right to express
their sincere and honest love in the holy sacrament of matrimony!
of the objections to same-sex unions?
Aquinas always said that it is important to know the objections
to any teaching that you accept. When you face those objections
you can come to know your own position better.
#1 The Bible says all homosexual activity is evil and sinful.
all, this is true. There are objections to same-sex unions in
the Bible. However, many things in the Bible simply describe
how people lived when the Bible was written. Not everything
that the Bible tells us is something we could or should do today.
For example, the Bible (Leviticus 25:44-46) tells us that we
may buy and own slaves and "use them permanently"
and will them to our children when we die! In the past, people
who did not know how to interpret the Bible used these texts
to justify slavery in Latin America and in North America. They
did not know that sometimes the Bible is telling you what
people used to do, not what people should do today.
Sometimes the Bible gives you a lot of bad examples of how terrible
people can be. The Bible treated slavery as a fact of life and
talks about "a man who sells his daughter into slavery"(Exodus
21:7). Surely we would not want to do that today!
also forbids eating shell fish (Leviticus 11:9-10) but we do
not feel we should obey that today.
The Bible also says that wives should obey their husbands as
if their husbands were God (Ephesians 5:22-24) and that wives
should be "subjects to their husbands in everything."
This made women slaves to their husbands and for along time
people justified male control of women by using these Bible
texts. The Church then learned that these texts described
the way life was lived at that time but did not prescribe
that we should live that way. They found better ideals in the
same Bible and used them to correct these texts. Thus interpreters
of the Bible went to Galatians 3:28 and there found the liberating
ideal that "all persons [male and female]are one person
in Christ Jesus," and that therefore no hostile divisions
should be made between male and female, with neither one dominating
When we come
to the biblical texts on homosexuality we see right away that
we could never treat them as rules for our day. The book of
Leviticus says that anyone who has sex with someone of the same
sex "shall be put to death: their blood shall be on their
own heads"(20:13). St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans
condemns homosexual relationships and lists persons who do such
things among those who "deserve to die" (1:26-32).
Church today condemns capital punishment and even conservative
Catholics and other Christians who condemn all homosexual relationships
do not call for the death penalty for gays and lesbians.
there are many moral questions that are not answered in the
Bible. Homosexuality is one of them. What Catholic and other
Christian and Jewish scholars do is to take the main principles
of justice, compassion, respect and love for persons as God
created (both heterosexuals and homosexuals are created in God's
image) and apply these principles to today's moral issues such
as homosexuality and same-sex marriage. That is why Catholic
and other Christian and Jewish theologians defend same sex marriages
today. They say that denying all homosexual persons the expression
of their sexuality is unjust and sinful.
Do all Catholics
and other Christians agree on same-sex marriage? No. Just as
some Christians see all war as immoral and become pacifists,
some others say there can be a "just war." Christians,
including Catholics, have learned to live with these differences
and to respect one another and live together anyhow. Catholics
are now beginning to practice the same tolerance regarding homosexuality.
#2: The Catholic hierarchy condemns all homosexual sex.
That is true.
When Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was head of
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he issued a teaching
that said: "Respect for homosexual persons cannot lead
in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition
of homosexual unions."5 Undoubtedly that
is still the position of the pope. The question is how Catholics
should evaluate the pope's position.
consists of more than the pope and the bishops. In Catholicism
there are three sources of truth, (or three "magisteria"):
the hierarchy, the theologians,
and the wisdom and experience of the laity (called
in Latin sensus fidelium). In Catholic history, each
of these sources of truth has at times been right and each of
them has at times been wrong. So, for example, for many centuries
the bishops, popes, and theologians taught that it was a mortal
sin to take any interest on a loan, even one half of one percent
interest. After a while, the laity, through their own experience
with lending money, decided that a little interest was reasonable
and fair to compensate the lender. Too much interest was wrong
but a little interest as payment for the use of your money was
reasonable and moral. In other words, the laity disagreed with
the hierarchy and the theologians, and the laity was right.
A hundred years after the laity made a decision on interest
and acted on it, some theologians said they agreed; a hundred
years later, the Vatican also decided that the laity was right.
The Vatican even went on to open a bank and charge interest.
times in history, the hierarchy and theologians taught that
slavery was moral and that anti-Semitism was not a sin. Obviously
they were wrong and they eventually were corrected.
like that is now going on regarding homosexuality. Many Catholic
theologians agree now with Protestant and Jewish theologians
that same sex unions can be moral, healthy, and holy.6
Many Catholic people are living in same sex unions and adopting
children and still practicing their Catholic faith. Many priests
realize this and welcome these couples to Communion at Mass
and even have private liturgical celebrations of their unions.
Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Virginia even wrote a welcoming
introduction to a book of essays by various Catholic theologians,
some of whom defended the right of sacramental marriage for
same sex couples.7
then, Catholic teaching is in transition on this subject and
Catholics are free to let their consciences decide either for
or against same sex marriages. Both views-for or against homosexual
marriage-are at home in the Catholic world and neither one of
them can be called more orthodox or more official or more Catholic
than the other.
Is the pope
then wrong? I would join many other Catholic theologians in
saying that he is definitely wrong and he will be corrected
some day by one of his successors and by the rest of the church
as previous popes who permitted slavery etc. were corrected.
This is the way of the Church. After all, Pope Benedict also
teaches that a spouse whose partner is HIV positive is still
not permitted to use a condom for protection. This is obviously
wrong and some bishops have even come out and said so. Almost
all Catholic theologians say the pope is wrong on that point.
a clear distinction to be made between "Vatican theology"
and "Catholic theology." As in the above example,
Vatican theology says a spouse cannot use condoms for protection
from an HIV positive partner! Catholic theology, including the
theologians and the sensus fidelium, the wisdom of the
laity, does not hold that strange and damaging view.
In an old
Catholic teaching called Probabilism we find the answer for
Catholics. When there is a debate on a moral issue (in this
case same sex unions), where there are good reasons and good
authorities on both sides of the debate, Catholics are free
to make up their own minds.8
This means that Catholic same-sex couples are perfectly free
to practice their Catholic faith, receive the sacraments, and
never feel that God forbids their union-or that their faithful,
sexual union is anything but holy.
that homosexual people are condemned to involuntary celibacy
for life is as cruel as it is absurd. Jesus said of celibacy:
"Let those accept it who can" (Matthew 19:12). Voluntary
celibacy for a good cause is something some can do but it is
seen as a special talent, a special gift that not all have.
The Vatican council called it "a precious gift of divine
grace which the Father gives to some persons," but not
to all.9 Abstaining from all sexual activity
is seen by the Council as something "unique."10
You can not demand from all homosexual people that which is
recognizes the same thing when he says "it is better to
marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians 7:12). What kind of
gospel "good news" would it be to tell all gay persons
that their only choice is to burn?
# 3: Homosexuality is a mental illness.
in the past did think homosexuality was an illness. That is
no longer the case and it is an insult to homosexual people
to keep repeating that old and outmoded theory. Studies of gay
couples indicate that they tend "to appear as well adjusted
as heterosexuals, or occasionally, even more so."11
# 4: Children will be damaged unless they grow up in a home
with a mother and a father.
This is not
true. Psychologist Charlotte Patterson, among many others, has
done extensive research on children of lesbian and gay parents.
Her conclusion is that this does not present problems and does
not lead to any higher rates of homosexual children.12
Theologian Mary Hunt writes: "Many lesbian and gay families
have adopted children, welcoming them with love and affection,
reasoning that a child's life with one parent or two parents
of the same sex is far better than languishing in an institution
or, worse, dying from neglect."13
#5: Homosexuality is unnatural because it is never found in
This is untrue.
In his extensive study, Biological Exuberance: Animal
Homosexuality and National Diversity, biologist Bruce
Bagemihl shows that homosexuality is part of our evolutionary
heritage as primates. He reports that more than 450 species
regularly engage in a wide range of same-sex activities ranging
from copulation to long-term bonding.14
is not a sin. Heterosexism (prejudice against people who are
homosexual) is a sin. It is a serious sin because it violates
justice, truth, and love. It also distorts the true meaning
of sex and thus also harms everyone, including heterosexuals.
you do with your homosexuality or your heterosexuality that
determines morality. Homosexuality like heterosexuality is morally
neutral. As Catholic philosophers Daniel Dombrowski and Robert
Deltete from the Jesuit Seattle University say "homosexual
sexual relations [like heterosexual sexual relations] can be
moral or they can be immoral."15 Moral
theologian Christina Traina says that "the ultimate fruitfulness
and durability of any union-heterosexual or homosexual-have
everything to do with faith, friendship, generosity, community
support, sexual and verbal affection and the hard work that
goes into mutual formation of a working partnership."16
is a gift to be cherished. We have no right to deny it to those
whom God has made gay. As theologian Kelly Brown Douglas says,
we have to create "a church and community where non-heterosexual
persons are able to love themselves and those whom they choose
to love without social, political or ecclesiastical penalty"
so that they may enjoy life and enjoy sex with gratitude that
life is so full of goodness and enriching variety.17