Marriage & Same-Sex Attraction (4)
The Gift of Children
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1. WHY DOES THE CHURCH EMPHASISE CHILDREN IN RELATION TO MARRIAGE?
Children are at the very heart of marriage. The supreme gift of marriage, a child, comes precisely through the mutual, loving self-gift exchanged between husband and wife [GS 50]. It is only because of their sexual difference that spouses are able to cooperate with God in the awesome adventure of procreating a new life and welcoming a child into the world. Marriage is not just about satisfying adult desires, but is fundamentally a pro-child institution.
2. IF A CENTRAL PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE IS PROCREATION, WHAT ABOUT INFERTILE COUPLES?
Human beings have evolved such that, through male-female sexual intercourse, children may be conceived, enabling the propagation of the species. Marriage, as a social and religious institution, seeks to protect the couple relationship and nurture the development of the child. The fact that some married couples do not have children either because of infertility or personal decision does not determine the purpose of marriage. Nor does the fact that many men and women have sex outside of marriage invalidate the social and religious importance of marriage. The inherent biological fact remains that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in one or more children.
3. HAVEN’T THE PURPOSES OF MARRIAGE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
In addition to the sacred and sacramental aspects of marriage as understood by the Catholic Church, marriage historically has been a complex institution containing at least five dimensions:
- Natural: Marriage as ’pre-political’, a primary cell of society
- Religious: Marriage as sacred
- Economic: Marriage being about ’household’, property and wealth creation
- Social: Marriage being about inheritance, stability and permanence
- Legal: Marriage being about protection of spouses and children.
The role of marriage in providing a socially sanctioned framework for the procreation, nurturing and education of children, has not changed over the centuries. Changes within the other dimensions have been changes within the structure of marriage. These have been developments to enhance, not to redefine marriage. Even though marriage has evolved over the years, it has always been in continuity with its essential nature as a child-focussed institution.
4. DOES THE CHURCH THINK THAT THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE IS ONLY FOR HAVING CHILDREN?
Certainly not. The Church teaches that sexual love has two meanings or purposes – the unitive and the procreative. In other words, the bonding and mutual care that spouses give each other is as important as the procreation, nurturing and education of children. The spouses should never use each other in order to have a child, and marriages not blessed with children can be fruitful through other expressions of loving service to others. A child is neither a product nor a trophy, but a gift – a human person with great dignity and worth. Spouses are not the ultimate source of their children, but are called to receive them lovingly from God by exercising responsible parenthood (which can mean welcoming children as well as postponing pregnancy for important reasons).
5. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HUSBAND AND WIFE WHO CAN’T HAVE CHILDREN, AND TWO PERSONS OF THE SAME SEX, WHO CAN’T HAVE CHILDREN?
Only a man and a woman, as husband and wife, can enter into the two-in-one-flesh communion of persons first described in the Bible in Genesis 2:24. Only a man and a woman are able to conceive a child through each other. Even when a husband and wife do not in fact conceive a child (due to infertility or age, for example), their sexual acts are still the kind of acts by which children are naturally conceived. In contrast, two persons of the same sex may be perfectly healthy, but will never be able to enter a one-flesh communion and thus unite in such a way that a child is conceived.
6. WHY CANNOT ’TWO MOTHERS’ OR ’TWO FATHERS’ BE EQUIVALENT TO A ’MOTHER AND FATHER’?
The fact is that every child, without exception, does have a mother and a father. Sexual difference between a man and woman is necessary to conceive a child. But its importance does not end there. Men and women bring unique gifts to the shared task of parenting, that is, of fathering and mothering. Only a woman can be a mother. Only a man can be a father. Each contributes in a distinct and unique way to the formation of children, helping them to understand their identity as male or female. Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need for – and right to – a mother and a father.
The recent recognition of the tragedy of “stolen generations”, aboriginal children removed from their natural parents and babies of single mothers forcibly adopted shows the importance of natural parents in the lives of children. Recent moves to allow children of IVF procedures to find their sperm donor ’father’ further highlight the yearning of children to know their parents. Children in same-sex families, whether adopted or conceived through a donor parent, despite all good intentions, could become another stolen generation.
Research findings strongly indicate that children from intact heterosexual families are significantly better off across a range of psychological and social criteria than children reared in single parent or same sex households.
7. WHAT ABOUT SINGLE PARENTS? THESE FAMILIES LACK A FATHER OR A MOTHER, JUST LIKE HOUSEHOLDS HEADED BY TWO MEN OR TWO WOMEN.
A child is meant to be raised by his or her own, married father and mother. But there are times when, due to family tragedies, this ideal cannot be realized. The Church acknowledges the difficulties faced by single parents and seeks to support them in their often heroic response to meet the needs of their children. There is a big difference, however, between dealing with the unintended reality of single parenthood and approving the formation of alternative families that deliberately deprive a child of a father or a mother, such as arrangements headed by two men or two women. Undesired single parenthood still witnesses to the importance of gendered parenting by acknowledging the challenges faced by single parents and their children due to the lack of a father or mother. In contrast, arrangements of two men or two women present motherhood and fatherhood as disposable. Children deserve to have their need for a father and a mother respected and protected in law.
8. AREN’T CHILDREN ADAPTABLE TO MANY DIFFERENT FAMILY FORMS?
Children can be strong and resilient. However, no one believes that they are unaffected by their family’s structure. Diverse studies have demonstrated that children suffer from divorce and from the absence of a father or a mother. The push for new family arrangements overlooks or denies the child’s fundamental need for both a mother and a father. Mums and dads matter, and the needs of children must not take a backseat to the satisfaction of adult desires.
9. DON’T STUDIES SHOW THAT CHILDREN DO FINE WITH TWO MOTHERS OR TWO FATHERS?
The authoritative study by Regnerus [Regnerus 2012]strongly indicates that children from intact heterosexual families are significantly better off across a range of psychological and social criteria than children reared in same sex households.
Many other studies that look at children raised by two men or two women suffer from various flaws, for example, small sample sizes, or they view traits such as flexible gender identity of the children as positive.
Research on child development shows unequivocally that a child benefits from having both a mother and father:
- During childhood, the mother is crucial.
- During childhood, the mother is crucial.
- During adolescence, the father is crucial.
- Coming out of childhood the task is twofold: separation and formation of identity.
The father is critical for both of these psychological and cultural challenges. The father helps the girl separate from her mother (the girl’s greatest challenge). The father helps the boy develop his masculine identity (the boy’s greatest challenge). Large amounts of research in the last thirty years have shown that the origins of male same-sex attraction are due to a break down in the task of masculine identity formation due to poor fathering. (Female same-sex attraction has other origins.)
At the end of the day, society should not ignore the needs of children for appropriate mothering and fathering.
10. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH ADOPTION BY SAME-SEX COUPLES?
Adoption is a generous response to a child who is in need or abandoned. Mothers and fathers who adopt children witness to the truth that every child is a gift. However, keep in mind that adoption, guardianship, and foster care take their form from natural generation (a father and a mother conceiving, giving birth to, and raising a child) and should never contradict the natural reality of marriage. In other words, fathers and mothers matter to adopted kids, too. Placing a child in the care of two men or two women may be well-intentioned, but ultimately deprives the child of that which best serves his or her interests – a mother and a father.
11. NEW TECHNOLOGY LIKE IN VITRO FERTILIZATION (IVF) CAN ENABLE TWO MEN OR TWO WOMEN TO HAVE A CHILD. WHY DOES THE CHURCH TEACH THAT THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE?
No matter how powerful reproductive technology becomes, the fact will always remain that two men or two women can never become parents through each other. They will always depend on the donation of someone else’s sperm or egg in order to bring about the birth of a child. Children conceived in this way are thus always and intentionally separated from either their father or their mother – sometimes even both. Furthermore, using technologies such as IVF means that conception does not take place within the loving embrace of husband and wife, but instead is an artificial act of production, a brilliant but technological putting together of the parents’ genetic material. No child should be treated as a product. A child deserves to be created through an act of love, the fruit of his or her parents’ mutual, loving self-gift.
List of Abbreviations
CA – Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991)
CCC – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (2000)
CDF 1986 – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual persons (1986)
CDF 1992 – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons (1992)
CV – Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009)
CSDC – Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004)
DH – Second Vatican Council, Declaration Dignitatis Humanae (1965)
FC – Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1982)
GS – Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965)
LF – Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)
LL – USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)
PP – Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967)
RN – Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891)
TOB – Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006). Other English versions are available online at EWTN’s website and at the Vatican website.
The official (Magisterial) teaching of the Catholic Church on Homosexuality and Marriage is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) , and in three documents of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sacrament of Matrimony
Download from link: CCC – The Sacrament of Matrimony
Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sixth Commandment (Especially Paragraphs 2357-2359)
Download from link: CCC – The Sixth Commandment
Declaration on Certain Questions of Sexual Ethics: (CDF, 1975)
Download from link: Declaration on Sexual Ethics
Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person (CDF, 1986):
Download from link: Pastoral Care of Homosexual persons
Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (CDF, 2003)
Download from link: Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions
In May 2015, the Catholic Bishops of Australia issued a Pastoral Letter “to all Australians” on the ‘Same-sex Marriage’ Debate, entitled “Don’t mess with Marriage”. This summarises why the Catholic Church opposes moves to broaden the legal definition of marriage to include ‘same-sex’ relationships.
A Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Australia to all Australians on the ‘Same-sex Marriage’ Debate
Download from link: ‘Same-sex’ Marriage Pastoral Letter
The following submissions by the Catholic Church in Australia to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 also elaborate on Catholic Church teaching on marriage and same-sex attraction.
Submission 113: His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC, Archbishop of Sydney
Download from link: (PDF 4791KB)
Submission 5: Opening Statement tabled by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at public hearing on Thursday 3 May 2012
Download from link: (PDF 1073KB)
Submission 234: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
>Download from link: (PDF 113KB)
Catholic Teaching on Marriage is summarised in the following “Frequently Asked Questions” Booklet.
Marriage in the Catholic Church: Frequently Asked Questions Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life, 2006.
Download from link: Marriage in the Catholic Church
Other Non Catholic Church References
Regnerus, Mark: How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study. Social Science Research 41 (2012) 752–770.