Same-Sex Marriage

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Gay Catholic Voice Ireland (GCVI) submission to the Convention on the Constitution

Same-Sex Marriage

13/14 April, 2013

Introduction

Sex between men and women can result in the transmission of new life and thus ensures the

continuation of the species. Homosexual union cannot claim this purpose. For this reason, it has

been treated as evil, unnatural, irrational, degenerate, criminal, and as flowing from some defect in

genetics, or in psychological/personal development.

Courageous science and research, as well as the dawning of gay consciousness across the globe,

mean that, for an ever wider number of the world’s population, homosexual relationships and

homosexual sex are now seen as falling within the ‘normal’ range of human sexuality.

We stand on a threshold. In most jurisdictions in ‘the West’ homosexual sex is no longer a criminal

offense. Now, we face the choice of whether to accord equal dignity and respect to homosexual love

as we do to heterosexual love. In many countries, and on many continents, the issue of gay civil

partnerships and gay civil marriage is now on the agenda. In the face of this, the rear guard antigay-

marriage stance is also ever more forcefully advanced, both in argument and in political action.

Our point of departure is something rooted in our experience – for some of us, it is the shock of our

gayness. Unlike straight people, we do not live in a world which is structured around our sexual

orientation. For straight people, everything around them says they are straight. By contrast, even

when we have come out, we continually face moments in which we confront the risk of prejudice

and even hate. We must speak who we are; we have to ask for the social space to be ourselves.

In the past, gay people have suffered long in silence, and drunk deeply from the cup of rejection that

our heterosexually structured society placed at our lips from adolescence onwards, and for some

from even earlier. Every ten, or twelve, or fourteen year old, gay girl or boy, experiences this

rejection in all its freshness when they realize they fall short of the accepted norm.

We contend that gay marriage is about more than just tax bands and pension rights. It is about the

recognition of the value of gay love and about support for this love. Most profoundly, it is about

visibility and normality. During every gay marriage ceremony, two gay people will kiss each other

in public, in front of family and friends. They will exchange the rings, cut the cake, and celebrate

their love as of central value in their lives and the lives of their community - no longer marginal,

suspect, degenerate, but visible, central, and generative.

We write as a group of gay men who are also Catholics. We believe that Christianity and

Catholicism provide powerful arguments in favour of gay marriage. These resources remain buried,

however, unless one starts from the conviction that gay love is good love. As Catholics, we stand in

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disagreement with our Church’s teaching on homosexuality, but we do so on the basis of common

ground with most heterosexual Catholics, namely our disagreement with Humanae Vitae, the papal

encyclical that ‘disallowed’ artificial contraception for Catholics.

Our argument is that the gay marriage issue is not just a gay issue, but is an issue for all Irish

people. Gay people are your sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents, cousins,

nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, and even spouses; they are your co-workers, friends, neighbours,

and co-citizens. ‘Blithely’ to deprive these people, your relatives and friends, of the right to marry,

says something profound about what kind of society you choose, and also deprives you of the

resource that the full expression of gay love could be for Irish families and communities.

There is also a debate in the gay community itself and not all agree with us. We believe the case that

Christianity and Catholicism are not in essence homophobic, and that marriage is not in essence

patriarchal. We believe that both Christianity and marriage offer rich resources for gay people.

Our touchstone is gay experience. We write from our own hearts as well as our heads. Our plea is

that you, and all of Irish society, will support gay love by affording it the framework of law, custom

and social visibility that is given in and through marriage.

1. The numbers game

What percentage of the population is gay? The answer is not at all straightforward for a number of

reasons.

For a start, what is at issue is not a simple physical characteristic nor (so far, at least) a genetic

imprint nor even, strictly speaking, a pattern of behaviour, but rather merely an ‘orientation’. It is

important to realise that most studies in this area base their findings on questions relating to

experience/practice rather than orientation/desire. There is no reason to assume, however, that the

numbers of people whose homosexual desires are not acted out as sexual experience are so tiny as

to be statistically insignificant.

Secondly, it is a question of degree. Human sexual orientation, so far as we can be sure, seems to

range across a spectrum from an exclusive lifelong heterosexual orientation at one extreme to an

exclusive lifelong homosexual orientation at the other. Some people have great difficulty in

answering their own questions about their orientation, not to mention the questions of social

researchers.

Thirdly, and crucially, is the issue of visibility. It is probable that the question on a Chinese census

form: “Are you a member of the Falun Gong?” would elicit a response unreliable for statistical

purposes. We are unlikely to get a truthful answer to the sociological question “What percentage of

the population is gay?” until such time as the answer to the personal question “Are you gay?”

inspires neither fear nor shame.

Lastly, the question has been, so far, at least as much political as sociological. The results of

opposing surveys have, down through the years, been trumpeted by the rival factions in the debate.

The 10% figure, gleaned from Alfred Kinsey’s surveys in post-war America, has traditionally been

cited by those arguing for gay rights. Research indicating a lower figure (in some cases as low as

1%) is pushed by those antagonistic to gay rights. It is possible that some research has been

coloured by political considerations.

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Surveying the research of the last fifteen years in this area and subject to the caveats above, we feel

a figure of around 5% is more credible than the traditional 10% figure. In the Irish context, this

would translate into 200,000 people - roughly equivalent to the number of Protestants in the

Republic, or, put another way, to the population of Cork City.

2. The Invisible Minority

In a society which was truly comfortable with its gay members, the question "Do you mind me

asking, are you gay?" would be no more outrageous than questions like "Do you mind me asking,

are you married?" "Do you have children?" or "Are your parents still living?" - personal certainly,

slightly intrusive, but in no way taboo.

‘The closet’ is a system which operates in Irish society as a whole, not just within the gay subsection

of it. It is wrong to see it as just some sort of internal barrier in the minds, or in the lives, of

a few isolated individuals. The real ‘closet’ is bigger than this and stands as a wall winding its way

through the whole community.

Same-sex marriage legislation would bring what is half-hidden out into the open. What before was

merely tolerated would now be accepted and approved of. The nation-wide ‘macro-closet’ would

have had the door yanked off it. This is why such legislation poses so big a challenge to those who

are not entirely comfortable with their gay co-citizens. It is also why the benefits of such legislation

would extend far beyond those couples who choose to avail of it.

3. The Happy Couple

For many people marriage is an ideal to be striven for. For some, it is a system of social control to

be rejected. In public discourse, it is all too often held up as a sacred cow, an institution which,

while extremely powerful, is also extremely vulnerable, and one which, in its essentials, should be

regarded as immutable and therefore closed to examination. We question this view and the halfarticulated

fears which underpin it. We believe some of these fears are similar to the ones which gay

people have to confront, in summoning up the courage to come out.

However, discussing marriage on this lofty societal plane can obscure the real social meaning of

marriage to real people in their everyday lives. When people say that, yes, certainly, something must

be done about partnership rights for same-sex couples, something must be done to clear up

anomalies around inheritance and pensions, but that, of course, whatever legislation is required, it

will just be a tidying-up, it won't, clearly, amount to anything like gay marriage... what is it they're

really saying? They're saying: Do you honestly think you're equal? Do you really think your

'relationship' measures up to my marriage? That it actually matters to any of the rest of us? That it

has any real value beyond your own little ghetto?

In down-to-earth language, marriage connects people. Marriage is a public expression, at a very

profound level, of the intimacy between two people. It is a publicly celebrated declaration on the

part of the couple of their investment in each other's future happiness. By their attendance at the

wedding, their relatives and friends participate in this investment. They contribute. They offer an

affirmation and support which may work - perhaps invisibly - to smooth the couple's way through

hardships or crises. And this support can work both ways. Marriages form networks of

relationships. In an unspectacular everyday way they act as a ‘social glue’.

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4. What Makes Marriage Work?

To understand why gay people should be allowed marry; we need to understand marriage properly.

If we think about it narrowly – marriage is for rearing children – then gay marriage might seem

superfluous. Or, if we buy into our ‘Luv’ culture that promises instant happiness, then marriage

might seem secondary to sex and fun. We understand marriage to be founded on loving

communication that respects difference and negotiates conflicts on the basis of equality. This

foundation is also the best context for children to be born in - as mature adults and not just

physically. If this communication is absent then differences are resolved through power-play, and

even the most stereotypically sexually attractive couples fall out of love.

In Irish society, both implicitly and explicitly, we rank different types of relationships in a social

hierarchy. Married couples with children are at the top of the social tree, with the highest status.

Gay people, whether, in relationships or not, with or without children, are at the bottom. We argue

that couples without children, gay couples, and single people whether straight or gay, are equally

but differently capable of showing loving communication that respects difference in their

relationships. They should not be judged as defective or lacking, because they are not the same as

married couples with children. Gay couples are capable of providing as much love for each other,

and in society in general, as married couples. Society loses if committed relationships whether gay

or straight are not supported. Therefore, gay people deserve to be given the option to marry.

Would bringing in gay marriage be a very big change? When compared to some of the major

changes in marriage in Irish society, it seems quite minor – despite its importance for gay people.

Marriage in Ireland has changed, as we have moved from a patriarchal and sexually repressive

society to the present day. Household composition has been changing recently in Ireland. Key

milestones were the change in the legal position of children born outside of marriage, especially in

relation to inheritance, and also the introduction of divorce. Gay marriage is only a modest change,

in comparison to these, because it directly affects only a minority.

5. Can Marriage Work for Gays?

Not all gay people agree that gay marriage will be good for gay people. They argue that marriage is

inherently patriarchal and that those gay people who strive for marriage are just aping the

heterosexual community and abandoning the project of creating new, properly gay, forms of

relationship. This argument is an inversion of the Vatican argument - marriage is good; gays are

bad; gay marriage will corrupt straight marriage. The gay ‘anti-gay marriage’ argument runs;

marriage is bad; gays are good; gay marriage will corrupt gay people.

We disagree with both polar opposites. Marriage, we believe, continues to be popular because of its

enduring value, and not because people are like lemmings that dash over the cliff. On the other

hand, we believe that marriage is not the be all and end all of human relating. To set it in context,

we suggest that three key ingredients interact in human relationships – sex, emotional intimacy, and

commitment. All of us face the challenge to integrate these elements and marriage is one valuable

form of integrating them. For example, we cannot continue to have sex with someone without some

emotional intimacy, and when there is emotional intimacy, promises are made whether in words or

deeds. When you love someone, you want to avoid losing that person; thus commitment arises.

A key criterion of successful integration of the three ingredients is joy. We do not want to evaluate

gay relationships by making gay marriage the measuring stick. Instead, we argue that gay people

should be allowed marry and that all relationships, whether married or not, should be evaluated

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against the criterion, ‘Do they bring joy to all the parties affected?’

Gay marriage does challenge gay culture, because gay culture was itself constructed within the

reality of the closet, and when the closet disappears, then gay culture will evolve. This should not

make us fear a lack of creativity, because marriage, if it is to be joyful, requires that creativity, and

each marriage is unique. Moreover, other gay relationships can be of equal, or more, value when

compared to any individual gay marriage, if they are equally, or more, joyful.

When gay emotional intimacy is awakened, in speaking the language of touch (through gay

affection and gay sex), then it is ‘natural’ that some should seek to live that emotional intimacy for

as long as possible. Some, in turn, will want to express that commitment to each other by making a

promise in public that is recognised publicly. Why should they be prevented from marrying?

6. Gay Parenting

There is a general recognition that the nature of family life has changed in Ireland and that this

change needs to be recognised in law. There are many people, both children and adults, who are

unfairly disadvantaged by this lack of recognition in addition to its effects on gay people. Some of

these disadvantages are to the children of gay people. For example, although gay individuals can

already adopt children, gay couples cannot. We believe there should be a level playing field for gay

couples who want to adopt. They should be treated no differently in the adoption process than

heterosexual couples.

There are many prejudices which suggest that gay people are unfit to be parents and that the

children of lesbians and gay parents fail to develop properly as a result. Prejudices hold that gays

are prone to depression and suicide, that gays are promiscuous, and so the environment created as a

result is unsuitable for raising children.

What is emerging through experience and research is that no significant differences exist between

lesbian and gay parenting, on the one hand, and straight parenting, on the other. And none of the

differences that do exist are disadvantageous to children. Studies have pointed out that differences

do exist between gay and straight parenting, but these differences do not imply that gay and lesbian

parenting is an inferior model. On the contrary, a high level of compatibility between lesbian

couples who parent children has been shown to be advantageous to both children and parents.

The prevalent assumption that the heterosexual model of parenting is the only legitimate one for

raising children has been questioned by research. Interestingly, while the question arises about the

appropriateness of gay parents for straight children, a similar question rarely arises about the

appropriateness of straight parents raising gay children. We see, in fact, that heterosexual parenting

is not the only legitimate model for rearing children.

7. Vatican Line

In 1975, the Vatican claimed homosexuality arises from either an absence of normal human

development or because of a pathological, incurable condition. In 1986, it stated that not alone are

homosexual acts ‘intrinsically disordered’ but the inclination itself is a strong tendency towards an

intrinsic moral evil. It bases this teaching on three principles it finds in the Book of Genesis: the

complementarity of the sexes; the institution of marriage and the call to procreate.

In 1992 it stated that because of the immoral nature of homosexuality it is sometimes legitimate to

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discriminate against homosexuals, for example in the employment of teachers or the consignment of

children for adoption. The Vatican suggests, in this document, that the problem of discrimination

wouldn’t arise if gay people remained invisible.

In 2003, it states its opposition to same-sex marriage. In this document, for the second time, the

Vatican uses the word ‘evil’ in reference to gay relationships suggesting tolerating such homosexual

behaviour is a toleration of evil. The Vatican opposes same-sex marriage for all of the same reasons

it opposes homosexuality and for some others to do with, for example, the common good.

As countries across Europe have begun to re-evaluate their position on the legalization of same-sex

relationships, the Vatican has become increasingly strident in its opposition to such unions. This

issue affects people across all strata of society because, despite a strong belief to the contrary, gay

people do not live in communes on the fringes of society. They are lawyers and dentists and doctors

and bricklayers and barmen and children and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and they

are all citizens of the State.

The Vatican line is relevant to non-Catholics as well because it has chosen to intervene in the

political debate on same-sex unions. The 2003 document is addressed to not only Catholics but “to

all others committed to promoting the common good of society.”

8. Church & State

The Vatican, in its document of 2003, teaches that legal recognition of same-sex unions would

undermine marriage and destabilise society. It requires Catholics, as a matter of conscience, to

oppose same-sex unions and, if politicians, to vote against them. The Vatican agenda includes

keeping gay people in the closet.

The 2003 Document draws on a Papal encyclical of 1995 in a manner which treats the legal

recognition of same-sex unions as of the same order of danger to society as the wrongful taking of

innocent life. The Vatican does not provide evidence for its teaching in the 2003 document. The

1995 encyclical calls on the civil authorities to examine the relevant sociological and other matters

to work out how to get rid of the wrongs which lead to the devaluing of life. Similar principles of

engaging with the relevant disciplines should be applied in considering whether or not same-sex

unions should be legally recognised.

The Second Vatican Council, in particular in its teaching on religious freedom, challenges the 2003

document. Religious freedom is a right attaching to the dignity of the human person, and it must be

curtailed only in so far as necessary for the common good. We believe that religious freedom

includes freedom in moral matters.

As gay Catholics, we are sympathetic to the role of Catholics and the Catholic Church in a

pluralistic world. Regarding how to vote, for example, you may be a Catholic politician who

believes same-sex unions are morally wrong. If, however, you do not believe they are bad for

society, you may still vote in favour of their legal recognition. You may, for example, believe that

this promotes the common good by catering for the legitimate rights of a minority of the

community. While the Vatican does not recognize gay people as a minority group, with legitimate

rights to be protected, this has already been recognized in Irish law.

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9. Catholic Church Teaching on Marriage and Sex

The Catholic Church has changed its teaching about marriage throughout history:

It accepted divorce in the Eastern Church even beyond the Council of Trent in the 16th century,

but no longer does so.

It did not consider marriage to be a sacrament up until the 12th or 13th century.

It was only in 1907 that the Church universally imposed the condition requiring Catholics to get

married in a Catholic ceremony. Unless they had a dispensation to do otherwise, the marriage would

be invalid.

In Vatican Two, it changed its teaching about the priority of the ends or goods of marriage. Prior to

that, the unitive relationship (love between the couples) had been secondary to the good of

procreation. Now both ends are seen as being equal.

The progress in thinking about sexuality in the Catholic Church was halted by the encyclical

Humanae Vitae. It teaches that no sex act can be moral outside of marriage or which artificially

intervenes to block openness to procreation.

This has implications for many forms of sexual expression that affect both gay and straight people

alike - masturbation, use of artificial contraception, straight-sex practices like oral sex and anal sex

(that end in orgasm rather than just as foreplay), coitus interruptus, and also all gay sex and gay

marriage. It also has very restrictive implications for assisted reproduction techniques.

Along with most artificial-contraception-using heterosexual couples in Ireland, we believe that this

teaching is erroneous. It condemns gay people to compulsory chastity. If we fall, we can of course

confess and be forgiven. However, if we fall in love (and integrate our sexuality with emotional

intimacy and commitment), we cannot be forgiven because, we won’t ‘give up our oul sins’ i.e. we

won’t stop living in a state of sin.

Following the direction of Vatican Two, we believe that the unitive, loving aspect of relationships is

just as important as the procreative. Procreation, child rearing, and all other generativity of a

relationship, are based on this love which binds together. Gay couples are equally capable of this

unitive love, and so they are capable of full marriage.

The Church is afraid of this issue. For one thing, it is in denial that it has so many gay clergy, some

of whom have deep internalized homophobia. For another, if it is wrong on this issue, then its whole

claim to know and teach the truth in moral issues will be challenged. This is an appalling vista. Yet,

the pity is that the Catholic Church has valuable resources in its tradition to help society integrate

sexuality better. These resources remain untapped while the Vatican promotes its erroneous teaching

on sexuality ever more desperately.

10. God, Gays, the Bible and the Church

In this life, we do not meet God directly, but rather in and through our personal relationships.

Openness and trust between people, and goodness and justice towards each other, are ways of

learning to know and love God.

Opening our minds and hearts to God in prayer can be understood by analogy with friendships

between people. We try to be open and trusting with God in the way people can be open and

trusting with their friends. Falseness and fear, which is often the experience of gay people who are

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in the closet, can hinder not only personal relationships, but can also be a barrier between the gay

person and God.

The Bible helps us learn how to know God and love God. However, it contains texts that many find

unhelpful or even quite wrong, for example, texts that approve of slavery. To engage with biblical

texts in a way which is helpful for us to-day, and show God’s self-revelation to us is part of a

process of community learning. The Bible is often used to beat down gay people, but we find it an

inspiring and liberating source.

We relate to each other and to God as individuals in community. That is how we learn Christ’s

values and how to live them. It involves the tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic

Church, and also the gifts of the individual members of the Church. The gifts of each member,

including gay members, are important and necessary. In the words of the Second Vatican Council,

the Church is its people, “the people of God,” travelling together. We are a “pilgrim church.” We

will be learning our way to the truth until the end of time. The proper consideration of same-sex

unions is a vital step on our pilgrimage to God.

11. Life At The Margins

Catholic tradition has always placed a special value on the lives of those who live on the margins of

society. The emergence of the different liberation theologies in previous decades express the

political implications of this emphasis. What is important here is the exploration of the life

experience of being on the edge by the marginalized themselves. This exploration reveals to wider

society its marginalising behaviour. The struggle to move from invisibility to visibility is shared by

many groups from the economically poor, to ethnic minorities, disabled people, women and also

gays and lesbians. The struggle involves first finding your voice and then expressing where it needs

to be heard.

We see how in the story of Jesus a similar emphasis is found. Jesus spends much time with the

outcasts of his day: the lepers, the tax collectors, the blind and lame, the sinners. The question arises

as to what exactly the marginalized have to offer. In the story of the Gerasene Demoniac in the

Gospels Jesus challenges the people of the local town, after healing the demoniac, by sending him

to the townspeople to show himself in full control of his faculties. He who was marginalized, who

carried the townspeople’s projections of evil, appears among them as one of them. They are slow to

accept him.

Just as much work remains for the townspeople in the story to re-integrate the marginalised, so for

ourselves too much work remains to be done in accepting those among us, like gays and lesbians,

who for too long have been forced to remain on the outside.

Conclusion

Since the adoption of the Irish Constitution in 1937, the attempt to maintain an appropriate ‘fit’

between it and the lives of all Irish people in the ensuing decades has been a recurring challenge.

The original document was heavily influenced by the Catholic ethos of the time. The intervening

period, however, has seen changes that would have seemed inconceivable to the original framers of

the document. That such a fit should be attempted, however, is testament to the importance of the

relationship between where we are as a people and what we aspire to in our Constitution. As a

Republic, the Constitution is our ultimate legal document and its power and authority is drawn from

us, the people. The current process of renewal is one which seeks to clarify, on the one hand, who

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we are and how we identify ourselves as Irish people at this point in our history and, on the other

hand, how this identity can be best reflected in the Constitution, so that the vital relationship

between the people and the Constitution can be maintained.

The exploration and clarification of our identity as Irish people is a multi-faceted process in which

all the strands of Irish life and culture have their part to play. For our own part, we are delighted to

have this opportunity to make a contribution. We feel it is important that the voice of Irish gay

people be heard also. This opportunity is something which is very precious to us. There is hardly a

lesbian or gay person in Ireland who has not felt the fear around saying “I am gay” in public at

some time in his or her life. The opportunity to take our place with other groups at this convention

is a sign of the changes which have occurred in Irish society since 1937.

The experience of being included is precious partly because the experience of being excluded is so

painful. Its painfulness is not difficult to establish. It is the pain of confronting social prejudice. It is

the pain of hiding affection, where even the most casual touch of lovers must be concealed, for fear

of a violent response. The prejudices surface in work, family, health, wealth – the very fabric of our

lives.

What is perhaps not so clear is how damaging it is as a nation to base our identity on this exclusion

- to see ourselves primarily in terms of ‘who we are not’, rather than ‘who we are’. A most extreme

example of this is Nazi Germany, where an Aryan identity was promoted by excluding Jews,

Gypsies and homosexuals as sub-human. The insanity of this philosophy is clear and yet the lesson

remains pertinent. Any approach which marginalises a particular section of society does violence to

the social fabric and ultimately affects everybody. To ban people from getting married because they

are gay is such a violence.

The 1990s were a momentous one for the gay community. With the legalisation of homosexuality in

1993, lesbians and gays began, for the first time in the history of the State, to emerge from the long

dark tunnel of social prejudice and take their rightful place with their fellow citizens. The process of

inclusion was begun, but only begun – much like Catholic emancipation in 1829 was a first step on

the long road to full equality for Catholics. This gradual process of inclusion is one which, of

course, deeply affects those previously excluded but, it should be stressed, it also affects everybody

else. This can be illustrated by an example of ‘coming out’.

Peter is 17 and has known for some time that he is gay. After agonising over

it for a few months he finally sits his parents down and tells them he’s gay.

They are shocked. Neither of them had the slightest idea. However, they

recover sufficient composure to reassure him that he’s still their son and

they love him.

There are big changes here for everybody. Peter has finally identified himself as a gay man and is

included in the family as such. His parents, who thought they had a straight son and no doubt

looked forward to bouncing grand-children on their knees some day, now find out they will have to

put those dreams to one side and grapple instead with the possibility of the boy-friend staying over.

As a result of these struggles, a different family unity has emerged. This new family identity is a

struggle not just for the gay son but also for the rest of the family.

As a society too, we are coming to terms with this new identity. For gay people, the task remains to

confront prejudice which denies our full humanity and seeks to relegate us to second class

citizenship. For many straight people, sincerely held religious convictions about the nature of

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homosexuality have to be re-assessed in the light of scientific research and the new visibility of gay

people. Each of these struggles is, in one sense, an intensely personal journey. Of course, it is only

one struggle and journey amongst many others for different groups in our society. Woven together,

these struggles constitute our identity as a people at this point in our history. Ultimately, national

identity is not something that is written in stone but an ongoing process of discovery.

As part of this ongoing process of discovery we believe, on the basis of our experience and

research, that gay people should be allowed marry. Because, from a secular point of view, it is the

best thing for Irish society and because it is the most Christian thing to do.

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