What is marriage and why does it exist?
Interesting points are raised. The issue is obviously foundational to human existence itself.
Catholics hold strong beliefs about the dignity of the human person and the goodness and beauty of marriage as a natural institution between a man and a woman. In response to the subject inquiry, I make the following submissions regarding the nature of marriage and why the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia must continue to recognise and support marriage as meaning the exclusive and permanent union of one man and one woman.
What is marriage?
Marriage is a natural institution whereby a man and a woman give themselves to each other for life in an exclusive sexual relationship that is open to procreation. It is a union that is publicly recognised, honoured and supported because of its unique capacity to generate children and to meet children's deepest needs for the love and attachment of both their father and their mother. In the words of Professor Robert George of Princeton University:
"Marriage is the community formed by a man and a woman who publicly consent to share their whole lives, in a type of relationship oriented toward the begetting, nurturing and educating of children together. This openness to procreation, as the community's natural fulfilment, distinguishes this community from other types."1
By contrast, although the community formed by a homosexual couple may involve genuine caring, affection and commitment to one another, it is not an inherently procreative community, because their sexual relationship is not designed to generate children. Marriage is not simply a loving, committed relationship between two people, but a unique kind of physical and emotional union which is open to the possibility of new life.
The definition of marriage as an inherently procreative community does not exclude heterosexual married couples who cannot have children for reasons of age or infertility. They are still married because their sexual union is naturally designed to give life, even if it cannot give life at a particular point in time, or ever. Marriage between a man and a woman always has an inherent capacity for, and orientation towards, the generation of children, whether that capacity is actualized or not.
How does marriage between a man and a woman make a unique contribution to society?
Marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to society because a stable, loving marriage provides the best conditions for raising children. Through marriage, children are able to grow up knowing that they were created through an act of intimate love and with the knowledge that their mother and father have committed to each other for life. Marriage also contributes uniquely to society in modelling the way women and men live interdependently, recognising the equal dignity, beauty and value of the other, and committing to seek the good of each other. The family based on marriage is also the best social framework for the promotion of inter and intra-generational biological connectivity, which is an important and vital social good.
Marriage: discrimination against same-sex couples?
Unjust discrimination against persons is always wrong, but participation in particular social institutions is not always equally available to all persons within society. Distinguishing between certain groups is essential for the maintenance of the validity of the institution; e.g. university access is based on academic merit and not simply on the desire to attend a university. Women's and girls' only schools and colleges are permitted to deny entry to men, because society recognises that receiving men into the institution would change its essential character.
It is not unjust discrimination against homosexual couples to uphold marriage as being between a man and a woman. Marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. Justice, in fact, requires society to recognise and respect this difference.
Marriage: a basic human right?
"The right to marry and found a family" is affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). International law has always understood and affirmed the enduring, unchanging truth that marriage is a life-giving union of a man and a woman. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors international human rights treaties, has stated that the right to marry "implies, in principle, the possibility to procreate".2 The right to marry is a fundamental human right. However, to respect this right means to accept the objective reality of marriage as a union of a man and a woman that is inherently procreative.
Why should secular society recognise, structure and encourage marriage?
Secular society has always recognised marriage as a public institution because the marital relationship makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good. Marriage is pre-political and the state has in this sense inherited marriage. The state should not alter and supply different reasons for an institution which it has inherited; rather it can only consider the reasons why this institution has deserved - and still deserves - social recognition and support. The primary reason why nation states have been interested in marriage and why it has attracted public support is because of its procreative aspect, encompassing the generation and raising of children:
"Because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them institutional recognition. Homosexual unions on the other hand, do not need specific attention from the legal standpoint since they do not exercise this function for the common good".3
Companionship and love are undoubtedly important, but it is not the role of the state to legislate on the basis of private affections. Procreation, however, constitutes the public reason for marriage, because the creation and raising of children is publicly significant, with immense implications for the common good. The family, based on marriage, is the basic unit on which society and the extended family is built. As such, the state has an interest in and duty to ensure children are raised, as far as possible, by their natural families.4
The state cannot grant the legal status of marriage to same-sex unions without failing in its duty to promote and defend marriage as an institution essential to the public good.
While same-sex couples can have children by means of donor sperm or eggs, or through adoption, their relationship does not inherently have the possibility of creating children. For same-sex couples, having a child will always involve the use of one or more persons outside their relationship. This is unjust to children and destructive of their family connectedness. This practice should not be publicly endorsed or encouraged, because it involves a profound loss and deprivation for the child concerned: the loss of a pre eminent and vital relationship with their biological father or mother.
Although it is deeply natural and good to desire children, the child should always be seen as a gift - a person whose rights and dignity must always be respected. As affirmed by international law, children have a right to their biological heritage.5 It is a grave injustice to deliberately deprive children of the experience of being loved and raised by their natural mother and father6 and to prevent them from having a developing and ongoing relationship with their biological siblings.
Religious freedom at risk for all Australians
Some proponents of same-sex marriage have argued that in the event of marriage being redefined, the Catholic Church and other religious communities will be "protected" or "exempted" from being required by law to perform same-sex marriages. Such proposals fail to understand the immensely powerful role and influence of the law in our society. Changing the Marriage Act would, in practice, compel Catholics and other faith communities to recognise and accept same-sex marriage in their schools, charities, social welfare, health care and adoption services.
An 'exemption' would only apply to religious celebrants, and would offer no legal protection for the vast majority of Catholics and other Australians with a religious and/or conscientiously-held belief that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.
The Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, with or without any accompanying 'exempting' legislation, poses a grave danger to religious freedom. It would threaten the right of Catholics and all Australians who believe