Catholics believe that it is impossible for people of the same sex to marry each other. This particular Church teaching is one of the most often attacked from without (and, unfortunately, dissented from within). In order to better understand this doctrine, I would like to focus on one particular aspect of this doctrine: the necessary complementarity of the spouses. [Note: This is only one of many aspects. Don’t read this in a vacuum. To get a more informed understanding of what the Church teaches, watch/read the resources at the end.]
Catholics recognize that men and women are fundamentally different, and that difference is complementary. That is, their differences help complete the other and lead the other toward perfection. Marriage between a man and a woman is a particular kind of relationship, which not only thrives on, but requires that complementarity. To illustrate this concept, let’s use the analogy of salt and water combined, resulting in a new reality: saltwater.
Looking at the above graphic, the glass on the right (saltwater) is no longer the same substance as either of the glasses on the left (salt and water). These complementary elements have combined and have bonded to form a new state. The salt has dissolved into the water and the water has absorbed the salt. This activity is totally in line with the nature of the elements of salt and water.
Analogously, when a man and woman are validly wed, they are really bonded to each other. They give themselves to each other out of love so fully that they become a new family. There is a new reality to their relationship. Like the salt and water, this self-giving aligns with the nature of man & woman. They are designed to be together. God Himself explained this to us when He said:
“from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mk 10:6-8; Gen 2:24).
In a marriage, both people retain their individual personhoods, but God has now bonded them so greatly that their union is called a “one flesh” union.
Also, we recognize that the continuation of the human race is contingent upon human reproduction. Although marriage doesn’t require children in order to be valid (contra Henry VIII), it is still ordered to the procreation and rearing of children. For a human relationship to naturally produce a child from within itself, it requires the complementarity of the spouses–only the fundamentally different man and woman can combine to bring forth new life. This complementarity is not only for the generation of children, but also for the rearing of those children. The strengths of the man and the woman build upon each other to raise well-rounded children. A child is more likely to flourish when raised in an environment where he has both his biological mother and father raising him in a loving, stable household.
Just as in our analogy above, the saltwater required the salt to combine with the water, marriage needs a man and a woman together. Only that combination will result in marriage just as only salt and water will result in saltwater.
Contrast that to a homosexual relationship. If a man was in a relationship with a man, the result of the analogy would be something like this:
Or, look at a relationship between two women:
We see that in both of the latter diagrams there is a result, but it is not saltwater. Try all they want, mixing salt with salt will only result in salt. Mixing water with water will only result in water. Whatever those kinds of relationships are, they are not marriages. Those who try to promote them as marriages have a misunderstanding of what marriage is and often a misunderstanding of man and woman as fundamentally distinct. In order for a marriage to exist, there needs to be an authentic sexual complementarity (CCC 2357). There are more necessary “ingredients” that go into marriage [topics for another post], but this is one fundamental necessity which homosexual relationships can never contain; therefore, two persons of the same sex could never enter into a real marriage together.
There is a very vocal portion of our society (particularly the media) who demands that the Catholic Church “recognize” [salt-salt] or [water-water] as [saltwater]. The Church, in Her wisdom, clearly sees the reality that marriage is distinct from these types of relationships. This is a difference in kind, not simply degree. It’s not as though homosexual relationships are simply “less marriage” than heterosexual relationships. The former cannot be “marriages” because they lack the basic material. Marriage isn’t just an abstract concept created by people and malleable to their wills. It is a concrete state given to us by God Himself [see above]. We cannot simply draw our own plans for what ought to be recognized as marriage; complementarity must be present.
From there, one can see why we oppose changing the legal definition. To legally change the definition of marriage would be somewhat akin to Uncle Sam slapping a “saltwater” sticker on a glass of water or jar of salt, calling it “saltwater,” and forcing others to call it “saltwater.” It may have an element of saltwater, but the water would ever remain water (and salt, salt), never saltwater. Even in those places where the homosexual agenda has cajoled its way into the state politics and become “legal,” it remains that those “marriages” are not real; they are simply the water or salt playing the saltwater. [That, incidentally, is why you will see the quotation marks around gay “marriage” in the writings of Catholics, and others who understand this concept.] Granted, the government has consented to slapping on its sticker, and the government is forcing people to recognize these relationships as “saltwater,” but the government is not the arbiter of reality itself. The job of the government is to align itself with reality and direct its constituents to what is really good, really true, really beautiful, and really just–not simply with satisfying the ideologies of the squeaky wheels.
As Catholics we recognize that marriage is a specific state, given to us by God, with specific prerequisites. Included in those prerequisites is the need for the sexual complementarity of the spouses. Like saltwater needs salt and water, marriage needs man and woman. No government label can change that fact.
For more information on the Church’s stance on marriage, visit these links [these will help you see the whole issue outside of the vacuum of this one particular post]:
- Catholic Answers’ Tract: Homosexuality [Overview of the Church’s position]
- Dr. Janet Smith: Homosexuality: Why Not [Audio: Extended presentation of the Church’s perspective]
- Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse: Same Sex Marriage: Why not? [Video: Rational discussion based on law, biology, and sociology, rather than theology]
- Steve Gershom’s Story [The story of a chaste Catholic man who suffers from same sex attraction]