Why Marriage Can Only Be Between A Man and A Woman
Thursday, December 3, 2009
By Father Mark Mary

          Both the recent vote in Maine to uphold traditional marriage and the Manhattan Declaration have kicked up a stir in the media about same-sex marriage. Oftentimes powerful voices in our culture (political and in the media) say that the enlightened and reasonable view is that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry. It is said that the Church and culture need to grow and change their position on the issue.

          But collective wisdom through the ages should not be dismissed so quickly. Certainly, there have been distortions and abuses of marriage through the centuries, but all cultures have esteemed marriage as between one man and one woman. Cultures have sought to protect and foster this union by laws and privileges that uphold it as being foundational to society. Marriage has a special status in the law and in the culture that strengthens the bond between the husband and wife.

          But what if the special status of marriage is taken away? What are the consequences if any relationship between any two people or even more than two people could be considered a marriage? If marriage can be any association between people, we are basically saying that it is meaningless.

          On the natural level, what comes to mind when we speak about marriage is love and family. But it isnt simply about love because we have many relationships in our life in which we love somebody. Spousal love is a special kind of love. It is an exclusive love by which we give ourselves to another in a total way, including our sexuality. This gift admits of no rivals and by its nature demands fidelity. A union is formed on the level of body and spirit which involves all the aspects of a person, especially the heart. This love is spoken by the body itself in the marital embrace. It is the bodily union itself that consummates the marriage or, as John Paul II would say, gives flesh to the vows.

          The union that happens in a marriage depends on the fact that there is a sexual difference between the husband and wife. Every cell in the human body can be identified according to gender, yet both the man and the woman, are fully human and of equal dignity. Neither one of them, taken alone, exhausts what it means to be human. (A. Scola, Hans Urs von Balthasar, 92) The other always stands as a mystery before them.

          The differences between men and women are complementary differences which enable and foster a union between the two. Each is able to give to the other something that enriches the other, or complements them. There is a reciprocal giving and receiving between the two that unites the couple to bring forth life. The sexual differences allow for this new unity because one is able to give according to their masculinity or femininity and also to receive the other in a masculine or feminine way. The differences serve to enrich each other and provide space for this mutual giving and receiving.

          Conjugal love does not simply form a union of identity. Each spouse places a call on the other to fulfillment and transcendence. Love gets us out of ourselves in order to give to the other, and the conjugal act realizes this gift and union in a concrete way. Together they become what neither would be apart and alone. (from Sex, God and Marriage by Johann Christoph Arnold)

          The mutual giving between the husband and wife also includes their fertility. The marital embrace includes the possibility of new life. While all marriages might not be fertile, marriage is ordered to union and procreation because of our sexuality. In writing about marriage, John Paul II said that love is essentially a gift, and that, in their love, spouses are capable of the greatest possible gift cooperating with God to give the gift of life, a new human person. In giving themselves, they also have the possibility of giving children, a reflection of their love. (John Paul II, FC 14)

          Marriage reveals how we are essentially relational. We are made to form a community and to seek the good of the other. Marriage reveals our fundamental vocation to love and be loved. It reveals mans calling, but also forms him by being loved in a family. If that love and community is not there, then we are wounded in some way and that needs to be healed. Children need and have a right to the love of a mother and father. Each child has his or her own particular gift and characteristics that help form the child.

          The nature of spousal love demands fidelity and permanence. Can such a total love just be for a time or in some way involve others in the relationship? In marriage we are giving the deepest part of ourselves to another. The gift must be respected and reciprocated. When a couple exchanges wedding vows, they consent to love each other in this way. Making a vow strengthens and protects the commitment the couple makes to each other and helps them through the difficult times when they might be tempted to give up.

          Society strengthens marriage by granting it special legal status and recognizing it in its true reality. Neither society nor the government can redefine something that is rooted in our human nature as male and female. Certainly homosexual persons can love each other and perform sexual acts together, but this does not constitute marriage.

          Same-sex unions are not marriages because they cannot do what marriages do. We can dress it up on the outside to look like a marriage, but they cannot fulfill the same purpose and meaning that marriage has. Without the sexual difference, a couple cannot form a true union, body and spirit, or be procreative. The complementary differences between the sexes are needed for the spouses to be a gift for the other.

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