Same sex marriage a defeat for humanity?


Same sex parents on beach

In the aftermath of the Irish referendum on gay marriage, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, declared the result to be a ‘defeat for humanity’.

His resonant phrase reiterated the Catholic understanding that the privilege given by society to lasting heterosexual marriage reflects the social good of the institution, and should not be seen to discriminate against LGBTI people. His comment merits reflection for the questions it raises.

It is generally recognised that the Irish vote reflected the desire to show respect and tolerance to LGBTI people, by asserting their equality.

If this was so, the vote cannot be said in any simple sense to be a defeat for humanity. Indeed, if the proposal had been defeated, and the defeat were fuelled by disrespect and lack of tolerance, we would also have had to describe that result as a defeat for humanity.

Cardinal Parolin’s point in describing the referendum result as a defeat for humanity is that human beings and society will be diminished if lifelong union between a man and a woman is not recognised symbolically as the normative institution for raising children.

But even those of us who accept his argument will ask how crucially significant a defeat the Referendum brought. Its importance seems like that of the destruction of the Berlin wall in the fall of communism:  it was a powerful event and symbol, but the privileged place of the institution of marriage and family in the West had in practice been undermined long before it.  

Although many children are still raised in families by a father and mother in a life-long union, a great number of children are now raised by single parents, by parents of whom one or both have remarried after divorce, and by a couple who have never been married.

The number of children born to or adopted by same sex couples is growing but still relatively small, as are children born by surrogacy.  Against this background the Irish legalisation of same-sex marriage has highlighted the great diversity in the relationships in which children are born and reared, the extent to which these reflect individual choice, and the consequent weakening of the symbolic importance of lifelong heterosexual marriage as the norm by which other relationships are measured.

Cardinal Parolin’s description of the Irish referendum as a defeat for humanity also invites us to ask deeper questions about the extent to which society is blessed or hurt by the diversity of relationships in which children are conceived, born and reared, and whether all these forms of relationship should be defined in such a way that all individuals may choose them, or whether heterosexual marriage should be privileged.

In Australia, as in Ireland, those of us who instinctively feel that more than individual freedom of choice is at issue in the discussion of marriage may be inspired by the vision of sexuality and the family derived from Christian faith.

But we shall need now to commend that vision to society on grounds other than religious belief or long-standing custom.  This has its difficulties. Indeed, to defend marriage and the family, we may do better to focus on the existential factors that make  difficulties for all the relationships in which children are raised.

The argument for privileging lasting heterosexual marriage is often based on its superiority for raising children.  But clearly not all lasting marriages, including those duly celebrated in churches, produce children who develop into loving adults prepared to participate in society.  Some such marriages are dysfunctional; children raised in them may miss out on education and lack the emotional freedom and maturity they will need to parent their own children.

Some children, too, raised in single parent families, divorced and remarried parents, unmarried parents and in single sex unions, do not appear to be scarred by their experience. They grow into loving and well connected adults.  

Although the research about the relative blessings of being married in a heterosexual family and in other relationships is contested, it is clear that being reared in a life-long heterosexual marriage is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a fruitful and generous adulthood. The evidence suggests that the crucial need of children is for stable and loving parenting. If children enjoy these conditions, they have a good chance of growing into responsible and nurturing adults.  

So from the children’s point of view, the deepest defeat for humanity may occur when those who raise them are incapable of providing them with a stable and loving presence. This incapability often comes from being reared in a violent or neglectful home. To address it requires support for children at risk and for adults ill-prepared for parenthood.

This kind of support, of course, demands funding for people already disadvantaged.  In a society that emphasises individual economic choice and values people by their economic participation in society, these and other programs for people with disadvantage are most readily cut.

As in so many other areas of human life, the heaviest defeats for humanity come from government policies that focus on the individual, ignore the needs of those raising children, are blind to the effects on relationships of lucrative industries as gambling, alcohol and pornography, and penalise the disadvantaged. This is the terrain on which Catholics should struggle for families and for good child raising, while at the same time as commending the value for human beings and society of  lasting heterosexual relationships.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street. 

Same sex parents image by Shutterstock.



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, marriage, family, LGBTI, marriage equality, disadvantage, Vatican, Irish referendum



submit a comment

Existing comments

Exactly right, Andrew. Some people might be panicked by this: "The number of children born to or adopted by same sex couples is growing but still relatively small" so let's be clear: we're talking about 3% of the population, not all of whom will want children, so nobody need worry that marriage equality will change the face of society. Comments on another thread implied that gay people were changing what marriage means, as you point out, they haven't, and couldn't (3% remember) it was the 97% of heterosexuals that changed marriage. All that gay people have done is put their hands up and say "Hey, what marriage is now could apply to us; can we change the law to reflect what contemporary marriage is?". Or, the words of one gay wag; "Yeah, now that the heterosexuals don't want marriage anymore, they're prepared to share it with us"!

Russell | 03 June 2015  

Card Parolin would do well to take the advice of a fellow bishop: "If the church does not have the courage to reform their own structures, they will never have the moral strength to criticize the structures of society." - Bishop Dom Helder Camara, shortly after the Second Vatican Council. The Irish people voted to change the law of their land not the Sacraments or law of the Church. Parolin should know the difference.

David Timbs | 03 June 2015  

Well said Andrew. Thank you.

Ginger Meggs | 03 June 2015  

While I agree with Dom Helder Camara about ecclesial structures that can be changed and require changing, it seems naive to assume that the law of the land on society's foundational institution will have no significant effect, not least of all, as commentator Brendan O'Neill has indicated, on those who do not conform with the newly enthroned legalised political orthodoxy.

John Kelly | 03 June 2015  

I believe it is fair to say that the 'marriage' agenda for non-heterosexual people may include issues around children. That would be a natural progression for those wishing to marry, whatever orientation. The Christian view of marriage, based on the Bible is conservative, and so difficult questions arise. These are questions that will not go away. The church can hold to traditional doctrine or grapple with new developments. It always strikes me, when reading the bible, how paradoxical are the 'characteristics' of God. Always the church can continue to be supportive of families.

Pam | 03 June 2015  

Cardinal Carolin's statement is a little hypocritical to say the least in realtion to same sex marriage and the effect on children, when hetrosexual clergy have fathered children and then deprived them full paternal rights, including those in religious orders and not under episcopal governance to protect the image of the church.

Lynne Newington | 03 June 2015  

Matrimony was the last to be added to the list of sacraments and its inclusion may have had as much to do with the need to have the biblical seven as to theology - "better to marry than to burn" Our modern understanding of marriage owes as much to the Hardwicke Act of 1753 as to the churches. A legal case of inheritance and widow’s pensions had come before the Parliament of Westminster, forcing them to legislate “for Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage” so that the Government could finally control inheritance and therefore taxation. Marriage was not for procreation or as an expression of love: it was for taxation.

Frank | 04 June 2015  

Well said, Andrew. I continue to feel, very often, like the slow child in the room, when people are screaming about same sex marriage. With great respect and reverence for tradition, for childbearing, for the intimate and intricate miracles of husband and wife, do we not have much more pressing things to shriek about, like murder and war and starvation and rape and slavery?

Brian Doyle | 04 June 2015  

The most compassionate, reasonable and sober commentary thus far. Thanks.

Peter Goers | 04 June 2015  

St. Paul makes it quite clear in the letter to the Ephesians that in Christ there is no 'slave or free, male or female'. The nature and structure of marriage has changed enormously over the centuries. Perhaps the most fundamental Christian concern is to seek and to sustain loving, life-giving, nurturing,, stable and life-long relationships between persons. These are values prior to sexuality which is, in any event, not binary.

Richard Hallett | 04 June 2015  

While agreeing that the way a society treats its children is a barometer of its humanity, there is a growing number of voices of children who have grown up in 'gay families' who are saying what people don't want to hear: From the US, B.N Klein says: ' I grew up with a parent and her partner[s] in an atmosphere in which gay ideology was used as a tool of repression, retribution and abuse...I have seen that children in gay households often become props to be publically [sic] displayed to prove that gay families are just like heterosexual ones.' [ ‘Quartet of Truth’: Adult children of gay parents testify against same-sex ‘marriage’ at 5th Circuit', Lifesitenews, Jan 13, 2015,. ]. Klein was part of a group that filed testimony that stated that 'gay family' dynamics harm children but children are often not able to articulate this till well into adulthood because of their conflicted loyalties and inescapable situations. It's not all as hunky dory as the media presents. We know that the traditional family is under seige but why add to children's problems?

Alice Larkin | 04 June 2015  

Thank you Andrew for an intelligent, broad and loving comment and for your accent on the disadvantaged and the real good of children's lives.

Bernadette Keating | 04 June 2015  

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the direction that you took this article. With respect to family - I couldn't agree with you more. It strikes me as strange the sort of things that 'family values's types support - including pernicious economic s and politics.

DeC | 04 June 2015  

According to the Bible, when God decided that it was not good for man to be alone, the first attempt to provide him with a 'helpmate' was to create all the animals, and look among them for a suitable 'helpmate'. This should alert us to the dangers of taking the Bible too literally. So far, at least, every person ever in the world has come from the union of a human sperm and a human ovum. In normal cases this results from intercourse between a man and a woman, whether in situations approved by religions or states, on which matter each have their own reasons for legislating. But it is not any 'celebrant' who effects the marriage, but the two people who marry each other. Any 'celebrant' is merely an official witness. The approbation of Church and/or State is increasingly being ignored by coming generations, and most concern seems and needs to be focused on neutralizing disruptive homophobic instincts, and adjusting to changing situations.

Robert Liddy | 04 June 2015  

Thank you Andrew for a thoughtful and compassionate reflection. It is far more important to focus on how social and religious structures can support all relationships rather than humiliate people.

Joseph Cauchi | 04 June 2015  

Well said, Andrew. There is one matter you omitted to mention in this discussion and that is the extent to which children now are effectively raised in child care. Another unfortunate economic driver in this system.

Brian Finlayson | 04 June 2015  

"So from the children’s point of view, the deepest defeat for humanity may occur when those who raise them are incapable of providing them with a stable and loving presence". Well, of course. One might add: "The only defeat, really. Because when children have that stable and loving presence they aren't troubled by the things that worry bishops, such as whether their parents are of the same gender". The same-sex couples of my acquaintance are not doing a significantly worse job than the heterosexual couples, and some of them are doiing a significantly better job than some of the heterosexuals. Which makes a problem for commending the Catholic understanding of marraige toi society on empirical grounds -- the evidence that a man and a woman together make the most nurturing home just isn't there.

Ray Cassin | 04 June 2015  

The wisdom of Father Hamilton renews my faith in the Catholic Church. A stable loving home life, regardless of the sexuality or gender of the parents, helps nurture stable loving adults. Poor education, housing, health and welfare services wear down the best of intentions in any family. Those affected by incarceration, long-term unemployment and mental and physical disabilities have an almost impossible task to provide a stable life for their children. Yet the most vulnerable Australians from all communities, are being denied basic rights due to cruel funding cuts and unfair taxation. Some dysfunctional families may be billionaires, but politicians and the media need to focus on the real family issues. Poverty is the weakest link in any country's chain of command. And charity is not the answer.

Annabel | 04 June 2015  

Your excellent article has acted as a bit of a lightning rod in the current same sex marriage debate. Cardinal Parolin, in making the official statement he did, was clearly stating Church doctrine. Obviously, the majority of Irish voters and commenters on your article do not agree with him. I suspect, over the coming years, there will be more disagreements between Catholics and Church teachings (which are not "opinions" and can't be readily adjusted to the tenor of the times like sails). Holding the Church's official position on same sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobe though there are plenty who would be happy to call you one. Of course many traditional heterosexual families are violent and dysfunctional. Ireland and Australia are both places that is obvious. Fixing this, as you say, requires resources which it appears are not going to be provided. I would imagine LGT partnerships can be just as dysfunctional and violent. It's human nature. I think many commenters feel we are moving forward to a new era of light and love. I fear they are overoptimistic. Time will tell.

Edward Fido | 04 June 2015  

Thanks, Andrew, for a balanced assessment devoid of homophobia which is so often latent in these discussions. It is time the Church acknowledged that God made some people homosexual and these people usually endure substantial challenges in surviving in a predominantly heterosexual society. We are all loved by our creator. The Church in opposing civil gay marriage is reinforcing and normalising discrimination against people of different sexual orientation who are already unjustly excluded by many in our society.

Peter Johnstone | 04 June 2015  

Andrew. Today's SMH carries a report that a majority of eligible voters did not choose to vote in Ireland. The effective societal support was only 33% of the electorate, or in other words 66% did not support the proposal. Shows how unrepresentative non-compulsory voting can be. Hardly a defeat for humanity. I suspect the good cardinal who claims it is, having lived his life as an official in perhaps the worlds biggest undemocratic institution on the planet doesn't really understand democracy!! What I think is most damaging to the understanding of what marriage means is the failure of the Catholic Church since Vatican II to expound the sacramental nature of marriage, by affirmation of the participation of the partners in a contract with God the creator to be open to His creation of life. It seems to me that we have lost the concept of a sacrament being the ongoing outward sign of the presence of the resurrected Christ in the life of his people - humanity. If that is not the case anymore then we might as well all get on with living life as we choose and forget all about this obtrusive God, an almighty thorn in the side that generates a lot of meaningless debate and waste of precious life time.

john frawley | 04 June 2015  

Andrew's article should be read by all clergy and Catholics. It is wonderfully thoughtful and respectful, recognising the realities of the time in which we are living. There is already a comment on children in care. These children deserve as much support as possible, as do fostered children to ensure their wellbeing. Thank you, Andrew.

Anna | 04 June 2015  

Thanks Andrew, well balanced and thoughtful article. I don`t think it helps the discussion or the reputation of the Church for the Cardinal to talk in such exaggerated language. Some very good points have been made by the correspondents, I hope the Church authorities read them! There is quite a lot of empirical evidence around what makes for happy and fulfilled children with appropriate neurobiology development; and so well-made adults. These include mothers (especially) with good mental health and education who have time and pleasure in reading frequently to their little ones. It help if the family size is not too big (4 or fewer siblings). There are a number of issues that the Church needs to think about here; sort out the planks in our eyes perhaps? The homosexual "marriage" issue is such a disappearingly small one in itself: as people have pointed put , we are talking about 2-3 % of the population in which perhaps a 30% would want a long term monogamous relationship, and even fewer children. That would be a pool of less than 1% of total population to form such partnerships.Government should get out of registering "marriages", it is no longer helpful, and leave the Church to its sacraments.

Eugene | 04 June 2015  

I would like to invite people to look beyond the blame/shame game normally associated with this issue (the genetic VS upbringing argument) and to consider this: "Compassion does not suggest an absolute equality of experience or of pain, but it does acknowledge the contingency of a shared human experience. Human precisely, and only, to the extent that it is shared. Compassion says, 'Though you are suffering now, I had my turn in the past and may again in the future.' Compassion says , The differences between us are not essential ones of power, morality or nature, but simply (though crucially) of time, place and luck." Susie Linfield the author of this probablt didn't write with LGBT people in mind, but I find it relevant, given I feel the heavy yoke of Catholic guilt beyond what I consider fair or just.

AURELIUS | 04 June 2015  

I totally agree, Andrew. Returning to the human aspects of the discussion, as ever, clearly the raising of balanced, happy, compassionate children through stable and loving parenting is the goal of any family regardless of the style of relationship.

Anne | 04 June 2015  

I am so reassured by this commentary.My wish is that the Church as a whole soon acquires the wisdom and understanding of people that is displayed here .hank you. JL

Judy Lawson | 04 June 2015  

Well said Alice, but the proponents of same-sex marriage don’t want to hear evidence that might jeopardize their fundamentalist positions, just as they don’t want to hear the well-documented evidence of the increased health problems caused by same-sex relations. And if Jesuit Marquette University in the USA can suspend and attempt to fire Professor John McAdams because he criticized a philosophy instructor who had told a student that he was not allowed to adversely discuss gay marriage in a philosophy class, you can see that reasoned argument itself is a casualty in this battle.

Ross Howard | 04 June 2015  

Thank you, Fr. Hamilton, for once more wielding the knife of rational analysis without negating the wisdom of the human heart. Once the Australian people make their decision, whatever it is, we'll still need to focus on healthy relationships between human beings, and on eliminating factors that destroy these relationships. This article gives me hope that the real struggle hasn't changed, and no essential principle has been lost, including the principle that Cardinal Parolin is defending - the sacredness of human life and human relationship.

Joan Seymour | 04 June 2015  

Alice cites a few cases of same-sex unions in which the children are unhappy or dysfunctional. Alice, anecdotes are not data! It is neither logical nor reasonable to conclude, on anecdotal evidence alone, that same-sex parents can't parent just as well as heterosexual parents. (I note that Alice's only quoted source, Life Site News, is a Fundamentalist Christian organisation with extreme views on abortion and homosexuality, among other things.) The fact is, all families, all children, have their problems, whether heterosexual, homosexual or single parent. Besides, there are plenty of studies that show that children raised by same-sex parents are, on average, no worse off (and no better off!) than children raised by heterosexual parents.

Monty | 04 June 2015  

Thank you Andrew Hamilton for putting matters into perspective. If it takes a village to raise a child, and if the village elders keep most of the money for themselves, while the majority of villagers are relatively poor; and if the village elders pass laws to advantage themselves and disadvantage the poor; and if the village elders allow to flourish activities and institutions that harm the majority, then how is the village to raise a healthy, happy child? Let alone one who has a vision of the good village and its high ethical standards. And if the village religious leaders focus only on the perceived sins of the poor and ignore the glaring sins of the elite, how will the Kingdom of God come to the village?

Janet | 04 June 2015  

Ross Howard, there is an article today on The Conversation website, which concludes "repetition of findings – numerous studies conducted over time and in various locations, all which show children with same-sex parents are doing well – is a major strength of this body of research". Instead of believing 'research' from dubious sources, have a look at the mainstream, widely-accepted-by-experts research. You can access it by using databases provided by your local/state libraries.

Russell | 04 June 2015  

# Edward Fido, Parolins doctrine is re affirmed on HRC 's Stances of Faiths on LGBT: The Catholic Church have you read it? I can't see any changes any time soon . As you stated, doctrine isn't just an opinion for Catholics at least and I can't see Tony Abbott going setting it on fire. I wouldn't be surprised to see him eventually step down from the Captains Chair under another political guise.

Lynne Newington | 04 June 2015  

John Frawley wrote “Today's SMH carries a report that a majority of eligible voters did not choose to vote in Ireland. The effective societal support was only 33% of the electorate, or in other words 66% did not support the proposal.” It is not splitting hairs to say John’s conclusion is not right. You can say the non-voters did not vote for many reasons we do not know, including apathy, and some who did not vote undoubtedly did not support the question. But there is no basis for saying the whole 66 percent (or whatever the actual number is) did not support the question. We will never know. All we do know is the referendum was passed by a very comfortable majority of those who chose to exercise their right to vote. But despite John’s reasons being unsound, I do agree for different reasons with his assessment that the vote is hardly a defeat for humanity. I suggest that a same sex couple in a loving and supportive relationship willing to fight so hard to have their love accepted as a marriage is really an endorsement of wonderful diversity of humanity.

Brett | 04 June 2015  

It's commonly known in the US and other places that voluntary voting supports the status quo (ie the establishment, The Republicans, the WASPS) - for whatever reason.

AURELIUS | 05 June 2015  

Usually when the arguments are exhausted on an ethical/moral/justice issue among Catholics/Christians, someone inevitable drops in abortion as a wedge issue. So why would Catholic politicians oppose same-sex marriage but openly admit to doing nothing to prevent abortion?

AURELIUS | 05 June 2015  

The Irish referendum was an epiphany moment for me. We are fully in a new secular age, for better or worse. The Christian age is over. I truly believe that the Catholic Church has to withdraw from civil marriage altogether. Leave it up to individual couples whether or not they want their marriage registered as "marriage" at law in their various countries. How can the church shine like a light on a hill when its concept of Holy Matrimony is muddled up with all other forms of civil marriage. If this new legislation is approved in Australia, I advocate for already married people to be allowed to de-register their marriages at law. This is to respect that marriage will be something different to what it was - a chosen relationship between adults, not a foundation for the family unit. I believe this gives people an "out" that we are not seeing in the US, where livelihoods are being crushed when people follow their consciences and refuse to cater for same-sex marriages. If we just except that civil marriage is no longer what it was, there is no reason to oppose it. I am all for the Sacrament, and what civil society does is up to them. We need to return to the purity that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon of the Mount. Mr Hamilton is right that it is hard to advocate for our vision of marriage when "heterosexual marriage" has already conceded so much ground. Let's go back to what Jesus said and we might have a chance to set an example.

Andrew | 05 June 2015  

Andrew,(the one who is posting), surely openness to children is integral to the natural desire and expression of love in marriage, and we should resist adopting measures that will hasten the banishment of religion from public debate and life?

John Kelly | 06 June 2015  

A rare dissection of an illogical mantra but we still should not be having this conversation: parental responsibility is not diminished by marriage status, relationship status or hetero-LGBTIQ status. But the churches want these factors to be issues because they want to continue to elevate marriage above relationships status - as it has been for most of its history - such that marriage only ends as a very last resort by which time their children will certainly have suffered more than they needed to. More important to adhere to church, stay married, stay in relationship than separating for the sake of children and it requires oppression and sacrifice of individuality, ie harm. A recipe purporting to maintain family is one of the few ways that religion still connects with people but it is a strategy proven to be a failure which is why our law and ethics on divorce, children ‘born out of wedlock’ and child maintenance have not follow Christianity for decades - and even then, these churches have discard the Biblical definition of adultery as from first sex til death. Continuing to carry this fake ‘family’ millstone is a defeat for humanity. Where are LGBTI in their family?

Eric Glare | 06 June 2015  

Commentators seem to have accepted Andrew’s family values vs the individual rhetoric: “heaviest defeats for humanity come from government policies that focus on the individual, ignore the needs of those raising children, are blind to the effects on relationships of lucrative industries as gambling, alcohol and pornography, and penalise the disadvantaged.” What ethical individual focus does not include their needs, their disadvantage (eg SES) and their ability to raise their children (eg Family Tax Benefits A & B)? Responsibility always rests on individuals. Blame the unit is a poor excuse. What ethical approach to addiction doesn’t start with the individual to prevent subsequent damage to relationships and children? What unit functions best when its individuals are shoehorned into it and/or kept there by stigma? Is there any similar unit that is not ethically maximised by maximising the individuals of that unit? Synergism works this way. Family values is a problem caused and contrived by religion that it purports to solve. Humanity is only elevated by raising the standards of humans - we each have responsibility. Raising one group at the expense of another affords no net rise in humanity and is immoral. Yet that is the heart of religion.

Eric Glare | 06 June 2015  

Children of heterosexual marriage have I think the great benefit of being aware of both sexes from their inception. They benefit from male and female modelling. That gives them a head start in understanding the differences and complementary of men and women. This also gives them a strong basis for choosing a partner for life. If gender confusion and questioning is encouraged to become main stream children of same sex relationships will have none of these benefits. Children need stability about their identity and not questioning of gender and they need strong role models if they are to have the best chances in life.

Paul Monagle | 09 June 2015  

This should give us cause for thought. "Adult children raised by in Canada by homosexual parents have spoken out strongly against same sex unions warning that the Canadian 2005 legalisation has eroded fundamental human rights and the basic freedoms of speech, press, religion and association. "Over 50 adult children who were raised by LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender) parents share my concerns about same-sex unions and parenting," Dawn Stefanowicz writes in CNS News, a North American online news service. "Many of us struggle with our own sexuality and sense of gender because of the influences of our household environments growing up." What I note is that, as far as I know, there are no reports of adults parented by same sex couples coming out and saying how their lives have been enriched by the experience. Are people just crossing their fingers and hoping for the best on this issue? Are we facilitating a "Stolen From Generation", children who have been deliberately denied a mother or a father?

Matthew Dewar | 09 June 2015  

"Indeed, to defend marriage and the family, we may do better to focus on the existential factors that make difficulties for all the relationships in which children are raised." I agree. I believe that the primary focus for pastoral care should be to assist people in their relationships. There has been far too much talk of sexual ethics and not enough on how to nurture a loving relationship.

Vin Underwood | 09 June 2015  

Matthew Dewar, it's very hard to avoid the conclusion that you are digging for any evidence to support your already deeply entrenched bias on this issue. You have cited a survey of "50 people" and based on that stated that "as far as you know" there have been no positive responses from adult children of same-sex couples. Do you really just expect people to accept that? Well here's a study for you involving 500 participants, with positive outcomes and responses. If the argument that the same-sex couples will somehow influence their children's orientation, how is it that children of traditional and healthy nurturing heterosexual parents (like mine), still end up being being gay? The whole method of argument from the current batch of people commenting is based in the assumption that being LGBT in itself is a negative thing, and something to try to avoid. Let me give you some advice from experience - total acceptance. Anything less is unChristian.

AURELIUS | 09 June 2015  

Vin Underwood, I totally agree with you, but when you mention the over emphasis on sexual ethics, I would add that the current traditional church sexual ethic is lacking. Rather than emphasising relationships, empathy, love, church teaching has led to a virginity cult that no-one can live up to.

AURELIUS | 10 June 2015  

Andrew, thank you for your thorough article. We are lucky to have people like you contributing to this important conversation.

Paddy Sykes | 10 June 2015  

"You probably thought, as I did, that last week's same sex marriage referendum in Ireland was carried by an overwhelming 62 per cent vote majority in support of changing the constitution. In fact, only 34 per cent of the adult population voted in support of the measure. There are 3.52 million Irish citizens of voting age, and 66 per cent of them did not vote "yes". Two-thirds of the adult population either voted "no", or did not vote, or did not register to vote".[Paul Sheehan,SMH 4/6'15]

Father John George | 10 June 2015  

Dear Aurelius, thank you for the link. I see that the survey was of 315 same sex couples and 500 CHILDREN. As it happens, I am aware of a number of European and US studies regarding this question. The results of these studies are contradictory. The report I referred to concerned 50 ADULT children of homosexual couples, people who are able to speak for themselves. May I refer you to the much more extensive Texas University report which found that the ADULT children of lesbian mothers "were significantly different as young adults on 25 of the 40 outcomes measured in the study when compared with those who spent their entire childhood with both of their married, biological parents. For example, they reported significantly lower levels of income, poorer mental and physical health, and poorer relationship quality with a current partner." We should remember the line attributed to Disraeli - "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." My friendly advice to you is, don't jump to conclusions about me, my motives or my knowledge, and be willing to listen to those who challenge your convictions.

Matthew Dewar | 11 June 2015  

HI Matthew - I actually don't have any deep convictions on this issue. And while I might respect a gay couple's decision to have a family, I would hesitate to make such a commitment myself. But I do think a life, an upbringing, a chance to thrive with a gay couple is better than being aborted, or being an orphan in the slums of India.

AURELIUS | 11 June 2015  

I support the conclusion that Catholics should ‘struggle for families’, and against ‘gambling, alcohol and pornography’. There is so much more that the Church – with a huge school and parish system – could do for pro-active relationship and parenting education, and re practical family support. But this shouldn’t be reason to relegate gay marriage as an issue. Are ‘lasting heterosexual relationships’ foundational or not? Or is it, as also argued, just practical ‘love’ that is really essential? Well, of course love is essential. Reference to unstable conventional marriages just sidesteps our question: is the presence of both men and women beneficial, even necessary – do both fathers and mothers matter to children? (AIFS studies re children of single-parents supports this as a key question.) It’s not enough to state that research is ‘contested’, refer to unspecified ‘evidence’ supporting the ME case, then move on. The media (eg a regrettable Catalyst program) is awash with references to unscientific research, such as the Melbourne University study cited in a correspondent’s link above, which is led by gay activists, using a self-selecting sample. This link also claims the AIFS supports gay parenthood, whereas it has only compiled a summary of ‘research to date’, with a qualification that ‘the possible effect of important socio-economic family factors, such as income and parental education, were not always considered in the studies reviewed’. Indeed. Our children deserve rigorous research, and commentaries that fairly consider such primal ‘existential’ matters. Also, when did conventional relationships become ‘symbolic’? We’re contemplating life at its most fragile and real. Through the prism of incarnate Christianity.

David Moloney | 11 June 2015  

Thank you Andrew for this piece. For most of my life as a Catholic we have been talking about "sex". Sex before marriage, pregnancy out of marriage, contraceptive pills, adultery, divorce, abortion, clerical sexual abuse and most recently, gay marriage. It is time the church puts its own house in order resolving outstanding clerical sexual abuse cases and we move on from this obsession. It is time we turn our energies, as you said, to the "disadvantaged" and government policies that ignore the needs of the families". After the death of the Celtic Tiger, Irish Catholics from the young to the old grew sick of judgmental Catholicism and heartless government and now want a gentler society.

Dr | 12 June 2015  

I'm with you, Dr. It's time the Church got over its obsession with sex. But one has only to count the number of comments to this and the other two recent articles on marriage to see that some at least are still bound. Why? I suspect that it's about power. Think of the reasons why sexual relations between different 'races' has been banned or discouraged, and the reasons that have been advanced as justification. They've all been about defending the interests and authority of the dominant class.

Ginger Meggs | 12 June 2015  

Dr, could it not be that the issues of sex and disadvantaged families are connected? I can certainly see the connection. The family is the place where a person will feel the most potent form of love. If the family is broken, all the individuals in that family will suffer. Sex before marriage, pregnancy outside marriage, contraception, adultery, divorce, abortion and pornography all have an impact on family. So if you want the Catholic Church to address the needs of the disadvantaged, and the things (not just government policies) that affect families the most, we have to turn our attention, at least partly, to the one thing that is central to strong, loving families - chaste sexual relationships. To deny the importance of sex in relationships is to deny what has been obvious for the bulk of human history. Even if you deny this, you get slapped in the face by it everyday in our modern culture. It is not the Church that is obsessed by sex, but the culture. The Church just proclaims the way toward ultimate love and happiness.

Andrew D | 20 June 2015  

We have this strange fellow in Canberra threatening to divorce his wife and "live in sin" if marriage equality becomes a reality in Australia. It seems to me to regard marriage so lightly that you would use it as a publicity stunt is a real defeat for humanity.

Brett | 25 June 2015  

Yes, he is a bit misguided by seeking a divorce, what he should be seeking is a process to de-register his marriage. A divorce is not the correct term for someone who will continue the relationship with his wife. However, I bet politicians will refuse people this liberty because they want to drag everyone along with them. They will not tolerate dissenting views. Obviously he does not regard marriage lightly. He regards it highly. So highly that he can see (as I can) that this new form of civil marriage will no longer be the same species as Holy Matrimony. Marriage will simply become a "registered relationship" not a sacrament or the foundation of a family. Good enough for secular society but not good enough for me. If we let our marriages fall under this new definition, we consent to the change. But marriage receives such little respect in secular society (I submit "Married at first sight" as evidence in which 3 of the 4 couples on the television show are divorced and somehow the show is seen as a success, all set for a new series). Let alone casual sex, living together, divorce, open marriages etc. etc. It is time for Holy Matrimony to separate itself completely from civil marriage and be the light to the nations that the sacrament truly is. Secular society has abandoned Christianity and if we simply remain silent as they redefine the Christian elements of law, we will be dragged down with them. Better to separate and become the Holy Spirit filled "light to the nations" that we were meant to be in the first place.

Andrew D | 25 June 2015  

In reply to John Kelly, who says "we should resist adopting measures that will hasten the banishment of religion from public debate and life?" I submit that this is what will happen anyway. When secular society redefines things, the Catholic position becomes irrelevant. Society goes on, and we just become part of the statistics, blended in with the rest. It is better to have a clear position and be brave in telling people that Holy Matrimony is different, that it is a ritual made into a real covenant, filled with God's grace. If we are ashamed to speak the truth lest we rock the boat and "hasten our banishment", we are nothing but cowards. I have faith that Holy Matrimony is strong enough to stand on its own.

Andrew D | 25 June 2015  

The issue is about secular marriage. Religious institutions will have an exemption from marriage equality, as they do in so many other areas of life. It will be their choice (and loss I would suggest) if they rule themselves out. "Holy matrimony" is a Christian term that does not necessarily apply to people having a civil marriage. Perhaps the churches are the ones who should stop calling their services "marriage"? Spirituality does not exist in a vacuum. The spiritual aspect of the relationship is not limited to those of a particular faith - it can be there in any circumstances and between any couple. I really don't know if this fellow in Canberra does regard his marriage highly. I hope he does because the decision to join together in marriage should be a lifetime commitment. He may be taking a principled stand, possibly, but with the responses he has received he is definitely using it as a publicity stunt. That alone is rather sad.

Brett | 26 June 2015  

Yes, maybe the Catholic Church should stop calling Holy Matrimony "marriage", not only because of same-sex marriage, but because of how far society has fallen in the last 60 years. What do you mean by the "spiritual aspect"? Do you mean that God approves? Are morally suspect elements of a relationship justified by the more positive aspects? Most secular people don't even believe in God, so why should sin matter to them? Holy Matrimony is certainly different to secular marriage because it is a Sacrament given to the Church. It isn't just an symbolic ritual but a rite by which the divine life is transmitted to the couple through God's active Grace. None of us are sinners all of the time. We like to think of the love and whitewash the more grubby details. We say gay couples can be just as good parents as hetero couples, probably true, but we don't think about the morality of how those children came into being, whether through a now broken marriage, the purchase of semen, the purchase of surrogacy services and the mixing of two men's semen, which mocks the procreative process. More generally, we like to think about the joy of the baby born through ivf but forget about the remaining frozen embryos, alive but no longer useful. And if we think about it a lot, we realise the absolute horror of abortion, of little innocent lives being destroyed. These are all issues of sin that Holy Matrimony guards against. It isn't just about same-sex marriage. Same sex marriage is just the final act in the drama, which reveals that we are worshiping different gods. It was telling after the Irish referendum when one of the main advocates spoke on ABC radio and said that they must now turn their attention to abortion. It is all connected.

Andrew D | 26 June 2015  

A good friend once told me of a story where someone left a comment saying "the day gay marriage is legalised, is a moral 9/11". I'm paraphrasing of course, but he also said that the one and only reply to the comment was "Gay marriage cannot melt steel beams. I say that Gay marriage should be allowed without question, love is love we should all just leave it at that.

Cameron | 29 June 2015  

I followed Andrew's reasoning, but am somewhat shattered by the last phrase in his last sentence. LGBTI are not capable of "lasting heterosexual relationships"? Does he really mean that after what he just said? BUT I know they ARE capable of lasting same-sex relationships and there are many many incidents of these where children are being quietly and safely reared in a loving, committed and lasting home environment. These cannot be excluded from our catholic traditions - note catholic NOT Catholic. Catholic has yet to accept the argument Andrew puts forward. As a gay man denied the right to love by my Church and having once erroneously being pressured into an annullable heterosexual marriage. In my work in the church I see many committed LGBTI couples doing their best to keep their faith in a church that does not really accept them yet.

Murray J Greene | 19 July 2015  

Same sex marriage will change everything: marriage will no longer be defined by nature, but by law, making homosexuality morally, socially and reproductively equal with heterosexality. It will permanently remove children bought into same sex marriages from at least one of their biological parents. There will be no limit on promotion or teaching by schools of homosexual behaviour, or 'sex' also will by act of govt. expose children by design to worse social, educational and mental outcomes than those in normal families.

Clive | 22 April 2017  

Similar Articles

The generosity of Joan Kirner

  • Moira Rayner
  • 05 June 2015

Joan's outstanding quality was her generosity, which gave her interactions great warmth. She remembered names, faces, and the back-stories of her constituents and supporters as well as her opponents. She stayed politically alert on the issues dearest to her heart, notably public and private respect for the unique perspectives of women and girls. I will miss our great, sometimes squabbling relationship.


Winter chill has a purpose

  • Megan Graham
  • 03 June 2015

I can't hate the season entirely. Perhaps winter gives the sun the due reverence it’s owed - a chance for its power to be known intimately through its absence. Over a book, warmed by the words on the page and the cup of tea in your hand, you can muse about what it all means to be alive. Sometimes a little hibernation is what it takes to heal.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up