Monday, 12 December 2011

What marriage is (1): in the world

No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.

This is how the document of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons defines the nature of marriage in one of its early paragraphs. The paragraph contains a number of interesting points, apart from its very obvious assertion of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

1. The reference to "ideology".

The term "ideology" has, at least so far as I can tell, fallen into disuse in the years since the fall of the Communist bloc. In part, this may be as a result of a disillusionment with (objective) idealism in public life, and the favouring instead of a style of pragmatism that, though it appears to address social needs and inequality, nevertheless lacks an objective content. Post-modernism is a word sometimes used to describe this.

I think that is is legitimate to use the term "ideology" to describe the role of LGBT activism in UK society. Much of the public debate is conducted in the language of equality, and it can be very persuasive. But behind it is a campaign against "heterosexist assumptions". This, for example, is a paragraph from a suggested model policy of one of the teacher trade unions:
All areas of the curriculum and resources will be closely monitored to see that they do not rely on heterosexist assumptions and that they contain no homophobic material.
One has no objection to checking that teaching materials do not contain homophobic materials; but removing "heterosexist assumptions" represents a step change from the notion of equality as it would be understood by most people.

Another policy statement from the same union defines heterosexism in this way:
The concept of heterosexism includes a focus on both homophobia and sexism and therefore enables us to account for the underlying cultural prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This prejudice is firmly tied to dominant male and female identities that rely on heterosexuality as a norm. Heterosexism includes attitudes, behaviour and practices that constitute heterosexuality as the norm. At the same time, heterosexism reflects and encourages a dislike or feeling of superiority towards girls and women.

[....] believes that we can only successfully tackle sexism and homophobia by seeing them as two integral parts of the wider cultural problem of heterosexism.
One should recognise in the pressure of LGBT activists for same sex marriage an attempt to gain a further recognition in law of an "ideology" which would not be recognised or accepted, I suspect, by a significant majority of UK citizens.  The heterosexual remains the norm; a small minority of our citizens self-identify as LGBT, and the language of human physiology speaks for itself. One could at this point cite any of the severe critiques of "ideology" offered by Vaclav Havel in his essay The Power of the Powerless, but let this one suffice. In the context of this post, one needs to read its reference to "the power structure" as applying to structures of the media and the influence of organisations such as Stonewall rather than its original application to the power structures of Communist regimes, and there is no intention to make any comparison between LGBT ideology and that of Communist totalitarianism.

As the interpretation of reality by the power structure, ideology is always subordinated ultimately to the interests of the structure. Therefore, it has a natural tendency to disengage itself from reality, to create a world of appearances, to become ritual.

 2. The idea of "mutual personal gift".

Now I think one has to draw a careful distinction between the use of the term "mutual personal gift" by the authors of the Sacred Congregation's document and the use of the apparently similar term "commitment" in the context of same sex unions. The idea of a "mutual personal gift" delineates an objective content of what is exchanged in the marriage vows; it does not just refer to a motivation on the part of the couple. There certainly is a motivation on the part of the couple; but the matrimonial consent offers an objective content over and above the motiviation of those involved.

The objective content is, of course, defined in relation to the purposes of marriage discussed below. It cannot be reduced to "commitment", even be that faithful and lifelong. To slightly adapt the recent words of Archbishop Nichols, a "commitment" is not a "marriage".

3. The reference to "the communion of their persons".

The term "communion of persons" can be readily appropriated to the word "love". For the advocates of same sex unions this becomes the question: "If we love each other, why can't we marry?" Once again a distinction needs to be drawn between the objective content of the term "love" or "communion of persons" and what can be the subjective experience indicated by the same term. To "love" is not to have fulfilment of my desire or wish for the other person, be that desire sexual in nature or other than sexual in nature. It is to want, and then to act in favour of, what is for the good of the other person. This might begin with an attraction and a desire, but if it stops there it is not love. The "communion of persons", love, requires the movement from eros to agape of which Pope Benedict writes in Deus Caritas Est.

Now the good of the other demands a respect for the nature of the "mutual personal gift" that is marriage and, not only for same sex couples but for others too, this means that the objective content of what it means to love should take a precedence over the subjective.

4. The idea of "mutual perfection" and the "procreation and upbringing of new human lives" as being the purpose(s) of marriage.

In some ways, this last point is the hinge on which the three previous considerations turn. The ideology of the LGBT activists is directly at odds with this statement of the fundamental purposes of marriage. This expression of the purpose of marriage also defines the objective content that comprises the mutual gift of persons that is the marriage covenant. And, in both its elements and not just in one or other of them on its own, it defines the objective good of the other person that is represented by authentic married love.

I was not sure whether or not to have the "(s)" at the end of the word "purpose". There is a certain history in the Catholic Church of the discussion of primary and secondary purposes of marriage. I think I would prefer to see "mutual perfection" and "the procreation and upbringing of new human lives" as different elements of one purpose of marriage, the compromising of one element have a concomitant compromising of the other.

It is worth recognising, as do the opening sentences of the Sacred Congregation's document quoted above, that:

The Church's teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world.

It is not just the Catholic Church, but  a weight of history and culture that recognises this nature of marriage. This defines the meaning of the term "marriage" and, though there might be a change to the law to allow "same sex marriages", those unions cannot have the same meaning to them as marriage understood as it is by the generality of human society.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

zero says
Having bought the card game "Happy families" as a stocking-filler, I'm tempted to open the pack to seee if any of the "Happy families" are Mr an Mr ....