The Debate Over Same-Sex 'Marriage'

Risks of Changing a Fundamental Institution

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, AUG. 31, 2012 ( The debate over same-sex “marriage” continues to be a hot topic in many countries. This week the New Zealand parliament voted in favor at the first reading of a bill that if eventually approved will legalize same-sex “marriage.”

Legislation has also been introduced into the parliament of the Australian state of Tasmania to legalize same-sex “marriage.” In Scotland the government is planning to approve it and last Sunday at Masses a pastoral letter from the bishops was read out, urging people to defend marriage as being between and a man and a woman. Meanwhile, in the United States the support for marriage voiced by the owner of a fast food chain, Chick-fil-A, has stirred up considerable controversy.

The contrasting opinions on this topic were well covered in a recent book that pits two opposing views: “Debating Same-Sex Marriage,” (Oxford University Press) by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher.

Corvino is a professor of philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit and Gallagher is the co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage and the author of several books on marriage.

Both authors refrained from entering into the morality of homosexuality or religious arguments on the topic.

Corvino argued that allowing same-sex couples to marry would be good not only for them but also for society as it would be something positive to help couples have committed relationships.

Allowing same-sex couples to marry, he asserted, would not hurt anybody and would be a net gain for society.

Just because marriage has traditionally been between people of the opposite sex, he continued, does not mean it cannot change and adapt.

Corvino also denied that same-sex marriage would be bad for children and he asserted that so far there is no evidence to suggest that children raised in same-sex households are any worse off than other children.

He also refused to accept the idea that allowing same-sex marriage would open up a slippery slope for other variations on marriage, including polygamy and incest.

Changing definitions

In her contribution Gallagher started by noting that same-sex marriage proponents begin from the presupposition that there is no rational argument against their cause and that, therefore, opposition to it is based on bigotry and irrational hatred.

For many generations, she commented, and in many cultures, humans have considered that a union between a male and a female has a special status. Would this happen for no reason at all?

Same-sex marriage advocates, Gallagher observed, want what they believe is equality. For their opponents, however, preventing same-sex marriage is just one step toward strengthening a society based on a culture that connects sex, love, children, and mothers and fathers.

Corvino, she noted, spent most of his essay on rebutting the arguments of others and little on the case for same-sex marriage. By contrast Gallagher declared she was more concerned about explaining why “our marriage tradition is just and reasonable and how same-sex marriage will change marriage.”

Many fine and valuable relationships and friendships are not marriages and are not regulated by law, Gallagher explained, but there are social norms and laws about marriages because it is a public institution and is capable of uniting goods that otherwise tend to fragment.

None of the individual elements of sex, love or babies defines marriage, she said, and not every married couple realizes all the social goods of marriage, but the union of a man and a woman “is based on deep human realities, which were not created by government and cannot be changed by government fiat,” she argued.


If marriage can mean whatever we decide it means then it cannot be a subject of shared social definition, Gallagher added. Moreover, it is not discrimination to treat different things differently.

Same-sex marriage disconnects marriage from its grounding in the human reality that male-female sexual relationships are different from other kinds of relationships. Marriage, Gallagher went on to argue, refers not primarily to the law, but to a phenomenon outside the law, that the law either recognizes or fails to recognize, with real world consequences.

The exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage is not discrimination or being harsh but simply a reflection of the reality of a different kind of relationship.

There are not many human universals among the many cultures but marriage is one of them and if it occurs in so many diverse societies then it reflects the fact it corresponds to some universal reality, she argued.

Marriage between a man and a woman is an important social good associated with a broad array of positive outcomes for both adults and children, Gallagher affirmed. She went on to cite numerous studies confirming her position.

“Our marriage tradition is just and reasonable because it is based on deep and enduring truths about human beings,” Gallagher concluded. By contrast same-sex marriage is just a government takeover of an institution it did not create and to legalize same-sex marriage is a political manipulation foreign to the nature of marriage, she added.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation