The National Catholic Review

Those who argue against the legalization of same-sex marriages insist that marriage is ordered toward the procreation of children and that the legal supports given to marriage are given with that end in view. Marriage needs the protection of laws because society must be concerned about its own preservation and continuity into the next generation.

Those who argue for legalization claim that the abiding friendship between the two persons should be acknowledged by law, and the legal benefits accruing to marriage should be made available to the partners. As a letter in The Wall Street Journal stated, “Marriage is a personal decision of commitment and love, and should be as open to homosexuals as it is to heterosexuals” (3/27/96). The essential point in the argument for legalization is that marriage as an institution sanctions a friendship, not specifically a procreative relationship.

Defenders of same-sex marriages often ask their opponents what they fear. What damage will follow from legally recognizing same-sex unions? How will such recognition threaten heterosexual marriages? I would like to address this issue by identifying some of the consequences of giving same-sex marriages full legal status.

I.

Suppose the laws were to recognize homosexual marriages. Then suppose I were to come along and say: “My uncle and I [or my aunt and I, or my sister and I, or my mother and I, or my father and I, or my friend and I] live together. We are devoted to each other, but we don’t engage in mutual sexual conduct. We want to get married in order to get the legal benefits of marriage that affect property rights, taxes, insurance and the like.”

The reply would probably be negative, at least at first. The laws would say, “You cannot get married.” Why not? “Because you don’t exchange sex.” That is, the homosexual marriage will become the paradigm. The exchange of sex, and specifically nonprocreative sex, will be what defines marriage. This new definition of marriage would be implied by the refusal to let my uncle and me get married, not because we cannot have children but because we do not choose to have sex. A procreative marriage would then only accidentally be a marriage. Procreation would no longer specify what a marriage is.

Once this new definition of marriage is in place, subsequent laws would have to shore it up. What effect would this development have on the public sense of family and marriage? What effect would it have on sex education? It should also be noted that this understanding of marriage would bring the government into the bedroom with a vengeance, because it would be necessary for it to verify that those who are married are indeed having sex.

The new reproductive technologies make procreation possible outside of sex, and this reinforces even more the accidentality of procreation to marriage. A partner will be able to make a withdrawal from the sperm bank and have a child, but that partner will be married to no one related to the birth of the child: neither to the sperm donor, nor to the sperm bank, nor to the inseminating health care provider.

But suppose the reply of the laws to my demand to marry my uncle or aunt is: “All right, we will declare you married. We have already separated marriage from reproduction, and from now on we will separate marriage from sex entirely. Any two people who live together can get married.” After all, if homosexual couples are discriminated against because they cannot get married, why should any two people who live together, even those already related by prior “familial” bonds, such as uncles and nephews, be discriminated against? Any persons who form a household should have the right to be married.

What effect would this have on the sense of marriage? I could marry my father (even Oedipus was never in danger of doing this, so far have we surpassed the wisdom of the ancients). I could marry someone I plan to live with for a few years, just for the benefit of it all. Suppose I were to move in with my grandfather who is seriously ill, to help him out in his last days. We could get married for the legal benefits and to facilitate the inheritance.

And once this has been done, why not permit polygamy and polyandry? Why discriminate against groups, if just living together is the only requirement for marriage? I could marry not just my mother or father, but both of them together, in a truly deconstructionist gesture, thus joining not with one but with both of the sources of my being.

If this were to occur, there would be very little left of such other familial relationships as those of grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and the like. Such relationships have already been attenuated by the prevalence of divorce, remarriage and single parenting: the “network” of relatives is deeply modified when some children in a family have different grandparents and cousins than their siblings do. In cases of artificial insemination by an unknown donor, the child is not related even to his or her biological father and his family. Such a dilution of extended familial relationships is a loss of a great human good; it damages an important dimension of personal identity. People become anonymous individuals, left to define themselves instead of being given a role and place in life.

We could even go one step further and ask why people should have to live together to be married. If there are legal and financial benefits to the union, why should they not be available to any people who wish to take advantage of them? The choice to be benefited should override the accidentality of living together, so long as there is a modicum of commitment and friendship among those people.

If “marriage is a personal decision of commitment and love,” why should it not be open to whoever is (or says he or she is) committed to and loves anyone else to a greater or lesser degree, whether singly or in a collective? And why must that love be erotic? The major threat that same-sex marriages pose to traditional unions is that they redefine the institution of marriage.

II.

Marriage has traditionally been understood to be a human relationship ordered toward reproduction. The “end” of marriage is procreation. To understand this claim, it is important to distinguish between ends and purposes, a distinction introduced by Francis X. Slade.

Purposes are goals that human beings have in mind when they act; they are wished-for satisfactions, intentions, things that people hope to obtain through their choices. Purposes arise only where there are human beings who are capable of deliberation and action. Ends, however, are found apart from the intentions and thoughts of human beings. Ends belong to things; they are how things function when they are working according to their own natures, when they reach the perfection that is proper to them. The end of medicine is to preserve or restore health, the end of an axe is to cut. Ends are there apart from human willing. We cannot will even an artifact, like an axe, into being something that it is not.

When we use things, purposes and ends interact. A man may pursue many different purposes in practicing medicine. He may strive to become rich, gain a reputation or alleviate suffering, but in all these purposes the end of medicine remains what it is, the preservation or restoration of health. An agent may pursue different purposes in using an axe: he may clear a forest, prepare firewood or attack someone, but cutting remains the end of the axe. Human beings, as they pursue their purposes, may or may not respect the ends inscribed in things. If they fail to respect these ends, they will bring the thing in question to ruin. If medicine is practiced in a way that does not preserve or restore health, it will die out as an art, and if an axe is used in a manner that contradicts cutting, it will rust, chip or fracture. As Slade has put it, there is an “ontological priority” of ends over purposes.

A very important element in our modern culture is the belief that there are no ends in things; there are only purposes. One of the names for this belief is “mastery of nature.” We think we can redefine all institutions, relationships and things, because whatever seems to be “natural” to them is really only the result of earlier choices that other agents have made. Their apparent “nature” is only a significance that we have projected onto them. We can introduce new purposes and redefine government, sexuality, birth and death, education, and marriage and the family. We can reinvent anything, because whatever there is has been invented, not discovered, by someone else. There are no ends in nature, so we can use everything according to our own purposes, to satisfy our wants, and nothing in our nature prescribes what we should want. We are free: “At long last our ships may venture out again; ...the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an ‘open sea’” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science [1882], No. 343).

It is exhilarating to think that we can redefine everything, ourselves included, in this way. It is easy to address people with rhetoric about “liberating” themselves from the prejudices and restrictions of the past and to encourage them to exercise a kind of small-scale omnipotence. We are invited to choose our own values and define our own understanding of happiness. Furthermore, since people have become used to thinking that things in general do not have natures and ends, it is hard for them to think that sexuality and marriage have ends. Consequently, the proposal to redefine marriage seems appealing to many, especially our cultural elites.

III.

Sexuality has as its end the procreation of children, but the common use of contraception and the way sex is presented in our popular culture have totally separated sex from procreation in public opinion. Sex is understood as an end in itself. The reigning opinion is that a woman gets pregnant by accident, by not taking precautions, not because sexual activity is procreative and its natural outcome conception. This is a great reversal of nature and accident. Furthermore, it is said that every child must be a wanted child, which implies that the child is loved because the child has been chosen, not because he or she is there.

It is often said that we have recently arrived at a new and different sense of sexuality and marriage, but this claim is incorrect; both are what they always were. To say that mutual love is on a par with procreation as an end in marriage is misleading. It is obviously very important, but not as a simply parallel good. Rather, the end of procreation is what specifies this relationship; the physical end of procreation is the first and essential defining character of marriage, and sex is defined as the power to procreate. Then this relationship, so defined, is to be informed with friendship or love, that is, mutual benevolence; but the kind of love it calls for is qualified by the type of relationship it is.

Even in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, people have been quick to introduce mutual love as an end of marriage on a par with procreation. It is, of course, an end of marriage, but not the same kind of end as procreation is. It is not an alternative end, but one based on and specified by the procreative relationship.

People who separate sexuality from procreation, whether in their thinking or their actions, live in illusion. They lie about this matter, to themselves and to others. Furthermore, this error occurs not about some marginal human thing, but about the mystery of our own origins. It is an illusion concerning one of the most powerful human emotions and tendencies. Once we live in delusion about such an important issue, we will inevitably be misguided in regard to many other human things: religion, human relations, laws, governmental policies, moral judgments and even our cultural inheritance. The most obvious truths become obscured.

IV.

The state does not establish legal categories for many different forms of human friendship. Why does it do so for marriage? Because it has an interest in society’s next generation. The continuation of the population is a condition for the survival of the body politic. It is this focus on population and reproduction that justifies laws concerning marriage. Even marriages between people who cannot have children, such as older people, depend on procreative marriages for their sense and legal standing. Society has an interest in seeing that there will be a next generation and that it will be brought up to be virtuous, law-abiding and productive. By its actions, therefore, the state has traditionally recognized reproduction as the end of marriage.

Proponents of same-sex marriages want to unlink marriage from reproduction and have the laws legalize their friendship because it is a friendship, not because it is procreative. But once the state legalizes one kind of friendship, it cannot stop at that; it will have to legalize any and all friendships for which legalization is sought.

The concept of same-sex marriages leads to impossibilities, because it contains a contradiction. Its proponents do not recognize the contradiction, because they think that nothing has a natural end, and specifically they think that marriage and sexuality do not have natural ends. They think that choices and purposes are the only things that matter, and that the private choices they make, their “personal decisions of commitment and love,” must be ratified and supported by public law.

Msgr. Robert Sokolowski is a professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Comments

Christopher L. Schaefer | 8/13/2009 - 11:44am

At times we all make things so very complicated.  In this instance I've observed very intelligent people argue both sides of this controversy to no end. It is true, sometimes even the greatest minds fail to 'see the forest for the trees'. First one must ask one's self, "what is the fair logic of the person, be they gay or not, who promotes gay marriage?  It is simply 'two people who love each other should be able to secure a marriage license, get married, and enjoy those benefits of being married.
 
Let's home on the famous words critical to this debate "two people who love each other".  Does this include a sister and a brother, a daughter and a mother, a daughter and father, a sister and a sister, a son and a mother, a son and a father, etc., etc., etc., in this push to allow two people who love each other to get married?

One might believe these situations do not exist.  I say at one time homosexuality was so deep 'in the closet' it was thought not to exist to the majority of the world's population. The fact is, there are billions of people in this world and these situations do, in fact, exist.

So who is to say the above relationships cannot be included in the forum of the right for two people to get married based purely on loving each other?  The promoters of gay marriage (hich includes both gay and straight people, as we all are aware of)?  What right do they have to dispute the validity of the very credo that drives them and is the bases for their own fight for their right to enjoy the fruits of the institution of marriage?  The answer is 'none'.
I am not up on the laws and benefits of today's 'Civil Union' laws.  I do believe, if not already, they should match the rights given to those heterosexual whom are married to each other.  To not promote this would be unfair.  And with that I add, a marriage should be confined to the union between a man and a woman, exclusively, if not for the dominant religious view, but to prevent the setting a kind of social chaotic precedence where "perverted" has been removed from every dictionary in the world and anything, and I mean anything goes.  It is the proverbial Pandora's Box.

Rev. Fred L Hammond | 6/6/2009 - 1:35am
Msgr. Sokolowski argument would only be valid if the ROman Catholic church refused to marry heterosexuals who are no longer of the age of being able to conceive children or of couples where the woman due to disease had a hysterectomy or some other surgery preventing her from conceiving. The purpose of the marriage for post menapausal couples and for couples where the woman is medically and surgically no longer able to conceive is no longer procreative. ANd there there are those individuals who are born intersexed and cannot conceive due to sterility. Yet they are given in marriage. Again the purpose of marriage is clearly not for procreation. IF the Roman Catholic church was consistent in the practice of its doctrines then it would have an argument but it is not. THe church continues to marry heterosexuals who are past the age or were never able to procreate. The church must therefore be recognizing a higher purpose for marriage than procreation, could it be the covenant of God's love with humanity? That covenant transcends gender and procreation, it is worthy of emulating in a marriage between two people. It is that covenant that gays also want to emulate with their marriage.
Henry Littleton | 6/16/2004 - 2:50pm
The Holy Roman Catholic Church’s Sacrament of Marriage has no relations to any other union of two individuals, especially those in front of a Justice of the Peace. In turn, all individuals that are joined together outside the Church, regardless of their gender, do not enjoy the same graces as those that receive the sacrament.

Catholics need only spread the good news and live a life that demonstrates our true faith, and believe that the Holy Spirit will guide all others back to the faiths of Abraham, and the Son of David.

Michael Bindner | 6/9/2004 - 11:26am
Msgr. Sokolowski raises four points in opposition to same-sex marriage. In his first point he argues that family members should have the right to marry if procreation is not a requirement. The point he misses is that many of the benefits of marriage, from the making of health care decisions to inheritance, already adhere to family members so that marriage would be unnecessary. He raises the specter of the sex police verifying that sex is occurring within marriage. Under current church law, if a marriage is not consummated, it is not considered a marriage. In most states, if sex and cohabitation cease for a period of months, the other party may file for divorce. In his second point he attacks the “redefin(ing of) everything.” This makes the assumption that marriage has always been defined in the same way for time immemorial. It has not been. Marriage has been defined in many different ways in human history, including Judeo-Christian culture. Kings David and Solomon and the patriarchs Abraham and Israel were polygamists, yet Abraham and Israel was called among the living by our Lord. Clearly polygamy was not wrong for Abraham and Israel. Originally, the church merely blessed civil marriage, Christian marriage did not occur until much later. In point IV he refutes his point in point III by citing that there are those who do not have children within marriage because of age, but are still married. He cites and shoots down a statement that gay marriage is meant to ratify love and friendship. This is a false argument.

Supporters of gay marriage seek societal ratification of their monogamous sexual relationships, including the ability to adopt and obtain parental rights for the non-related partner for children brought into the relationship. In a way, supporters of gay marriage agree with his argument – that marriage is essential for procreation. Procreation is not just about sex, it is about creating families for the rearing of children. Gay couples need the same kinds of protection as straight couples in this regard. Marriage and monogamy are also essential for gay and straight couples to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Society has a role in public health, part of which is the establishment of marriage. The alternative to sanctioning marriage is the promotion of promiscuity. Denying marriage sends the message that gay promiscuity is acceptable. Neither the state nor the church should send this message. The Church no longer takes the position that being homosexual is disordered, as it cannot as the evidence mounts that homosexuals are created that way, just as light skinned people are created with a lack of melanin. It also teaches that sexuality is a gift of God. It is a short logical step to conclude that homosexuals do not sin when they use this gift in the way that God meant them to. Only by accepting gay sexual identity and sexuality can we then give them the benefits of the Church’s wisdom on monogamy and so many other things. If the Church does not trust homosexuals when they inform it on the conditions of their sexuality, how can it insist that they trust the Church in matters of salvation?

Donna J. Drucker | 6/9/2004 - 11:11am
Monsignor Robert Sokolowski's article "The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage" is disturbing on a number of levels: passive voices, lack of sources, and overly broad and vague generalizations about the ends and desires of "society." To equate same-sex marriage with platonic friendship or familial incest is insulting to same-sex couples who wish public recognition of life-long partnerships. Using an 8-year-old unattributed quotation as representative of the full breadth and depth of pro-same-sex marriage arguments suggests that Monsignor Sokolowski either deliberately chose a weak foil for his own arguments or that he has not been following the news lately.

What a contrast this article is to the last issues' (5/24-5/31) rich and thoughtful article by Raymond D. Aumack, "The Jesuits Are Too Liberal." Mr. Aumack describes the real challenges of the Gospel: to love others who are a challenge to love, to speak out on behalf of the weak and powerless, to minister to sinners and those with whom we disagree. As a member of "society," I too have "an interest in seeing that there will be a next generation." I also believe, however, that they should grow up learning to "love one another," and not learn to foster further discord amongst each other.

Brian McBride | 6/6/2004 - 8:35am
I'd like to offer two comments on Msgr. Sokolowsi's article. First, identifying the "end" of an object (axe to cut, marriage to procreate) is fundamentally a matter of opinion. If God does, if fact, design objects and institutions with single ends, there is no leather bound reference we can check to learn His intent. We infer, guess and interpret with frail human capabilities and prejudices. We need to acknowledge with humility that our opinions are such.

Second, there is no "State" which "recognizes" the purpose of marriage. There are only voters legislators, executives and judges. The bill with the most votes becomes law, subject to judicial review. I feel we will come closer to the truth if we seek to know who votes for marriage benefits and why. That, after all, is the source of the law.

Katherine Hartnett | 6/22/2004 - 11:03pm
Although I find many of the articles in America to be thought provoking, my reaction "The Threat of Same Sex Marriage" is the first that has compelled me to write a letter.

Writing strictly as a lay person, I am troubled by the reductionist thinking of the author who indicates that procreation specifies what marriage is. In this day and age in which most of us who live in industrialized nations do not die in child birth, I find it incomprehensible that the 30 or so years that I may have to be in a committed relationship after my children are grown up will have no meaning because my pro-creative funcion will be finished. I would certainly hope that people entering into long-term relationships of any kind would have a solid basis in not only friendship but in the many other kinds of intimacy that human beings can share that are not physical in nature.

While procreation can certainly be a part of marriage, in order for it to last beyond the early years of sex and procreation there has got to be a lot more depth to the relationship.

In my experience, true intimacy with a partner is about the mutual revealing of our souls to one another and the constant new-ness of sharing our journies with each other. When the time of procreation has passed, sex then becomes the physical expression of a deep spiritual connection. Sexuality goes beyond physical contact to become something deeper, truer and more intimate in that sharing of soul and journey. In the long run, I think this is what sustains our deepest relationships.

While for me, I experience this in a heterosexual relationship with a man, I can't imagine why this wouldn't be equally as true for people in other kinds of committed relationships, including homosexual ones.

I don't view this as living in an illusion, rather it is one of the most real and intimate manifestations of God's presence in my life by way of my deepest and most intimate relationship.

(The Rev.) Christian Scharen | 6/18/2004 - 9:49am
I have subscribed to America for years, delighting in the substantive insight into the life of the church in the world. This article, however, despite attempting to represent one of the various positions within the church on this most contentious issue, falls far short of America's standards of excellence.

The late Dominican priest and theologian Gareth Moore OP, in his recent book titled A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality, offers a book length investigation of Catholic teaching on this question. Moore both prescribes and models an approach in which "bad arguments are avoided. These do not convince, and give the impression that there are no good arguments. This undermines the church's position rather than strengthening it." While I do not agree with Msgr. Sokolowski's conclusions in any case, our Christian witness to gays and lesbians, as well as the non-Christian public that is much more sympathetic to the gay cause, requires of us much more subtly and care in making our arguments than this article evidences.

While I could substantiate my claims in numberous ways, one quite obvious candidate seems telling enough because of its centrality to the case made in the article. Msgr. Sokolowski's article begins by pitting 'those' for and against legalization of gay marriage. Those for, he argues, claim that the abiding issue is "personal commitment and love." This line is quoted throughout the article, and its source is a letter in The Wall Street Journal. In what way should gay and lesbian people, especially the many thoughtful gay Catholics, feel that their best articulation of the case has been heard when 'those' who support legalization of gay marriage are represented wholly by an anonomous letter to a newspaper?

This example, I believe, represents the way in which Msgr. Sokolowski's argument builds a 'straw opponent' which is easy for him to knock about with his philosophical arguments regarding purposes and ends. I sincerely hope that America either 1) runs another article offering a rebuttal or 2) seeks another submission of an articulate alternative position on the questions at hand.

Francis J. DeVito | 6/14/2004 - 11:35pm
I have always admired Monsignor Sokolowski's use of the Aristotelian/Thomistic approach to ethics to tackle difficult issues, but he really hit an "ontological pothole" in his arguments against gay marriage.

Monsignor Sokolowski argues that gay couples cannot really fulfill the "end" of Christian marriage because neither their platonic love nor their sex lives can be procreative. He warns that recognizing the legitimacy of gay marriage will ultimately destroy the institution since marriage is severed from its true end (the continual violation of the nature of something will ultimately destroy that thing).

I respect Monsignor Sokolowski’s desire to protect the integrity of marriage. The argument he uses above is the same argument we use to defend the dignity and rights of all human persons. For example, we have all seen how a market economy can sometimes violate our humanity (as a Latino, I have experienced this violation first hand). The “bottom-line” has always had the “ontological priority” in the market place.

I believe that in the case of gay marriage, Monsignor Sokolowski may be creating another kind of “contradiction” because of his static understanding of how human intention interacts with the ends of things. The nature of something will emerge as we interact or experience that thing. For example, married couples will sometimes make the mistake that they “know” each other and forget to respect the mystery and divinity of their relationship (We can say the same about any human relationship). Isn’t it possible that there is so much to learn about the mystery of marriage? Is it possible that gay couples can provide a window into the mystery of marriage? As I have come to know gay couples, I have come to experience the “mystery” and “divinity” of their relationships. I am concerned that we ourselves are living a “contradiction” if we work actively against gay marriage: We are working against God’s divine manifestation in this world.

I believe that in time, we will recognize gay marriage as a divine manifestation of Christian love rather than as an “ontological” threat.

Joseph Kash | 6/10/2004 - 10:02pm
Thank you for printing Fr. Sokolowski's analysis of the same-sex mairrage issue. His arguments are hard to refute with reason. As many of your letters to the editor online attest, the arguments for same sex marraige always degenerate into emotional tirades and as one of the letters show they often degenerate into downright sterotypical insults (ie the notion that Fr. Sokolowski's opinion is somehow not valid because of his celebacy!) The issue comes down to why we should elevate certain friendships to a special status.
Joseph Kash | 6/10/2004 - 9:47pm
I beg to differ as to the teaching of the Catholic Church on same sex attraction. This is from the current Catholic Catechism:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

The Catholic Church does teach that the homosexual inclination "IS OBJECTIVELY DISORDERED". If you are going to make a statement about what the Catholic Church teaches, please don't just give your own opinion. Please give the actual teaching! This is malicious deception.

Martha Peyton | 6/21/2004 - 9:38pm
“The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage” is an excellent example of the wrong approach the Church usually takes to sexual topics.

First, ignore the true experts. The writer, a (presumable celibate) monsignor, has had no first-hand experience of sexual love within a committed relationship. It is frequently argued that priests hear enough about marriage in the confessional to be experts on the subject, but this is hubris. Experience matters. Ask an artist if the art critics understand how art happens, or ask a child care professional who becomes a parent for the first time if he/she was fully prepared for the way the universe shifted.

Next, rig the terms. So as not to dignify homosexual love with even the recognition that it is love, the writer calls it “friendship.” The next bit of argument is then easy: we can’t as a society go around giving the status of marriage to any two or three or ten people who get along well enough to live together in the same house.

Finally, and this is the bit the Church always seems to get wrong, whether discussing homosexual marriage, birth control, or divorce: deny unseen reality. The writer limits the manifestation of procreative love to the production of children. If “the physical end of procreation is the first and essential defining character of marriage,” then surely marriages between people known to be incapable of producing children (such as an older couple) cannot be allowed. To argue the point to absurdity, even once-fruitful marriages in which production of children is no longer possible should be dissolved.

Love expressed in marriage does create new life. The new life is most physically manifested in the production of children. But it can also be recognized within the relationship itself. The relationship between a loving couple is a new life unto itself, capable of holding up both partners when neither has the strength to stand individually. It feeds each partner, is fed by each partner, and if ignored or abused, it dies. (Then divorce follows, a burial of what once was.) The Holy Spirit resides in the relationship.

This concept is utterly faithful to a Catholic world view, but because it involves sexuality, the Church just doesn’t get it. Without the full participation of people who express their sexuality in ways other than celibacy, I don’t know if the Church ever will get it.

David Myers | 6/16/2004 - 1:41pm
Msgr. Robert Sokolowski argues that marriage must be predicated by the potential for reproduction. I agree. In fact, I hope Msgr. Sokolowski joins my campaign to outlaw marriage for sterile people, post-menopausal women, and some handicapped people. Then, hopefully, all six billion people on our planet won’t have to “be concerned about its own preservation and continuity into the next generation.” I, for one, will sleep more soundly.

Kimberly Ferri Cakebread | 6/12/2004 - 8:12pm
I have two responses to "The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage."

First, though I have never been a proponent of same-sex marriage, I might be more moved by the arguments against it if heterosexuals had not already done such a marvelous job of turning it into a mockery.

Second,the primary model we have of marriage is that of Adam and Eve. In the Genesis story, God creates Eve to be Adam's helpmate. Procreation is not the focus. Given this fundamental underpinning of Judeo-Christian tradition, why is it such a leap to understand that same-sex couples would want to fight for social recognition for their choice of helpmate?

Michael McCue | 6/11/2004 - 9:29pm
I want to agree with the other letters posted in response to Robert Sokolowski's article. The neat, "all questions answered" character of his reasoning is attractive in some ways. However, such reasoning requires over-simplifying of reality. It also fails to address the question of the "end" for people who happen to be lesbian or gay. I am frankly disappointed that America published an article of this poor quality. I will admit that it's good to read a clear presentation of the view Robert Sokolowski articulates---good for a magazine to be a forum for conversation. However,it's saddening to see how far the position his article articulates is from the experience of real people. There are ethical issues that the Catholic tradition has a lot to teach---but so ofter we waste so much creditability promotiong things that are beside the point---or really against the point of Catholicism. In 2000 the pope spend a lot of time addressing past sins---apologizing to various groups whom we treated badly over the two thousand years ---whether out of blindness or even out of active ill will. The holy father did not repent for sins committed toward gay women & men in the name of morality and Christ. Of course people in past ages did not understand homosexuality as an orientation; they just saw actions. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to compensate for all that inflicted pain. The moral reasoning articulated by Robert Sokolowski fails to do that at all. It wants gay people not to exist. It allows no room for the goodness and flourishing of people who are lesbian or gay.

In reality it ends up leading people away from Christ.

Linda Meyer | 6/11/2004 - 4:05am
In the first section Msgr. Robert Sokolowski assumes that marriage is primarily to exchange sex. The legal benefits of marriage: property rights, taxes, insurance, etc. are only secondary reasons. He also acts like blood relations cannot get benefits even though today’s laws provide it. A breadwinner can claim for tax purposes a sibling, parents, uncle, aunt, grandparent, etc. as a dependent. The other legal benefits also apply. These people do not have to get married to have these benefits. Homosexual couples may feel that marriage is the only way they can get legal benefits they need and desire.

Incest cannot be a logical conclusion to same sex marriages. In this culture as well as many other cultures, incest is not considered proper. Children born from such a union have more problems than children born from normal marriages. Other close relationships among families are not considered marriageable choices, because societies have discovered such choices disrupt more than support the society. Polygamy and polyandry are also difficult to support in a society based on the nuclear family. I ask Msgr Sokolowski to show cases where family members receive the same types of discrimination that homosexuals face daily.

In section 2, Msgr Sokolowski states “Marriage has traditionally been understood to be a human relationship ordered toward reproduction. The “end” of marriage is procreation.” Msgr. Sokolowski believes that sexual relations are ONLY for the purpose of procreation. Does he expect married couples who cannot have children because of age, sterility, or other reasons NOT to have sexual relations with each other? This reasoning is difficult to consider logical. Older people beyond the reproductive age do get married. Msgr. Sokolowski’s reasoning says because they can’t have children; their marriage has no purpose. Companionship is not a purpose?

In section 3, Msgr Sokolowski says: “Sexuality has as its end the procreation of children,..The child is loved because the child has been chosen, not because he or she is there.” Does the Msgr know that married couples continue to have sexual relations AFTER the woman becomes pregnant? Following the Msgr’s logic, once the woman becomes pregnant, sexual relations should end because the purpose has been fulfilled. I highly doubt he will find many married couples that will completely accept that thought. Children should be loved by 2 parents when they are born, but for many children, such beliefs are nearly a fantasy. NOT all children are raised with LOVE.

Married couples who cannot have children are NOT living in an illusion. Once a woman has a hysterectomy, passes menopause, or she or her husband is declared sterile by doctors, their sexual relations DO NOT STOP. They continue to love and enjoy each other as God has intended. Are we to believe that Abraham and Sarah stopped having sex after several years when no children were born? Did Hannah stop trying to have a child after she realized she was barren?

I can believe in medieval times most married couples may not have lived long enough to enjoy their great grandchildren, but in this country many couples do have that privilege. They may have spent their entire married lives having as many children as possible. The life expectancy of people has greatly improved since that time.

Robert Nunz | 6/7/2004 - 1:30pm
Professor Robert Sokolowski"s "The Threar of Same Sex Mariage" was an extremely disapointing offering about a vital current topic. Relying only on his philosophical understanding of marriage, Professor Sokolowski assumes what he sets out to show, viz. that homosexual unions are the same as friendships--though anyone I know, whether gay or straight, would know that lifelong loving commitments are very different from lifelong friendships. Conveniently, when talking about older relations living and having marital benefits together, he omits the long term legal cioncepts of affinity and consanguinity. He further casts doubt about the reality of marriage between older couples who can't have children or even engage in sexual relations. His suggestion that gay marriage would logically lead to permission of polygamy or polyandry is ludicrous: once more he leaves out that the idea of marriage proposed is a lifetime loving commitment between TWO People. Professor Sokolwski would do better to pay greater attention to history and the theological issues involved. He tips his cap to history by noting marriage has been understoodas a human relationship ordered to procreation. But he does not note how the role of woman has shifted within that history, specifically, for a lengthy time being no more as a way of passing on property or name, and, until recently, only a vesel of procreation. The failure of the Church to still fully enunciate the role of woman as equal and yet balanced by role of mother has raised much of the problem the author goes on about. Expanding problems in domestic violence and sexual abuse have further raised issues about the need for loving families to see to the good of children, not just biologically bring them into the world. Finally, there is lengthy history of marriage as between a man and woman only in the Scriptures and Catholic Tradition. Recently, the scriptural basis has begun to be challenged in some quarters. It certainly has become a major issue in several other major Christian denominations. The question of gay marriage and marriage in general will only be be dealt with succesfully when Church. leadership can crediblyly put forth both the role of women and human sexuality
Mitch Moore | 6/7/2004 - 9:47am
I must respectfully disagree with the Msgr Sokolowski on the threat of same-sex marriage. Long-term homosexual couples who have often risked everything - family, friends, employment, secure housing, even their own safety, to form their own families, to love who they must love, can hardly be called "an abiding friendship" much less compared with marrying one's uncle! To call it that is a mockery of this God-given love that for centuries dare not speak its name. And it is to display a profound ignorance of who these people are. The recent spectacle of thousands of couples all over the country flocking to the courthouse, standing hours and hours in the rain, to publicly declare their unions, tears of joy streaming down their faces, is a sign of hope for an institution in shambles. An institution in shambles not because of same-sex marriages, but because of feckless and fickle heterosexuals.

The Church has every right to reserve the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to procreative couples. But in a civil marriage, the only requirement for "making it legal" is a particular genital configuration (and a certain distance in the gene-pool; no doubt civil marriage has procreation as one of its concerns) - completely irrespective of the couples' commitment to each other, suitability, nor their ability or desire to procreate. That's discrimination, and it's wrong.

Bridget M. Chamberas | 6/4/2004 - 2:57pm
"America Magazine" asks on the cover of this issue, "Why Aren't Our Churches Full?" Part of the answer can be found in this article. Why does it never cease to amaze me that some of those who try to defend "traditional" marriage and teach us what marriage is really about are living a celibate lifestyle and don't have a personal experience of marriage? It strikes me as poor pedagogy. Once again, I come away disappointed by some of the leaders and thinkers of the church who demonstrate that they are out of touch with the people who are leaving the pews.
Mark Bruno | 6/4/2004 - 2:06pm
I would definitely agree that expanding our current legal definition of marriage could lead to possible abuses such as those presented by Msgr. Sokolowski. I also agree that the continuation of our population should be a primary concern and should be protected. But, Msgr. Sokowolowski seems to severely undercut the role of the unitive "ends" to sexuality.

First, if gay marriages should be illegal because gay couples cannot have a procreative sexual relationship, then why stop with gays? Why not make it illegal for a man and woman to marry if either one of them is biologically incapable of procreating? Judging by the Monsignor's logic, a post-menopausal widow or a young woman who has had an emergency hystorectomy should just accept life-long singlehood.

Second, he states "In cases of artificial insemination by an unknown donor, ... Such a dilution of extended familial relationships is a loss of a great human good;..." As a father of two children myself, I agree with this to a point. But, we have accepted and endorsed legal adoption for years. Most adopted children never get to know their extended blood family. Is this not also a "dilution of extended fsmilial relationships?" Yet, in the context of two loving parents, many adopted children thrive.

Third, if we are going to use tools to make analogies with sex, then I think that we should compare it to a hammer than an axe. An axe has one "ends" - to cut. A hammer can be use to pound nails or remove nails. Therefore, it has two viable "ends." It was made primarily for pounding, but also for prying. To only use it for its second "ends" at times does not change the definition of the hammer.

Fourth, if giving legal status to homosexual unions opens the door to defining a multitude of other relationships as marriage, so people can capitalize on the benefits, why has this not happened to any great degree amongst heterosexual couples. Most hetero couples that I know, including my wife and me, get married because we believe that we are in love. Now of course many marriages end in divorce because many couples fail to grow in mutual love. I have yet to meet a man and woman who are friends say, "Hey, let's move in together then marry so we can capitalize on each other's benefits." By discounting a couple's intentions (homo or hetero) to enter into a lifelong unitive relationship Msgr. Sokolowski takes a very cynical view of humanity.

Finally, I appeal to all celibate clergy members who want to make grand statements concerning people's sex lifes to please consult more with those of us who are in marriages or unions. We are the ones who live the day to day joys and struggles of committed love. After hearing our stories, maybe you will learn to be a bit more understanding.

Arthur J. Connors | 2/9/2007 - 4:01pm
In his article, “The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage” (6/7), Msgr. Robert Sokolowski writes: “The end of marriage is procreation” and “Sexuality has as its end the procreation of children....” These apparently self-evident statements have traditionally been used as the major premise of a syllogism to show that contraception is against the natural law and therefore always evil. The basis of this premise is related to the obvious function of sexuality, which humans share with other animals. The next step is to conclude that the only moral way to avoid conception, aside from total abstinence, is to use the monthly ovarian cycle which is also common to other animals. It is the same cycle that the farmer uses to let the bull into the barnyard, but in reverse. The problem with this whole argument is that the major premise is incorrect when applied to human beings.

The end of marriage is the sanctification and salvation of the married couple. The command of Jesus to love others as we love ourselves is a tall order, as anyone who has lived in the intimacy of a marriage relationship knows. The process of loving another in all aspects of his or her personality is truly daunting. Marriage presents the opportunity and challenge in a relationship like no other. Raising children affects each partner to the core, providing an impetus to emotional and spiritual growth, which at the same time can be extremely draining.

The end of married sexuality is the expression of love, support and the reaffirmation of that commitment which is the foundation of their relationship. It also provides the possibility of coauthoring, with the Father, new life in this world.

What effect same-sex marriage will have on heterosexual marriage I do not know. But I was not particularly enlightened by the article, which I think is based on a faulty understanding of marriage and human sexuality.

Henry Littleton | 6/16/2004 - 2:50pm
The Holy Roman Catholic Church’s Sacrament of Marriage has no relations to any other union of two individuals, especially those in front of a Justice of the Peace. In turn, all individuals that are joined together outside the Church, regardless of their gender, do not enjoy the same graces as those that receive the sacrament.

Catholics need only spread the good news and live a life that demonstrates our true faith, and believe that the Holy Spirit will guide all others back to the faiths of Abraham, and the Son of David.

Michael Bindner | 6/9/2004 - 11:26am
Msgr. Sokolowski raises four points in opposition to same-sex marriage. In his first point he argues that family members should have the right to marry if procreation is not a requirement. The point he misses is that many of the benefits of marriage, from the making of health care decisions to inheritance, already adhere to family members so that marriage would be unnecessary. He raises the specter of the sex police verifying that sex is occurring within marriage. Under current church law, if a marriage is not consummated, it is not considered a marriage. In most states, if sex and cohabitation cease for a period of months, the other party may file for divorce. In his second point he attacks the “redefin(ing of) everything.” This makes the assumption that marriage has always been defined in the same way for time immemorial. It has not been. Marriage has been defined in many different ways in human history, including Judeo-Christian culture. Kings David and Solomon and the patriarchs Abraham and Israel were polygamists, yet Abraham and Israel was called among the living by our Lord. Clearly polygamy was not wrong for Abraham and Israel. Originally, the church merely blessed civil marriage, Christian marriage did not occur until much later. In point IV he refutes his point in point III by citing that there are those who do not have children within marriage because of age, but are still married. He cites and shoots down a statement that gay marriage is meant to ratify love and friendship. This is a false argument.

Supporters of gay marriage seek societal ratification of their monogamous sexual relationships, including the ability to adopt and obtain parental rights for the non-related partner for children brought into the relationship. In a way, supporters of gay marriage agree with his argument – that marriage is essential for procreation. Procreation is not just about sex, it is about creating families for the rearing of children. Gay couples need the same kinds of protection as straight couples in this regard. Marriage and monogamy are also essential for gay and straight couples to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Society has a role in public health, part of which is the establishment of marriage. The alternative to sanctioning marriage is the promotion of promiscuity. Denying marriage sends the message that gay promiscuity is acceptable. Neither the state nor the church should send this message. The Church no longer takes the position that being homosexual is disordered, as it cannot as the evidence mounts that homosexuals are created that way, just as light skinned people are created with a lack of melanin. It also teaches that sexuality is a gift of God. It is a short logical step to conclude that homosexuals do not sin when they use this gift in the way that God meant them to. Only by accepting gay sexual identity and sexuality can we then give them the benefits of the Church’s wisdom on monogamy and so many other things. If the Church does not trust homosexuals when they inform it on the conditions of their sexuality, how can it insist that they trust the Church in matters of salvation?

Donna J. Drucker | 6/9/2004 - 11:11am
Monsignor Robert Sokolowski's article "The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage" is disturbing on a number of levels: passive voices, lack of sources, and overly broad and vague generalizations about the ends and desires of "society." To equate same-sex marriage with platonic friendship or familial incest is insulting to same-sex couples who wish public recognition of life-long partnerships. Using an 8-year-old unattributed quotation as representative of the full breadth and depth of pro-same-sex marriage arguments suggests that Monsignor Sokolowski either deliberately chose a weak foil for his own arguments or that he has not been following the news lately.

What a contrast this article is to the last issues' (5/24-5/31) rich and thoughtful article by Raymond D. Aumack, "The Jesuits Are Too Liberal." Mr. Aumack describes the real challenges of the Gospel: to love others who are a challenge to love, to speak out on behalf of the weak and powerless, to minister to sinners and those with whom we disagree. As a member of "society," I too have "an interest in seeing that there will be a next generation." I also believe, however, that they should grow up learning to "love one another," and not learn to foster further discord amongst each other.

Brian McBride | 6/6/2004 - 8:35am
I'd like to offer two comments on Msgr. Sokolowsi's article. First, identifying the "end" of an object (axe to cut, marriage to procreate) is fundamentally a matter of opinion. If God does, if fact, design objects and institutions with single ends, there is no leather bound reference we can check to learn His intent. We infer, guess and interpret with frail human capabilities and prejudices. We need to acknowledge with humility that our opinions are such.

Second, there is no "State" which "recognizes" the purpose of marriage. There are only voters legislators, executives and judges. The bill with the most votes becomes law, subject to judicial review. I feel we will come closer to the truth if we seek to know who votes for marriage benefits and why. That, after all, is the source of the law.

Katherine Hartnett | 6/22/2004 - 11:03pm
Although I find many of the articles in America to be thought provoking, my reaction "The Threat of Same Sex Marriage" is the first that has compelled me to write a letter.

Writing strictly as a lay person, I am troubled by the reductionist thinking of the author who indicates that procreation specifies what marriage is. In this day and age in which most of us who live in industrialized nations do not die in child birth, I find it incomprehensible that the 30 or so years that I may have to be in a committed relationship after my children are grown up will have no meaning because my pro-creative funcion will be finished. I would certainly hope that people entering into long-term relationships of any kind would have a solid basis in not only friendship but in the many other kinds of intimacy that human beings can share that are not physical in nature.

While procreation can certainly be a part of marriage, in order for it to last beyond the early years of sex and procreation there has got to be a lot more depth to the relationship.

In my experience, true intimacy with a partner is about the mutual revealing of our souls to one another and the constant new-ness of sharing our journies with each other. When the time of procreation has passed, sex then becomes the physical expression of a deep spiritual connection. Sexuality goes beyond physical contact to become something deeper, truer and more intimate in that sharing of soul and journey. In the long run, I think this is what sustains our deepest relationships.

While for me, I experience this in a heterosexual relationship with a man, I can't imagine why this wouldn't be equally as true for people in other kinds of committed relationships, including homosexual ones.

I don't view this as living in an illusion, rather it is one of the most real and intimate manifestations of God's presence in my life by way of my deepest and most intimate relationship.

(The Rev.) Christian Scharen | 6/18/2004 - 9:49am
I have subscribed to America for years, delighting in the substantive insight into the life of the church in the world. This article, however, despite attempting to represent one of the various positions within the church on this most contentious issue, falls far short of America's standards of excellence.

The late Dominican priest and theologian Gareth Moore OP, in his recent book titled A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality, offers a book length investigation of Catholic teaching on this question. Moore both prescribes and models an approach in which "bad arguments are avoided. These do not convince, and give the impression that there are no good arguments. This undermines the church's position rather than strengthening it." While I do not agree with Msgr. Sokolowski's conclusions in any case, our Christian witness to gays and lesbians, as well as the non-Christian public that is much more sympathetic to the gay cause, requires of us much more subtly and care in making our arguments than this article evidences.

While I could substantiate my claims in numberous ways, one quite obvious candidate seems telling enough because of its centrality to the case made in the article. Msgr. Sokolowski's article begins by pitting 'those' for and against legalization of gay marriage. Those for, he argues, claim that the abiding issue is "personal commitment and love." This line is quoted throughout the article, and its source is a letter in The Wall Street Journal. In what way should gay and lesbian people, especially the many thoughtful gay Catholics, feel that their best articulation of the case has been heard when 'those' who support legalization of gay marriage are represented wholly by an anonomous letter to a newspaper?

This example, I believe, represents the way in which Msgr. Sokolowski's argument builds a 'straw opponent' which is easy for him to knock about with his philosophical arguments regarding purposes and ends. I sincerely hope that America either 1) runs another article offering a rebuttal or 2) seeks another submission of an articulate alternative position on the questions at hand.

Francis J. DeVito | 6/14/2004 - 11:35pm
I have always admired Monsignor Sokolowski's use of the Aristotelian/Thomistic approach to ethics to tackle difficult issues, but he really hit an "ontological pothole" in his arguments against gay marriage.

Monsignor Sokolowski argues that gay couples cannot really fulfill the "end" of Christian marriage because neither their platonic love nor their sex lives can be procreative. He warns that recognizing the legitimacy of gay marriage will ultimately destroy the institution since marriage is severed from its true end (the continual violation of the nature of something will ultimately destroy that thing).

I respect Monsignor Sokolowski’s desire to protect the integrity of marriage. The argument he uses above is the same argument we use to defend the dignity and rights of all human persons. For example, we have all seen how a market economy can sometimes violate our humanity (as a Latino, I have experienced this violation first hand). The “bottom-line” has always had the “ontological priority” in the market place.

I believe that in the case of gay marriage, Monsignor Sokolowski may be creating another kind of “contradiction” because of his static understanding of how human intention interacts with the ends of things. The nature of something will emerge as we interact or experience that thing. For example, married couples will sometimes make the mistake that they “know” each other and forget to respect the mystery and divinity of their relationship (We can say the same about any human relationship). Isn’t it possible that there is so much to learn about the mystery of marriage? Is it possible that gay couples can provide a window into the mystery of marriage? As I have come to know gay couples, I have come to experience the “mystery” and “divinity” of their relationships. I am concerned that we ourselves are living a “contradiction” if we work actively against gay marriage: We are working against God’s divine manifestation in this world.

I believe that in time, we will recognize gay marriage as a divine manifestation of Christian love rather than as an “ontological” threat.

Joseph Kash | 6/10/2004 - 10:02pm
Thank you for printing Fr. Sokolowski's analysis of the same-sex mairrage issue. His arguments are hard to refute with reason. As many of your letters to the editor online attest, the arguments for same sex marraige always degenerate into emotional tirades and as one of the letters show they often degenerate into downright sterotypical insults (ie the notion that Fr. Sokolowski's opinion is somehow not valid because of his celebacy!) The issue comes down to why we should elevate certain friendships to a special status.
Joseph Kash | 6/10/2004 - 9:47pm
I beg to differ as to the teaching of the Catholic Church on same sex attraction. This is from the current Catholic Catechism:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

The Catholic Church does teach that the homosexual inclination "IS OBJECTIVELY DISORDERED". If you are going to make a statement about what the Catholic Church teaches, please don't just give your own opinion. Please give the actual teaching! This is malicious deception.

Martha Peyton | 6/21/2004 - 9:38pm
“The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage” is an excellent example of the wrong approach the Church usually takes to sexual topics.

First, ignore the true experts. The writer, a (presumable celibate) monsignor, has had no first-hand experience of sexual love within a committed relationship. It is frequently argued that priests hear enough about marriage in the confessional to be experts on the subject, but this is hubris. Experience matters. Ask an artist if the art critics understand how art happens, or ask a child care professional who becomes a parent for the first time if he/she was fully prepared for the way the universe shifted.

Next, rig the terms. So as not to dignify homosexual love with even the recognition that it is love, the writer calls it “friendship.” The next bit of argument is then easy: we can’t as a society go around giving the status of marriage to any two or three or ten people who get along well enough to live together in the same house.

Finally, and this is the bit the Church always seems to get wrong, whether discussing homosexual marriage, birth control, or divorce: deny unseen reality. The writer limits the manifestation of procreative love to the production of children. If “the physical end of procreation is the first and essential defining character of marriage,” then surely marriages between people known to be incapable of producing children (such as an older couple) cannot be allowed. To argue the point to absurdity, even once-fruitful marriages in which production of children is no longer possible should be dissolved.

Love expressed in marriage does create new life. The new life is most physically manifested in the production of children. But it can also be recognized within the relationship itself. The relationship between a loving couple is a new life unto itself, capable of holding up both partners when neither has the strength to stand individually. It feeds each partner, is fed by each partner, and if ignored or abused, it dies. (Then divorce follows, a burial of what once was.) The Holy Spirit resides in the relationship.

This concept is utterly faithful to a Catholic world view, but because it involves sexuality, the Church just doesn’t get it. Without the full participation of people who express their sexuality in ways other than celibacy, I don’t know if the Church ever will get it.

David Myers | 6/16/2004 - 1:41pm
Msgr. Robert Sokolowski argues that marriage must be predicated by the potential for reproduction. I agree. In fact, I hope Msgr. Sokolowski joins my campaign to outlaw marriage for sterile people, post-menopausal women, and some handicapped people. Then, hopefully, all six billion people on our planet won’t have to “be concerned about its own preservation and continuity into the next generation.” I, for one, will sleep more soundly.

Kimberly Ferri Cakebread | 6/12/2004 - 8:12pm
I have two responses to "The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage."

First, though I have never been a proponent of same-sex marriage, I might be more moved by the arguments against it if heterosexuals had not already done such a marvelous job of turning it into a mockery.

Second,the primary model we have of marriage is that of Adam and Eve. In the Genesis story, God creates Eve to be Adam's helpmate. Procreation is not the focus. Given this fundamental underpinning of Judeo-Christian tradition, why is it such a leap to understand that same-sex couples would want to fight for social recognition for their choice of helpmate?

Michael McCue | 6/11/2004 - 9:29pm
I want to agree with the other letters posted in response to Robert Sokolowski's article. The neat, "all questions answered" character of his reasoning is attractive in some ways. However, such reasoning requires over-simplifying of reality. It also fails to address the question of the "end" for people who happen to be lesbian or gay. I am frankly disappointed that America published an article of this poor quality. I will admit that it's good to read a clear presentation of the view Robert Sokolowski articulates---good for a magazine to be a forum for conversation. However,it's saddening to see how far the position his article articulates is from the experience of real people. There are ethical issues that the Catholic tradition has a lot to teach---but so ofter we waste so much creditability promotiong things that are beside the point---or really against the point of Catholicism. In 2000 the pope spend a lot of time addressing past sins---apologizing to various groups whom we treated badly over the two thousand years ---whether out of blindness or even out of active ill will. The holy father did not repent for sins committed toward gay women & men in the name of morality and Christ. Of course people in past ages did not understand homosexuality as an orientation; they just saw actions. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to compensate for all that inflicted pain. The moral reasoning articulated by Robert Sokolowski fails to do that at all. It wants gay people not to exist. It allows no room for the goodness and flourishing of people who are lesbian or gay.

In reality it ends up leading people away from Christ.

Linda Meyer | 6/11/2004 - 4:05am
In the first section Msgr. Robert Sokolowski assumes that marriage is primarily to exchange sex. The legal benefits of marriage: property rights, taxes, insurance, etc. are only secondary reasons. He also acts like blood relations cannot get benefits even though today’s laws provide it. A breadwinner can claim for tax purposes a sibling, parents, uncle, aunt, grandparent, etc. as a dependent. The other legal benefits also apply. These people do not have to get married to have these benefits. Homosexual couples may feel that marriage is the only way they can get legal benefits they need and desire.

Incest cannot be a logical conclusion to same sex marriages. In this culture as well as many other cultures, incest is not considered proper. Children born from such a union have more problems than children born from normal marriages. Other close relationships among families are not considered marriageable choices, because societies have discovered such choices disrupt more than support the society. Polygamy and polyandry are also difficult to support in a society based on the nuclear family. I ask Msgr Sokolowski to show cases where family members receive the same types of discrimination that homosexuals face daily.

In section 2, Msgr Sokolowski states “Marriage has traditionally been understood to be a human relationship ordered toward reproduction. The “end” of marriage is procreation.” Msgr. Sokolowski believes that sexual relations are ONLY for the purpose of procreation. Does he expect married couples who cannot have children because of age, sterility, or other reasons NOT to have sexual relations with each other? This reasoning is difficult to consider logical. Older people beyond the reproductive age do get married. Msgr. Sokolowski’s reasoning says because they can’t have children; their marriage has no purpose. Companionship is not a purpose?

In section 3, Msgr Sokolowski says: “Sexuality has as its end the procreation of children,..The child is loved because the child has been chosen, not because he or she is there.” Does the Msgr know that married couples continue to have sexual relations AFTER the woman becomes pregnant? Following the Msgr’s logic, once the woman becomes pregnant, sexual relations should end because the purpose has been fulfilled. I highly doubt he will find many married couples that will completely accept that thought. Children should be loved by 2 parents when they are born, but for many children, such beliefs are nearly a fantasy. NOT all children are raised with LOVE.

Married couples who cannot have children are NOT living in an illusion. Once a woman has a hysterectomy, passes menopause, or she or her husband is declared sterile by doctors, their sexual relations DO NOT STOP. They continue to love and enjoy each other as God has intended. Are we to believe that Abraham and Sarah stopped having sex after several years when no children were born? Did Hannah stop trying to have a child after she realized she was barren?

I can believe in medieval times most married couples may not have lived long enough to enjoy their great grandchildren, but in this country many couples do have that privilege. They may have spent their entire married lives having as many children as possible. The life expectancy of people has greatly improved since that time.

Robert Nunz | 6/7/2004 - 1:30pm
Professor Robert Sokolowski"s "The Threar of Same Sex Mariage" was an extremely disapointing offering about a vital current topic. Relying only on his philosophical understanding of marriage, Professor Sokolowski assumes what he sets out to show, viz. that homosexual unions are the same as friendships--though anyone I know, whether gay or straight, would know that lifelong loving commitments are very different from lifelong friendships. Conveniently, when talking about older relations living and having marital benefits together, he omits the long term legal cioncepts of affinity and consanguinity. He further casts doubt about the reality of marriage between older couples who can't have children or even engage in sexual relations. His suggestion that gay marriage would logically lead to permission of polygamy or polyandry is ludicrous: once more he leaves out that the idea of marriage proposed is a lifetime loving commitment between TWO People. Professor Sokolwski would do better to pay greater attention to history and the theological issues involved. He tips his cap to history by noting marriage has been understoodas a human relationship ordered to procreation. But he does not note how the role of woman has shifted within that history, specifically, for a lengthy time being no more as a way of passing on property or name, and, until recently, only a vesel of procreation. The failure of the Church to still fully enunciate the role of woman as equal and yet balanced by role of mother has raised much of the problem the author goes on about. Expanding problems in domestic violence and sexual abuse have further raised issues about the need for loving families to see to the good of children, not just biologically bring them into the world. Finally, there is lengthy history of marriage as between a man and woman only in the Scriptures and Catholic Tradition. Recently, the scriptural basis has begun to be challenged in some quarters. It certainly has become a major issue in several other major Christian denominations. The question of gay marriage and marriage in general will only be be dealt with succesfully when Church. leadership can crediblyly put forth both the role of women and human sexuality
Mitch Moore | 6/7/2004 - 9:47am
I must respectfully disagree with the Msgr Sokolowski on the threat of same-sex marriage. Long-term homosexual couples who have often risked everything - family, friends, employment, secure housing, even their own safety, to form their own families, to love who they must love, can hardly be called "an abiding friendship" much less compared with marrying one's uncle! To call it that is a mockery of this God-given love that for centuries dare not speak its name. And it is to display a profound ignorance of who these people are. The recent spectacle of thousands of couples all over the country flocking to the courthouse, standing hours and hours in the rain, to publicly declare their unions, tears of joy streaming down their faces, is a sign of hope for an institution in shambles. An institution in shambles not because of same-sex marriages, but because of feckless and fickle heterosexuals.

The Church has every right to reserve the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to procreative couples. But in a civil marriage, the only requirement for "making it legal" is a particular genital configuration (and a certain distance in the gene-pool; no doubt civil marriage has procreation as one of its concerns) - completely irrespective of the couples' commitment to each other, suitability, nor their ability or desire to procreate. That's discrimination, and it's wrong.

Bridget M. Chamberas | 6/4/2004 - 2:57pm
"America Magazine" asks on the cover of this issue, "Why Aren't Our Churches Full?" Part of the answer can be found in this article. Why does it never cease to amaze me that some of those who try to defend "traditional" marriage and teach us what marriage is really about are living a celibate lifestyle and don't have a personal experience of marriage? It strikes me as poor pedagogy. Once again, I come away disappointed by some of the leaders and thinkers of the church who demonstrate that they are out of touch with the people who are leaving the pews.
Mark Bruno | 6/4/2004 - 2:06pm
I would definitely agree that expanding our current legal definition of marriage could lead to possible abuses such as those presented by Msgr. Sokolowski. I also agree that the continuation of our population should be a primary concern and should be protected. But, Msgr. Sokowolowski seems to severely undercut the role of the unitive "ends" to sexuality.

First, if gay marriages should be illegal because gay couples cannot have a procreative sexual relationship, then why stop with gays? Why not make it illegal for a man and woman to marry if either one of them is biologically incapable of procreating? Judging by the Monsignor's logic, a post-menopausal widow or a young woman who has had an emergency hystorectomy should just accept life-long singlehood.

Second, he states "In cases of artificial insemination by an unknown donor, ... Such a dilution of extended familial relationships is a loss of a great human good;..." As a father of two children myself, I agree with this to a point. But, we have accepted and endorsed legal adoption for years. Most adopted children never get to know their extended blood family. Is this not also a "dilution of extended fsmilial relationships?" Yet, in the context of two loving parents, many adopted children thrive.

Third, if we are going to use tools to make analogies with sex, then I think that we should compare it to a hammer than an axe. An axe has one "ends" - to cut. A hammer can be use to pound nails or remove nails. Therefore, it has two viable "ends." It was made primarily for pounding, but also for prying. To only use it for its second "ends" at times does not change the definition of the hammer.

Fourth, if giving legal status to homosexual unions opens the door to defining a multitude of other relationships as marriage, so people can capitalize on the benefits, why has this not happened to any great degree amongst heterosexual couples. Most hetero couples that I know, including my wife and me, get married because we believe that we are in love. Now of course many marriages end in divorce because many couples fail to grow in mutual love. I have yet to meet a man and woman who are friends say, "Hey, let's move in together then marry so we can capitalize on each other's benefits." By discounting a couple's intentions (homo or hetero) to enter into a lifelong unitive relationship Msgr. Sokolowski takes a very cynical view of humanity.

Finally, I appeal to all celibate clergy members who want to make grand statements concerning people's sex lifes to please consult more with those of us who are in marriages or unions. We are the ones who live the day to day joys and struggles of committed love. After hearing our stories, maybe you will learn to be a bit more understanding.