Prepare yourself for the 'Marriage Debate'


Each of us has a responsibility to give reasons for our beliefs. That same-sex relationships are not marriages can be understood and defended by rational people. We have summarized the debate into four strong arguments supporting marriage, four counter arguments to typical pro-homosexual "marriage" challenges, and four responses to red-herring arguments that do not illuminate the debate.

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It does not make for polite conversation, but we need to find the courage to speak to our friends, families, co-workers and members of our larger communities about their obligation to join us in actively opposing the proposed government legislation. But they will need to be convinced

Each of us has a responsibility to give reasons for our beliefs. That same-sex relationships are not marriages can be understood and defended by rational people.

We have summarized the debate into four strong arguments supporting marriage, four counter arguments to typical pro-homosexual "marriage" challenges, and four responses to red-herring arguments that do not illuminate the debate. (For the religious arguments, see the Vatican document, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons".)

Defence of marriage arguments:

1. Marriage pre-exists the state

Marriage is a universal human institution. It has existed in all cultures, religions and societies throughout human history as the union of one man and one woman. While marriage is appropriately recognized, regulated and affirmed by the state it was not created or determined by the state and, therefore, cannot be fundamentally redefined by the state.

2. Marriage's purpose

It is a fundamental fact of human life that human beings come in two sexes, male and female, different yet designed for one another. Marriage bridges the male — female divide recognizing the complementarity of the sexes and provides stability for the offspring of these relationships. Marriage institutionalizes and symbolizes respect for the transmission of life. We need men and women to marry and have children for society to survive. There is no similar public stake in any other form of relationships including homosexual relationships.

3. Same-sex "marriage" devalues authentic marriages

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is not related to their homosexual orientation, or to them as individuals. Rather, the exclusion of their relationship is related to the fact that it is not inherently procreative, and, therefore, if it is included within marriage, marriage cannot institutionalize and symbolize respect for the transmission of life. To recognize same-sex relationships as marriage would unavoidably change and eliminate this function of marriage. Same-sex "marriage" devalues the real thing in the same way that counterfeits devalue the authentic.

4. Marriage laws exclude no one

This debate is not really about human rights or equality of individuals. All adults whether self identified as homosexual or not enjoy the same legal right to marriage. That is, the right to marry members of the opposite sex. What is now being claimed is not equal access to the institution of marriage but the right to change its very definition.

Responding to counter arguments:

1. The central purpose of marriage cannot be procreation because not all married couples have children, and with new technologies and the help of a third party of the opposite-sex, same-sex unions can have children.

The fact that some married couples do not have children either because of infertility or personal decision does not determine the purpose of marriage. Exceptions do not invalidate but prove the rule; individual practices do not invalidate the objectives of an institution; variations do not nullify a norm.

The inherent biological fact remains that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in children which no shift in the realm of ideas, social trends or new technologies can change.

2. Same-sex partners now have almost all of the same social benefits of married couples; so aren't people really just fighting over a word? What is so important about the word, "marriage"?

Words are important. For example, our personal names, our family names are "just words". Words signify who and what we are and the meaning of institutions. Marriage has enormous significance because it has existed across all cultures, faiths, and political systems since recorded history. Marriage is a word that is full of history, meaning and symbolism, and one which should be kept for this unique reality.

3. Would refusing same-sex partners the right to marry be the same as laws in some countries which used to prevent marriage between different races?

The analogy is not valid because racial laws were unjustly about keeping the races separate, not about the nature of marriage. Same-sex marriage would, like polygamy, change the true nature of marriage by making it into something that it is not.

4. Same-sex partners take the position that creating civil unions for them would be treating them as second-class citizens. Would that be so?

Treating marriage differently is not a judgment on the worth or human dignity of individuals in different types of relationships. The distinction is made because of the generally different role that marriage has played in the perpetuation and stability of society.

Responding to diversionary arguments:

1. The Separation of Church and State

This concept in usually invoked either by those who want to maintain a disconnect between their religious commitments and their political responsibilities or secular atheists who believe that politics is their privileged domain. Properly understood this principle simply compels the state to treat all religions equally, guaranteeing that no one religion be declared the state religion (including secular humanism). This general principle does not require individuals to ignore their religious beliefs when engaging in the political arena. In a properly ordered democracy an opinion is no more disqualified for being "religious" than for being atheistic, humanist, socialist, or just plain dumb.

2. Secular Society

Another variation on the above red-herring is the assertion that we live in a post-Christian or secular society which requires purging traditional morality from its legal structures. This assertion is flatly wrong. We do not live in a secular society (whereby "secular" is understood to mean indifference or rejection of religion). Rather we live in a pluralistic society composed of roughly 72% self-identified Christians, 6% identified with other traditional world-religions and only 16.2% self-identified as secular atheists (Stats. Can. 2001). Civil government is only as secular as are the people from whom it derives its democratic legitimacy.

3. Impose Morality

A common mantra of weak politicians and confused citizens is that we cannot impose our personal morality on others. It is true that we ought not to allow moral positions to be undemocratically enshrined in our laws and policies (as our judges have now done with their court imposed definition of marriage); however, politics is required to deal with moral issues all the time. In attempting to resolve them, politicians choose one moral position over another. There will never be complete consensus on any moral issue so one version of morality will inevitably be imposed.

4. Homophobia / Tolerance

Homophobia is a nonsense word used as a rhetorical weapon. It serves to define anyone who opposes the legitimization of homosexuality as a hate-filled bigot. While the accusation that one is a mentally-ill bigot, equivalent to a racist, is personally insulting it is simply a character attack and should be dismissed as such. Its illegitimacy can be exposed by asking the person using the term to define it and to draw the distinction between homophobic and non-homophobic opposition to homosexuality.

Others will suggest that while they may not agree with "homosexual marriage" tolerance requires that they accept it. The question of recognizing homosexual unions as marriage is not a question of tolerating such relationships but of endorsing them with the legal recognition and support due to marriage. It is important to remember that all adults have the legal right to marry. All adults who do not marry can enter into other non-marital relationships, privately tolerated but not publicly endorsed.



Catholic Civil Rights League. "Prepare yourself for the 'Marriage Debate'." CCRL Newsletter Vol. 6 No. 3 (September, 2003).

This article reprinted with permission from the Catholic Civil Rights League. It was prepared from a variety of sources by Michael Connell of the CCRL.

The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian lay organization committed to:

  • working with the mass media to achieve fairness and balance in the reporting of Catholic positions on issues of public debate.
  • and lobbying government and intervening in court challenges in support of law and policy compatible with a Chrisian understanding of human nature and society.

Copyright © 2003 Catholic Civil Rights League

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