The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Statement on Same-Sex Marriage (which is 15 years old but appears to be the one they're still operating under) lists two purposes for marriage:
- "the mutual love and support of the spouses"
- and "the procreation and education of children."
I'm going to set aside the mutual love, mutual support, and educating children parts of this for the moment because you can't make arguments against gay marriage using these "purposes" (since gay couples can do them too), which is why Catholic leaders have homed in on the procreation part in order to argue against gay marriage.
On the USCCB's FAQ page about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions [updated link], they make this argument for why marriage is unique and thus should only be between a man and a woman:
"There is a fundamental difference between marriage, which has the potential to bring forth children, and other relationships. The fact that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in children remains a powerful human reality, even if circumstances do not prmit [sic] every marriage to result in children. This makes marriage between a man and a woman a unique institution."The first sentence essentially says, "Married couples are the only relationships that can create children." Which is, um, completely false. Do I need to TiVo Teen Mom for you?
Then they go on to say that marriage is this totally special and unique union because it will usually produce children.
Ummm... I think you're mixing up marriage and male-female intercourse.
Seriously, this argument is so convoluted I can barely untangle the logic. I think they're attempting to say something like, "Because only married straight people can make babies, only straight people should get married."
We've already established that babies can be made outside of marriage, so this provides a pretty shaky foundation for the whole "the purpose of marriage is procreation" argument.
I know what you may be thinking: "But you shouldn't be having babies outside of marriage!"
This, my friend, is an entirely different Catholic argument, about how a purpose of marriage is for telling you when it's OK to start having sex. Which I've discussed elsewhere. (Also here.)
(And if you really, really want to argue that sex should be saved for marriage, then let's both fight for legalizing gay marriage -- otherwise gay people have nothing to wait for. And if you want to argue that gay people shouldn't be having sex at all because it says not to in the Bible, then I will patiently point you this resource guide.)
Way back when, when the whole idea of having some kind of official joining-of-two-people came about, it was not because people thought that there was no other way to have children. I mean, think about that for a second. You really think people said to themselves, "We want to have sex, so we'd better have some kind of formal ceremony or else we'll never produce children"?
I don't want to bore you with a history lesson (again, I will point to the many wonderful books out there, of which two of my favorites are Marriage, A History and Committed), but essentially marriage, at its most basic, is a way of organizing society, and in a cruder sense, of organizing children. Back when all property was passed down through eldest sons, it was vitally important to know which sons were whose and which were "legitimate" versus "illegitimate." Go read the book of Genesis if you want to get a sense for this. Rabbit pointed out on this post that this is a big reason Catholicism no longer has married clergy: Property would leave the church's possession and be passed down to these men's sons if they weren't forbidden to marry.
Nowadays we don't have as pressing of concerns about paternity and legitimacy and inheritance because these things aren't written into law, at least in the United States. And so, understandably, we see fewer couples feeling a need to get married. Because (need I say it again?) marriage and procreation are not one and the same.
Marriage can be a great way for spouses to find mutual love and support, and to create and educate children, but it's not the only way, and opening marriage up to gay couples won't change that.
----What do you think? What did I miss? Respectful disagreements always welcome.
(In case you didn't catch it, this issue is near-and-dear to me not only because of my many gay friends, but also because I am a married person who doesn't plan on procreating but rather adopting.)
----Reminder: If you're guest posting for me, I'd like your post tonight if possible. If you can't get it done by tonight, don't stress--I set a pretty early deadline relative to when I'm leaving for vacation. If you didn't volunteer originally but would like to jump in now, go ahead! I can always fit in a few more.
(UPDATE: Here's my actual answer to the question, "Why get married?")