by Scott Lloyd
Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Catholic, wrote the following in response to his bishop’s criticism of his announcement over the summer that he would actively work to redefine marriage in Maryland (link to the full letter here):
I have concluded that discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation in the context of civil marital rights is unjust.
The governor’s statement is helpful in that it contains two errors that are common to the advocacy for the redefinition of marriage; those who seek to defend marriage need to be prepared to identify and correct them.
The first error is the assertion that traditional marriage and efforts to defend it discriminate “against individuals.” This is in many cases an intentional falsehood, I believe: a distinction drawn between two types of relationships is not an instance of unjust discrimination against individuals. In the first place, the law distinguishes among relationships frequently. It treats husband and wife differently than it does uncle and niece, or teacher and student, and it does so with good reason. Second, one who is attracted to a person of the same sex remains free to marry in the same way everyone else can marry—to a person of the opposite sex. A person attracted to the Catholic priesthood or religious life also has the same right to marriage—a marriage to a person of the opposite sex. The problem in both cases, if one could call it a problem, is not that the law bars anyone from the relationship, but rather that the individuals aren’t attracted to participate in the institution. The distinction in the law is a legitimate distinction between two types of relationships, not between two classes of individuals.
One can more easily make the case that heterosexual and homosexual individuals are equal because as a question of dignity and rights, they are equal. So advocates distort the issue by making this debate a question of equality between individuals—an argument they win, particularly because few today would engage in the argument that one class of citizens is inferior to another. This, however, is not where the distinction lies.
The second of Governor O’Malley’s errors is his claim that it is “unjust” to draw a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. This seems to be more of a misunderstanding about what justice means. To be just is to “give to [one] what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting,” according to Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Caritas in veritate. Few would disagree with this characterization.
Here, can the law only achieve justice if it has afforded homosexual relationships the same status in the law as heterosexual relationships? Or alternatively, has the law achieved justice if it treats homosexual relationships the same as heterosexual relationships?
The answer is ‘no’ in both cases, because justice is a state where people have received what is actually due to them. To confer the same status to gay and heterosexual relationships is to refuse to acknowledge the many benefits heterosexual relationships provide to society that homosexual relationships simply cannot provide.
In the first place, one should acknowledge that homosexual relationships confer some of the benefits that heterosexual relationships confer: companionship, and sexual gratification.
The benefits to society and to individuals that homosexual relationships cannot provide, however, are too important to ignore. The first is so obvious, so prevalent, and so essential that it is to the law like air is to breathe. Heterosexual relationships create people, without which the law and the society it protects would not exist. Every homosexually attracted person, every advocate for marriage redefinition, every judge inclined to fudge the Constitution, and every child adopted by a gay couple was born because of an instance of heterosexual sex or some approximation of the same. No homosexual encounter has, in the history of humanity, yielded a single human being. The contrast between the natural means by which all of human history has occurred and a sterile activity that only serves to gratify the individuals involved cannot be any more stark.
This logic, it might be argued, might disqualify sterile couples from marriage status, except there is a notable practical and public policy justification for not doing so, in that you don’t want to encourage young couples to “test” whether they’re fertile before marriage.
There is of course a final justification that is widely favored on the Left and in opinions of courts everywhere: diversity. If corporations, the armed forces and military academies, the government, the bar and the bench, schoolhouses, and every corner of society benefits or would benefit from the presence of females alongside of males, why is the same not true for parents? Although some would deny it, no reasonable person who has spent any time with a member of the opposite sex actually believes that the other does not bring a perspective to our common experience that is informed and shaped by the fact that they are a man or a woman. No serious person would suggest that this additional perspective is not enriching. Naturally, this goes for parenting as well. Anyone who has had a mother and father knows this, as does anyone who has experienced the absence of either.
Therefore, any person, and any group of people (such as a state legislature), who value the existence of human life and diversity can and should feel comfortable assigning a different classification to exclusive heterosexual relationships over exclusive homosexual relationships. There is nothing unjust about it; it is simply an acknowledgement of the common and necessary distinction between kinds of relationships and the reality of how societies grow and flourish. More troubling is the denial of these fundamental realities in order to achieve the political goal of “gay marriage.”