Two years ago today, England and Wales became the 16th country to welcome same-sex marriage. Scotland came next. To give you some context, that puts us in the first 10% of all the countries in the world. However, push Mr or Ms average to explain the difference between the two forms of marriage, and they'll struggle. Reluctantly they'll admit gender comes into it, but only as a purely incidental and inconsequential point. Catholics do little better, the consensus is that fairness requires the same-sex option.
This isn't political correctness gone extreme. When it comes to equating the two forms of marriage, people genuinely can't explain the difference in a convincing way. If that's you, let me help with a tiny hint why... Contraception!
Contraception is changing the nature of marriage and it's changing us too. It's subtle, few people spot it, and then it's too late - the key God provided has been lost - people don't know what's missing so they don't know how to turn around. Still, the semblance of marriage carries on, everyone assumes it's the same as for centuries back, nay millennia. But no, marriage changed long before 2014. Some mark the 1930 CofE Lambeth conference as the turning point. Others think it's the Pill and the 60's sexual revolution.
Either way, we've had at least two generations to get our messages clear. How we doing? Well you can't share what you don't have. Most of our clergy never fully grasped the importance, and reading encyclicals yourself can sometimes feel like reading Greek. It should have been appreciated and cascaded down universally. It wasn't. So contraception wove its subtle way, changing our sense of marriage profoundly. What God designed as a natural, instinctive, inbuilt, spiritual growth device, is now somewhat broken.
Jesus used the parable of yeast, for something that's small but changes everything. Contraception is presented as a tiny thing, yet one our society values most highly: there's a clue!
When civil partnerships were proposed here, the Church in England spoke strongly of the importance of the 'institution of marriage', but defined it in terms too weak to bring out what's special in non-contraceptive marriage. Their presentation didn't contrast the same-sex model enough. Our leaders failed to see, how the widespread acceptance of contraception has become our weakest flank.
They opposed civil partnerships mainly as a weakening of emphasis on male-female marriage, instead of highlighting the distinction. The impacts on children were rightly brought to the fore but not the difference in coupling. So when 'gay marriage' was tabled soon after, our leaders thought it politic to say civil partnerships already provide equality. They said no-one needs 'gay marriage' as well. When all along they should have been explaining why same-sex coupling is different! No surprise the secular perception, that the only difference is in the heads of a few staid Catholics.
With all this softening to contraceptive mentality, it's little surprise that hearing Francis' compassionate mood music, our leaders wobbled. Leaning now in ever more progressive directions. Not having understood the heart of the teaching on contraception, they lack the reasoning to see the errors in the progressive position. They are likely unable to distinguish same-sex from male-female coupling beyond the seemingly arbitrary, sex-difference preference. Now we're all progressive because even if we feel instinctively there's a difference, we can't tell what it is any more. What were we thinking for x thousand years?
Shortly we anticipate Francis' 'Apostolic Exhortation' on family. A great opportunity to remind, NO, to present why contraception is 'toxic' to marriage. Those in the know see the contraception link to abortion, fewer see the link to weakening of marriage. Contraceptive marriages are in this sense more like same-sex marriages (see below). It's non-contracepting marriages that are most different here. Francis prefers to avoid telling people how to live, one of his few reluctant 'red lines' seems to be abortion, but not contraception, at least so far. I pray he will start to tell it as it is, the world needs his witness. But if he does, will English Catholics be ready to echo this good news?
For the curious:
Although opinions are changing and other arguments could be put, I propose there are three basic points that distinguish a natural marriage as God intended:
- sex, meaning both difference and activity
- openness to potential fertility - children
- lifelong exclusive commitment, expressing love as a decision.
The first point is the foundation, the last is the door, the middle one is the consequence of the first and the most natural call for the last. Sacramentally they are more than the above.
Compare this to a permanently contracepting opposite sex couple:
- sex, meaning both difference and activity
Openness to children is obviously gone while contracepting. In the natural context that was the reason for requiring the last point: lifelong commitment. So at best the last bullet point becomes an option subject to ongoing consensus or the arrival of children. Indeed there is no inherent factor requiring exclusivity.
With same sex couples, we have:
- sex, meaning activity
Gone is sexual difference - the most basic meaning of the word 'sex'. Children are only an external option unrelated to the sexual activity without some intermediaries. There is no intrinsic reason for lifelong commitment or exclusivity - these are personal options outside the category, or such categorisation becomes arbitrary.
Just on a point count, do you see the similarity between contracepting and same-sex 'marriage'?
13 March 2014 was when the law came into force in England, same sex marriages contracted overseas could be recognised the same day, the first English same sex marriages were then contracted at midnight on the 29th March 2014.