A new theological argument in favor of Catholic support for civil same-sex marriage is being published today on Bondings 2.0. The article is written by Professor Lisa Fullam, an associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California. You can access the full text of the article on its own page by clicking here.
Entitled “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation,” Prof. Fullam’s essay uses the Catholic intellectual tradition to argue that support for civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is in line with our church’s best ideas about marriage, civil society, and church-state relations. It deserves a full and thoughtful reading by all who are concerned with these issues.
The problem with the current Catholic debate on civil marriage, according to Fullam, is that it is both too broad and too narrow. In the article’s abstract, she states:
“Too broad: civil same-sex marriage is sometimes described as parallel to same-sex marriage in the Church. Too narrow: some Catholic contributions to the discussion have centered on reproductive capacity, ignoring Catholicism’s rich tradition which values marriage beyond procreation.”
The essay is divided into three sections:
- a discussion of how Catholic thought understands civil law;
- a critique of magisterial statements in the public debate about marriage;
- an enumeration or reasons why Catholics might work for marriage equality.
Fullam’s essay is both theologically rich and relevant to contemporary lives. For example, her working definition of the traditional concept of “natural law” begins with a full accounting of human nature, which she defines as:
“. . . the capacities and potential excellences of the human creature, seen in the light of the best knowledge available to us—biological, psychological, sociological, philosophical (including theological,) spiritual, artistic, historic (including personal experience), etc. Natural law is sometimes confused with the biological functions of human bodies, but this misunderstanding fails to consider human nature in this fuller sense, that we are rational and creative discerners of meaning, seeking to grow in virtue, aided by the grace of God. To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies. “
Among the most thought-provoking part of the essay is her critique of magisterial arguments against same-sex marriage, including those from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” By basing her argument in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, which acknowledged that marriages served both unitive and procreative ends, Fullam shows how leaders like the U.S. bishops have narrowed down the Council’s teaching on marriage:
“According to the bishops, the ‘communion of persons’ of Gaudium et Spes is revealed in the procreative capacity of couples: while the Council taught that non-procreative marriages are still marriages, the USCCB roots the unitive end of marriage in the procreative possibility of heterosexual marriage.”
In the last section, Fullam shows how the magisterium’s focus on procreation leads to many inconsistencies in their approach to civil marriage and family life. For example, she notes the situation of adoption:
“Those who raise children not biologically their own are reaching beyond a reproductive imperative to a spiritually-resonant act of profound devotion. They make a great contribution to the common good. To base the social value of marriage on the potential for biological procreation would be to ignore the generosity of adoptive parents, and to render their families somehow unnatural or second-class. This would be a fundamental injustice to those families, and an odd reversal of Christian tradition that emphasizes caring for those in need. “
And she ponders what other civil laws might be needed if a view of marriage that has procreation as its definition were to take hold in secular society:
“Unless we are willing to redefine civil marriage in reproductive terms–perhaps automatically divorcing couples who do not reproduce in a reasonable amount of time, for instance, or denying marriage to women of a certain age or those who are sterile by choice or by happenstance–in denying civil marriage to same-sex couples, we discriminate against them precisely because they are homosexual, a form of unjustifiable discrimination that is contrary to Catholic social teaching.”
Fullam’s essay gives solid, theological underpinnings to the hopes of so many Catholics whose consciences have told them that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is a matter of justice. By grounding her thought in both Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council, Fullam shows just how Catholic an argument for marriage equality can be. Reading through this essay will help all those who often find themselves challenged by Catholic opponents to marriage equality. And it will also give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of our Catholic faith and intellectual tradition.
You can read the entire essay on Bondings 2.0 by clicking here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry