Chicago Cardinal Francis George is leaving no stone unturned in his campaign to halt gay marriage as it sits on the runway awaiting clearance for takeoff by the Illinois legislature. This week, he devoted another lengthy, tortured column to the subject in the Catholic New World. I read this one very carefully, and though the cardinal deserves credit for perseverance, it seems to me he is clinging to both an outmoded concept of marriage that the church itself no longer holds and an understanding of homosexual relationships that is no longer valid.
For George, marriage is the permanent union of one man and one woman for the purpose of procreating and raising children; to call it anything else is a misuse of abuse of a definition enshrined in natural law. In fact, the current concept of marriage is the outcome of a long evolution. Over many eons, varieties of marriage (polygamy, for example) were practiced and were once considered normal, natural and acceptable.
At least since the late Middle Ages, the Catholic church has presented marriage as having two ends or purposes: a primary purpose, the procreation and education of children; and a secondary purpose, the mutual love, care and support of the spouses. In Catholic moral teaching, this secondary purpose tended to be taken lightly. It even got obscured by an overpowering obsession with the primary purpose. The most exacting details concerning the proper and improper uses of sex seized much of the attention of the people who wrote the manuals about such things, celibate priests with degrees in moral theology. The obsession was passed on to bishops and pastors.
But in the mid-20th century, a younger generation of moral theologians began criticizing this narrow focus, suggesting that love and companionship were anything but secondary characteristics of marriage, that they were in fact primary purposes. Their point was not difficult to see. In the real world, it is first of all love and companionship that attracts people to one another and leads them to commitment. Increasing and multiplying the race is usually a secondary consideration at best.