Visions of Daniel

Gay Marriage and the Vatican


Papers link

The following is the full text of a letter to the editor, published with some editorial changes, in National Catholic Reporter, January 4-17, 2013, p. 23, under the title "Sex, factually." The topic was the the approval of gay marriage in three states in the November, 2012, election. Quotations in this letter come from the news report, “Bishops see stronger marriage catechesis,” NCR , November 23-December 6, 2012, pp. 5-6.


We need to keep in perspective voter approval of gay marriage despite all-out episcopal opposition. Rhetoric from both sides is simplistic and misleading.

The bishops' solution, better education about marriage, is fatuous. That their understanding expresses the “natural institution” that “lies within our very nature” is, yes, “a vision of marriage and family life”—yet only one vision, one ideal among possible others. Which best captures human reality? That this vision has been held “for millennia by civilizations and religions around the world” is simply untrue. On the other hand, appeal to “the spirit of Catholic social teaching,” the “Gospel and pastoral wisdom,” “separation of church and state,” and “simple fairness to all”—ever careful to tippy-toe around official Catholic sexual ethics—is also still superficial.

Something more fundamental is at stake, and all would do well to acknowledge it. A century of unprecedented research on human sexuality has radically revised our understanding of sex, romance, and love. The nature of sex must, indeed, be respected. Catholic reliance on natural law stands firm. But let's get the nature right. Human sexuality is not the biologically focused, near barnyard-animal-like reproductive affair that Aristotle, the Stoics, Augustine, and Aquinas supposed. Today we know better, and our culture rightly prioritizes the interpersonal, the spiritual, dimension of human sex.

Granted, to institutionalize this new understanding remains challenging. Still, all concerned would do well to name the elephant in the room: Vatican teaching is outdated; no media campaign can make correct what is factually mistaken.