A Brief Note on the "Right to Marry" and the "Right to Choose"

Doug McManaman
July 2004
Reproduced with Permission

At the end of June 2004, just a few days prior to the Ontario provincial election, I sent an email to our Liberal Candidate (Martha Hall Findlay), asking for clarification regarding her position on abortion and same-sex marriage, in case she just might have departed from the party line on these two issues. I was happy to receive an immediate and polite reply, but that was all there was to be happy about. As I expected, she too employed the expression: "Right to Choose". I recall explaining the problem with this expression to high school kids in the notorious Jane and Finch area of Toronto, 17 years ago. To think that we now have to explain this to political leaders with law degrees is really something to ponder.

As for the unqualified expression "right to choose", we need only ask those who employ it: "Why not complete the expression?" We all know that there really is no such thing as a right to choose per se. One must indicate what is being chosen: ie, child abuse, racism, a new car, or destroying developing human life, etc. I don't have a right to choose to direct racial slurs towards Asians or Jews, nor do I have a right to choose to abuse my child, nor do I have a right to choose to lie. These choices violate the rights of others, and they have those rights only because I have a duty to treat others in a way that respects their status as persons equal in dignity to myself, and I have a duty to raise my child and respect her bodily integrity (because human life is basically good), and I have a duty, rooted also in fairness, not to lie to others. And of course the unborn child's right to life, like every other person's right to life, is rooted in our duty to revere basic human goods (i.e., human life). Hence, I really don't have a right to choose to destroy developing human life, let alone an unqualified "right to choose". We simply cannot speak of a right to choose per se.

Similarly, there is really no such thing as a right of two people of the same sex to be married. Why not? Because marriage is "a joining of two into one flesh, one body" (Cf. Gn 2, 24), and it is impossible for two people of the same sex to be "one body". A definition expresses the nature of something, as "rational animal" expresses the nature of man, or "three sided figure" defines or expresses the nature of a triangle. Definitions are not fabricated by human beings on the basis of what they want, but are discovered by them as they penetrate into the nature of the thing known. So too with regard to the institution of marriage. It is not possible to alter the definition of marriage any more than it is possible to alter the definition of a triangle, a bird, or a human being.

A marriage is consummated by the couple's first act of sexual intercourse. After this first act, they are consummately married. If they cannot consummate the marriage, they cannot actually become "one flesh, one body". Marriage is a physical phenomenon (there are no married angels). It is impossible for two persons of the same sex to give their bodies completely to one another, for I cannot give what another cannot receive. A male cannot receive the entire body -- which includes the fertility -- of another man, nor can a woman receive the fertility of another woman. Only a man can receive the total bodily gift (including the fertility) of another woman, and only a woman can receive the total bodily gift of another man. Two women are not capable of intercourse, and the intercourse that homosexual males might choose to engage in is not at all a joining of two into one flesh, for the two do not become reproductively one organism (a male is reproductively incomplete, so too are two males). Rather, this action is merely a mimicking of the sexual act, not an authentic instance of it. For the unitive good of the sexual act regards a physical union of persons, not merely parts.

It is always seriously wrong to unjustly discriminate against a person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. To look with contempt upon another human being merely on the basis of a sexual orientation that he or she did not choose is to persecute Christ (Mt 25, 45; Cf. Mt 5, 21-24). But it is not an instance of unjust discrimination to deny homosexual persons the right to be married, for there is no natural or political right to establish something that is in fact physically impossible. Marriage is more than legal sanction for two people to live in the same home and sleep in the same bed. It is a publicly professed intention by two to become one body until death dissolves the union. If marriage is a natural institution, and not a merely conventional one, then it is no more possible to change the definition of marriage than it is to change the definition of a plant. If we believe we can change its definition, then we treat marriage as if it is fundamentally a human artifact. But marriage was "from the beginning" (Cf. Mk 10, 6ff).