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Those who have been following our discussion of homosexuality, marriage and Catholicism may be interested in today’s Comment is Free column in the Guardian. Austen Ivereigh of Catholic Voices and Tina Beattie offer contrasting views on the issue.

Particularly relevant to our earlier discussions is Ivereigh’s description of heterosexual marriage as the ‘gold standard’ of childcare. He writes:

In the new dispensation, why should we much care about marriage? In those countries which have redefined it, fewer people now marry and more divorce: that is bad for society, and for children. The gold standard of childcare (and on this there is a remarkable consensus among psychologists) is that children fare best when raised by their birth parents.

Others – gay couples, maiden aunts, foster parents, single mums – usually offer outstanding love and care, but they cannot provide the structure that is most conducive to a child’s wellbeing and sense of identity. The fact that some gay couples (as do maiden aunts or foster parents) raise children, and many married couples fail to have children, does not detract from the reason why the state promotes marriage – to support and promote that gold standard. It is hard to know why, having severed the link to children, the state has an interest in promoting same-sex relationships but not other kinds of non-marital union.

While the excerpt from Jean Porter’s essay was concerned with natural law, Ivereigh’s comments touch on one of her main points:

Certainly, on any plausible account of the place of sexuality in a mammalian species such as our own, sex will serve a reproductive purpose, but the fact that we are social primates as well as mammals points to a more complex account of the overall purposes of sex. That is to say, we are not only animals, which reproduce sexually, but social animals, for whom sexual exchange and interaction serve to express and cement social and personal bonds – indeed, to forge personal bonds, and hence to some extent and with many qualifications, to shape and to form personal identity.

Ivereigh is reasserting the position that what makes marriage distinct from all other forms of relationships is not ‘sexual exclusivity, sexual difference, lifelong commitment, cohabitation’, but reproduction and the raising of children by their birth parents. The other elements merely foster a stable environment for these more primary functions. His comments only highlight the significance of Porter’s argument. Ivereigh’s argument hinges on the belief that reproduction (or its possibility) is the defining characteristic of marriage. By whittling down the theological justifications behind this position, Porter offers an immanent critique which allows Catholics to be open to same-sex marriage rather than feeling it is being imposed by secular authorities.

Tina Beattie offers a view congruent with Porter’s, one that will be familiar to those of you who follow her work. So I’ll just highlight her conclusion:

I have come to believe that same-sex marriage would be good for society and for the individuals involved.

And I’d like us to get that out of the way and hold this profoundly inegalitarian government to account for its much greater abuses and violations with regard to the destruction of the welfare state and the fabric of care and social responsibility upon which every family – gay or straight – depends for its wellbeing.

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