The Marriage Debate: the Nature of Things

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago is, arguably, the most intellectually accomplished bishop in the history of the American episcopate. Earlier this year, when the Illinois Legislature began to consider changing state law to “accommodate those of the same sex who wish to ‘marry’ one another” (as the cardinal put it), Professor Dr. George gave the readers of his column in the Chicago archdiocesan newspaper a lesson in metaphysics—and, I suspect, a high-voltage intellectual jolt:

“Sexual relations between a man and a woman are naturally and necessarily different from sexual relations between same-sex partners. This truth is part of the common sense of the human race. It was true before the existence of either Church or State, and it will continue to be true when there is no state of Illinois and no United States of America. A proposal to change this truth about marriage in civil law is less a threat to religion than it is an affront to human reason and the common good of society. It means we are all to pretend to accept something we know is physically impossible. The Legislature might just as well repeal the law of gravity.”

The crucial term here is “naturally.” And if people were shocked by the cardinal’s suggestion that a same-sex “marriage” law would be as fatuous as a statute repealing the law of gravity, it’s because our philosophically-challenged culture has lost any grip on what “nature” means, beyond that physical world we venerate through such civic rituals as recycling.

There is little sense of the givenness of things, in the 21st-century postmodern West. And where there is no culturally-affirmed conviction that some realities simply are, there will be a parallel intuition that everything is fungible, plastic, malleable: anything can be changed by an act of will. The legal ne plus ultra of this cultural phenomenon came in 2007, when the Spanish government allowed Juan to become Juanita on his/her national identity card by simply declaring (absent any surgical alteration) that he was now she. Cardinal George was suggesting, correctly in my view, that same-sex “marriage” is the same, essentially incoherent denial of givenness manifest in Spain’s Law 3/2007.

In his Christmas address to the Roman Curia last December, Pope Benedict XVI raised similar issues.  We deplore the “manipulation of nature” today “where our environment is concerned,” the pope noted; but when it comes to human affairs, human “nature” has become a matter of our “choice.” Which means that we no longer experience ourselves as unique composites of matter and spirit. The “matter” of our humanness is mere ephemera; we are merely, as Benedict put it, “spirit and will.”

Who are the big losers, the pope asked, when societies and cultures lose their grip on the reality that “man and women are complementary versions of what it means to be human”? The family is certainly a loser: for if there is no “duality of man and women” that is accepted as the Way Things Are, than “neither is the family any longer a reality” established by anything other than our willfulness.

The biggest losers, though, are children, the pope argued. If children are simply a lifestyle choice in a “family” that is nothing other than a willed arrangement for mutual convenience, children lose their rightful place and their rightful dignity. Citing the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, Benedict argued that children are, in this bizarre new world, no longer the subject of rights. Rather, “the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.” The freedom to be creative, which finds its most awesome expression in procreation, has been reduced to the freedom to create myself, however I imagine myself to be.

The marriage debate is thus about more than the legal definition of marriage, although that is serious enough. It’s a debate about whether there are any givens in the human condition, or whether willfulness and self-assertion trump reality at every point. If they do, what happens to democracies built on self-evident truths?


This article courtesy  of the Denver Catholic Register.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • wbarquez

    From Aristotle, we
    have learned to define a thing from its nature, to include its ontological and
    teleological facets. Then, modernism
    reinvented reality following the subjectivism of Descartes, Kant and
    Hegel. Now, the reductionist tendency of
    our post-modernist society is to define reality within the paradigm of
    pragmatism and utilitarianism. Thus,
    what God has refined in the beginning, man has redefined to accommodate his
    epicurean caprices. What God has joined
    together as man and woman in marriage, modernist man cast asunder to give way
    to this same-sex mirage. The same could
    be said of sex in the context of the contraceptive culture. What God has made in the beginning as a means
    of mutual love and procreation, man has re-engineered as a means of diversion
    and recreation. So, the definition of
    the natural would include the unnatural and the definition of the normal would
    include the abnormal. It is the fixation
    of our fallen nature to rebel against the will of God.

  • Trimelda

    I will go a step further and argue that the reason why we have this confusion comes from the teaching of the Trinity as All Male. If the ultimate expression of Divine Love is Two Males (the Father and the Son) producing a Third Male (the Holy Spirit) then is it any wonder that people feel that Steve and Joe can “produce” children in some asexual way?

    The Book of Sirach, the Book of Wisdom and Proverbs are very clear about the Female Nature of the Spirit as Lady Wisdom. These books appear in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and early Protestant scriptures, (see the King James Bible until 1889).
    The Eastern Church even has icons that show this. ( Russian icon of Holy Wisdom from the 14th c. Novgorod school. )

    Let us get back to the idea expressed in picture form in the Saint Joseph Catechism-the Eternal Family of the Trinity is reflected in the earthly trinity of Father, Mother and Child. Same sex marriage, incest, rape, pedophilia and fornication do not reflect this and so therefore, sexual sin does not mirror the Truth of who God is and who we are.


  • Jerr

    How about believing just what is matrimony – two Latin words merged to become – matrimony. “Mater” = Mother – “Monium” = the action of the Mother – Matrimony can only occur between a male and a female and through the necessary action of the Mother, and in union with the Holy Trinity – which is where and when and only where and when, conception, life occurs! This union is the only union that can be open to life and be able to create life. The confusion of all, as in all cultures now, is – pandemonium – The word, pandemonium – pan = “all” and de monium = “the action of” – the action
    of all – we have an aggressive and atheistic culture who believes a lie – the biggest
    lie of all – and a media who vomits 24/7 this lie upon each soul. This lie presents itself more and more within the vile and wicked world in which we live. This lie – can only be called what this lie really is – evil at its evilest. What is most sacred, matrimony, the womb, conjugal love, life, we now see used by the evil one against God. Man and Woman are just in the middle and are being used unknowingly, some knowingly, by the evil one in his battles and war against God to win men’s/women’s souls and using what is most sacred and created by God – blasphemy at its extreme. It is God who wins. What is created by God – is man and is woman – God’s crowning jewel we are and His Truth is written upon each heart. Truth is unchangeable. The truth of matrimony is our weapon of Truth. Let’s hear more about – matrimony! Thanks Be To God!

  • Kennebel

    I find it interesting that the first two words in an article about marriage is “sexual relations”. I checked the marriage vows for over 30 different religions, and not one mentions sexual relations. Each and every one do mention a life-long loving commitment to one other person. I worry that the institution of marriage has become synonomus with sex, and can’t help but see this as a new definition to, and a devaluation of, the sacrement of marriage. Chaste marriages have a significant tradition in the Catholic tradition, which were at times seen as the highest forms of love. In fact, the Church’s most looked to example of a family, the Holy Family, is traditionally regarded as a family formed through a chaste marriage, and many recognized married saints are recorded as living chaste marriages.

    Defining a marriage as sex-based debases the sacrement of marriage to a physical marriage. The above article points out a current lack of experience as composits of matter and spirit, but by looking only to the physical, there is a denial of the spiritual, a denial that love is more than sex, and a denial of the uniqueness of every individual and how they relate and interact in society.

  • that sullivan

    No mention from the Weigel the weasel-worder or from Cardinal George that homosexuality is an offense to Almighty God (Gen ch19) and for that reason, the discussion need not go any further.

  • that sullivan

    Check that last – To be honest, I did not read ALL of what the Cardinal said; I trust he mentioned somewhere that Almighty God gave us the Sacrament of Marriage and that He is offended by the sin of homosexuality.

  • mally el

    You have not got it quite right, Trimelda. Family is not made in the image of God, but every single human souls is. The human soul is mind, body and spirit just as the Divine being is the magnificient Creator, the One in whom the will of God is made manifest to all that is created by the Creator, and the Holy Spirit of truth, love and power.
    Marriage and family exists because God planned that we should increase and multiply, be good stewards of our world and then to forever share his glory in his heavenly realm. I heaven there is no gender, no marrying, no pain, nosorrow, no time, and no gravity.

  • mally el

    The Cardinal was not just addressing Catholics. The world knows that Catholics, many other Christians and Muslims consider homosexualty to be a sin. He was rightly focussing on marriage as being a natural phenomenon of human nature.

  • When it becomes necessary to explain why two men or two women can’t procreate on their own, something is terribly wrong

  • our spineless leaders and politicians who know better look the other way instead of standing up for whats right, Obama who was for marriage between a man and woman only, suddenly began to have an “evolving” view on the matter and after a carefully orchestrated plan Biden comes out in support of gay marriage paving the way for his boss to follow suit

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Well said, mally el! The family does reflect the Holy Trinity to an extent, but only to a limited extent.

    Trimelda, it is God Who told us that He is best understood by us as Father, and Who became incarnate as a man NOT a woman. Further, it is He Who revealed to us that the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father is personified in the Holy Spirit – and Whom the Son referred to in the masculine. We could not know ANY of this without God’s revelation as it is beyond our ability to fathom. We must not fall into the modernist tendency to redefine God at the convenience of our intellectual limitations.

    If you look at some of the writings of the early Church Fathers, you will find that they actually attributed the verses regarding the personification of Wisdom to Our Blessed Mother in whom the fullness of the Godhood dwelled – truly a marriage made in Heaven! 🙂

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Charity, as well as evangelism, DOES require us to go further – and to refrain from insulting and inflammatory language that would most likely drive souls further away from God instead of drawing them to Him.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Since the homosexual activists are defining marriage as being nothing more than a life-long loving commitment to another person (& not even a monogamous one), it is necessary to bring up the other aspects of marriage that ARE certainly pertinent aspects of marriage. God made us BOTH spiritual & physical – whenever we try to separate one from the other, we fall into error.

  • that sullivan

    It just seems to me that we’re being drawn into another “blob of tissue” argument. We are made to argue in THEIR semantic backyard where they have all their arguments waiting for us and we can then agree to disagree after we lose. We should have told them the Truth in the late 60s and early 70s about abortion – that murder is an offense to Almighty God, period. Instead, we won the blob of tissue argument, with them laughing at us in the back room; they knew it was murder all along. It’s time we stood up and told them the non-secular Truth, now that we are backed into a corner. The time for discourse may soon be over and the time for martyrdom may soon be here – may as well tell the Truth so that WE will know why we are being put to death.
    All weigel is doing is saying “look at me everyone; we (I) can be worldly and sophisticated, too”. At the risk of being called anti-semantic, I strongly advise that we go about this argument differently than we did with the abortion issue. Go spiritual on this.

  • johnny c

    Radical, inspired commentary.

  • inspokane

    Great article. The last sentance in this article really says it ALL. No use arguing Samantics on Religion. We will never agree. Because of 50 thousansd new Christian religions— mostly since the 30’s.(if God is the same and never changes how can this be and no other religion on the face of the EARTH except ONE– ONE– Key word is ONE–for 1000 years no foot hold of any other Christian Religion except one. Don’t look at the politics of a church look at the teachings and the fruits. Man will screw anything up but the Holy Spirit protected the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Peter until Pope B 16-he will be a Saint.) But all this does not matter because of that last sentence in the Article….We will have given the country away to political correctness and probbally the Muslims…oh we already have one in charge. If the bible says beheading will be brought back in the end times…which we are at the final stage…2000 years of the end times and God intercedes the World every 2000 years in a huge way and we have the Blood red moons talked about in Revelation in 2014 15 coming upon us. (Tetrad) I think the first one is the Great Shaking the sixth seal. But that is my own calculation from studing this and by no means take it for absolute- anything can be mitigated, changed by prayer.) Who in the World still does Beheading. I can only think of the Radical Muslims who are gaining so much Power now in Egypt. There kalifait. or whatever it is. It is a faith of violence and God teaches Love. Mmmmmmm what shall I do…who will I chose in the very near future. you are a goat or a Sheep. We will be on our own….with no gov now power and no help because of that last sentance.

  • Dop

    And by that logic why not ban marriage for infertile people? You don’t have to get married to get knocked up. You DO have to to file a joint tax return.

  • DoughRemy

    Mr. Wiegel, if you hadn’t explained that Cardinal Francis George is an intellectual superstar, I would have thought his remarks about same-sex marriage were just blather. Here’s why:

    Dr. Professor George sets up a straw man so that he can knock it down. No one is claiming that same-sex relations are identical to different-sex ones. If that were the claim, then gays would not be attempting to marry other gays.

    It is not self-evident why same-sex marriage is analogous to a repeal of the law of gravity. The Cardinal is using a rhetorical trick to legitimate his views. To say that same-sex marriage is “physically impossible” flies in the face of observable reality.

    Then you create your own straw man: SSM advocates believe everything is “fungible, plastic, malleable: anything can be changed by an act of will.” This characterization is extreme. While there are few remaining Platonists in our modern world, neither does anyone any longer believe that aluminum can be transformed into gold. We do recognize, however, that institutions such as marriage and the family are, and always have been, somewhat malleable. In 10 states and 14 countries, they have recently become more inclusive as well.

    The rest of your article consists of thread-bare talking points and outright misrepresentations. Your framing of homosexuality as a chosen and willful contravention of “human nature” reflects a profound ignorance of human nature as it is now understood throughout the natural and social sciences. You information about adoption rights in France is simply false. There is not and never has been a “right to adopt” there.