Re-Engaging a Generation

Young people and Gay Marriage

Last year a bill to legalize civil unions was defeated in Colorado. The legislation will be back again when Colorado’s legislative session begins in January.

Civil unions are basically marriage under a different name—a distinction without a difference. One of the rallying cries of the proponents of gay marriage is that young people overwhelmingly support it.

I’m sure that if polled most young people would support a four-hour school day, though their opinion is generally overlooked in such important matters. Since it is not being overlooked with this issue, I think it’s worth considering what they actually think about gay marriage and why they think it.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a decrease in age directly corresponds to an increase in acceptance of gay marriage. Among those 65 and older, 30 percent support gay marriage. Among those ages 30 to 64 that number increases to 47 percent. And among 18- to 29-year-olds it is 65 percent. One might safely assume the number is even higher among high school age youths. 

It seems that most young people, Catholic or not, are all for gay marriage, or at least they aren’t opposed to it. But I’d like to add one very important caveat: they aren’t supporters of gay marriage because they think it’s the right thing for society, nor because they think homosexual activity is morally acceptable. I think they support gay marriage and civil unions because they’ve been carefully taught not to apply any critical thought to the issue at all.

Young people, especially teens, have big hearts—so big that if you move their hearts they’ll forget their heads. I think that has been taken advantage of (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) by proponents of gay marriage.

I don’t think young people are being encouraged to ask questions like: “What is marriage?” “Where does our definition of marriage come from?” “What does natural law have to say about this?” If that last question is irrelevant: “On what are we to base our rights and our laws?” “What is the purpose of marriage in society?” “What impact does gay marriage or civil unions have on children?” “What impact will this have on religious organizations or parents of schoolchildren that refuse to recognize gay marriage?”

Such questions have been side-stepped in public Senate and House committee hearings at the state Capitol by story after story from same-sex couples, many of whom are good and decent human beings who love one another and want the same legal status as their hetero-counterparts.

What’s happening in Colorado’s Capitol isn’t unique to this issue. And the picture painted for everyone (especially making an impression on youths who are led powerfully by emotion) is clear: To even ask such questions is callous, at best. 

Young people need to know that an ethical teaching or a piece of legislation pertaining to sexual activity or marriage is not the same thing as bigotry or discrimination.

In the words of Archbishop Chaput: “The nature of marriage is a matter of common sense and long tradition, it precedes the coming of Christianity by many generations, and it is not simply a ‘religious’ issue. Marriage has long been recognized as a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman that exists for the benefit of children and the protection of women” (March 2 Denver Catholic Register).

Our sexual ethics and the laws enshrining marriage aren’t only written about in theology books, but in our bodies and in our experience. Marriage isn’t something mankind invented; it’s something we’ve figured out in every corner of the globe, almost universally, throughout recorded history. We have no right to re-create what we didn’t create in the first place.

Such opinions are by no means discriminatory. The Church applies her sexual and marital ethics to everyone evenly, across the board, regardless of their sexual identity or marital status. I do not feel discriminated against because the Church has strong, natural law based teachings regarding what I can and can’t do as a married man.

I realize that there are good people who would disagree with me very strongly on this issue. I have no right, nor the credentials to judge them or anyone. But I do have an obligation to judge actions, including sexual activities, so that I know how to act, and to define things like marriage, so that I know how to pass civilization on to my children. 

Wherever you stand on this, let’s encourage young people to think their way through this issue without the fear of being labeled cold-hearted bigots for it. Doing so doesn’t make them judgmental or cruel. It makes them rational.