“Do you want to allow the state of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
If we were in a logic class, we’d call Maine’s Question 1 question-begging. What appears to be a question about granting marriage licenses presumes a certain answer to the deeper question, what is marriage itself?
Our national conversation seems to assume that marriage is whatever the state licenses as marriage. But would we say the same thing about other activities licensed by the state? Does a driver’s license make someone a driver or a medical license, a doctor? Of course not! After all, there are unlicensed drivers and unlicensed doctors. They may be breaking the law, and they may be dangerous, but they do exist. On the other hand, if the state handed out medical licenses to all who applied without examining their qualifications, would we rightly call those licensed “doctors”?
Jesus drives at a similar point when he is questioned about the legality of divorce.
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mt 19:4–6)
Notice that in explaining marriage Christ appeals to creation, not the Law of Moses. He is asked about the law concerning marriage, but he responds by pointing out that marriage was not made by the law on Sinai. Rather, it has existed from the beginning because of the way God made us.
Governments can give legal recognition to marriages, but they must respect that the family, which is founded on marriage, exists apart from the state’s recognition.
Pope Leo XIII put it this way:
No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: “Increase and multiply.” Hence we have the family, the “society” of a man’s house—a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State. (Rerum Novarum 12, emphasis added)
The family, as Pope Leo explains, has its own standing apart from the state, and marriage is the natural institution which forms the basis of the family. As he says in his earlier encyclical Arcanum, “the family and human society at large spring from marriage” (17).
Even if all of the voters agree, a license from the state is not what it takes to be married, and it will not lead to the benefits that marriage brings by nature. As Pope Leo observed in his own time,
There is a spreading wish to supplant natural and divine law by human law; and hence has begun a gradual extinction of that most excellent ideal of marriage which nature herself had impressed on the soul of man, and sealed, as it were, with her own seal; nay, more, even in Christian marriages this power, productive of so great good, has been weakened by the sinfulness of man. (Arcanum 27)
No change of law will ever make same-sex unions marriage.
Image: William Fettes Douglas, The Alchemist