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Hawaii, Illinois, and Beyond: Is Traditional Marriage A Goner?

Bill Thompson

Gay marriage continues to advance and shows no signs of stopping. What are faithful Catholics to do?

Hawaii became the 15th state in the U.S. to legally recognize homosexual unions as marriage on Wednesday. Illinois is ready to pass legal recognition of gay marriage later this month.

A new study released in October found that 56% of Americans now support legal recognition of gay marriage with only 36% opposing it. Self-identified Catholics are actually more supportive than the general population, with 60% supporting the legal recognition of gay marriage. That support falls only to 53% among Catholics who attend Mass once a week.

We asked our Aleteia Experts what they make of Hawaii’s new law and the future of traditional marriage in the U.S..

“Not a surprise,” says Helen Alvaré, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, “given the constant drumbeat, first from interest groups (i.e. the Human Rights Campaign) and now from Justice Kennedy’s Windsor opinion, regarding what marriage is. […] Marriage has been emptied of its historic, global, natural and pre-political meaning as a venue for the complimentary union of a man and a woman, oriented toward the rearing of children.”

John Bergsma, Associate Professor of Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, points to how gay marriage has gained legal recognition. “The gay marriage initiative is not and hasn’t been a populist movement. Persons with dominant sexual attraction to the same gender make up around 4% of the American population, and most within that category are not interested in getting married.”

“The gay marriage issue is part of a larger sexual ideology being promoted by wealthy activists and few organizations. Gay marriage is about public acceptance of homosexuality, not so much about gays getting married. In countries that have approved gay marriage, the rates of same-sex marriage have dropped off precipitously once the novelty of the legislation wore off, because the truth is that few persons with same-sex attraction, especially men, actually want to commit themselves to just one sexual partner for the rest of their lives.”

What is the Future of Marriage?

Alvaré thinks the advance of gay marriage will continue. “I guess it’s possible that 3 to 5 years from now, about half the states will have decided to recognize same-sex partnerships as marriages. Or the Supreme Court will beat the states to the punch, invent a constitutional ‘right’ to same-sex marriage by a 5 to 4 vote, and force it upon all the states.”

Retired philosophy professor Dennis Bonnette sees the advance of gay marriage resulting in further sexual disorder. “Lest we think that deviating from the traditional definition of marriage can have no serious consequences for society, please consider the facts that (1) in 2011, the United States Senate approved a bill legalizing bestiality in the Armed Forces and (2) the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) has constantly argued for legalizing sex between men and boys. Hawaii and fourteen other states have now legally opened what will inevitably become a social Pandora’s box for the American nation.”

The emptying of the meaning of marriage will most likely lead to less marriage, says Bergsma. “Within ten years, I think it will be very uncommon for non-religious Americans to contract marriage. We will witness a predominantly marriage-less society. Marriage will still be practiced by observant Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons, but outside of religious subcultures, the institution will be rare. There are already societies like this: marriage is rare (and brief when it occurs) in parts of post-communist Russia, the Caribbean (e.g. Haiti), and shrinking in developed nations.”

Kelly Bowring, a retired theology professor and college administrator, foresees the gay marriage issue further dividing American Catholics. “Politicians want every citizen, even Catholics, to accept marriage between couples of the same sex. I think we should be concerned that once they succeed in legalizing same sex marriage nationally, and they will, then they will try to force Catholics to allow same sex marriages and try to force priests to bless them.”

“This will cause a terrible division between faithful Catholics who want to remain true to the Law of God and the reformer Catholics who want to promote ‘equality’ and ‘tolerance’ of same sex unions in the name of social justice and human rights. There will be so much confusion that the latter will believe they can still please God and that their new doctrine is even acceptable to him. The world is becoming so full of untruth that good is presented as evil and evil presented as good. Eventually, laws will be passed to stop Christians from practicing their religion. Politicians will even say that faithful Catholics are ‘sinning’ by breaking the law and by maintaining intolerance of others.”

Associate Professor of Theology at Aquinas College Richard H. Bulzacchelli disagrees with the other experts and thinks once people see the real consequences of gay marriage, public opinion will turn on it. “I foresee an ironic turn of the tables. The writing is already on the wall, with people being sued for civil rights violations where they engage in a state-licensed activity (e.g., they operate a state-licensed business) and refuse services to people on the basis of their own religious convictions.”

“There’s no question that this will end with demands that churches that perform state-licensed marriage ceremonies will be forced to perform same-sex marriages. This has already begun to happen in other countries that have recognized sexual orientation as a protected class category. And we already see private businesses in the United States suffering these consequences. What’s more, it’s old news that the Catholic Church has been forced out of adoption services in states that have legalized same-sex marriage. Why? Because now they do not have a legally-recognized reason to discriminate against same-sex couples, and since the Catholic Church cannot morally compromise on this question, they have been forced to remove themselves from the arena.”

What Should Faithful Catholics Do?

“Catholics, whose intellectual riches concerning marriage are probably unparalleled,” says Alvaré, “have got to continue to write and educate about the authentic goods and goals of marriage and to give witness to its meaning with their own lives. Additionally, they should take all the steps within their power to ‘put marriage back onto the horizon’ of those most vulnerable members of our population who are fastest losing their sense of the meaning of marriage: the poor and the working class Americans who, by virtue of government policies and messages they did not create, an economy out of their control, and a history of racism and neglect of the poor– find themselves without marriage and marital childbearing though they wish otherwise.”

“Were these groups to again understand the goods of marriage, and were elites ‘held to account’ for their failure (in the words of Charles Murray) to ‘preach what they practice’, same-sex marriage would seem the logical impossibility it is.”

Professor of literature at Providence College Anthony Esolen exhorts Catholics to keep standing for the truth and to protect their children. “What do we do? Keep preaching the truth, in season and out of season, and keep living out our convictions. Have children – and do not send them into the Public Cesspool.”

Bergsma has a similar exhortation for Catholics to get their own lives and families in order. “We can’t control the broader society, and non-religious America no longer sees the purpose of marriage or its relationship to family life. Sex is a form of recreation and possibly an expression of affection. Christians and especially Catholics have to focus on training their own children to be chaste and not engage in sex outside of marriage. If we can’t even teach this to our own, we certainly have no chance to influence society.”

“Young people need to be taught explicitly why it is that promiscuity renders you unfit to make a life-long, sexually exclusive commitment to another person of the opposite sex, and also why this life-long sexually exclusive commitment (i.e. marriage) is essential for producing families, the foundation of psychological and social well-being for everyone in society.”

The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:

Helen M. Alvaré is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, a Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, Chair of the Task Force on Conscience Protection, and a Consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. She’s also one of the co-founders of Women Speak for Themselves.

John Bergsma is Associate Professor of Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He specializes in Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dennis Bonnette taught Thomistic philosophy for over 40 years and is the author of Origin of the Human Species. His website is

Kelly Bowring has worked as the Dean of the Graduate School of Theology & Program of Catholic Studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Dean of Spiritual Mission and a professor of sacred theology at Southern Catholic College, and an institute director and theologian at St. Mary’s College of Ave Maria University.

Richard H. Bulzacchelli is Associate Professor of Theology in the School of Arts & Sciences at Aquinas College and a Senior Fellow with the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Anthony Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. A senior editor for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, he writes regularly for Touchstone, First Things, Catholic World Report, Magnificat, This Rock, and Latin Mass.

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