The Meaning of Marriage

Of Two Minds

Forty years ago, most Americans considered homosexual activity an abomination and homosexual marriage an impossibility. Now a wide range of U.S. and Canadian citizens are debating whether homosexual marriage may be an idea whose time has come. Appropriately, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has entered the discussion, arguing against recognition of same-sex unions (see “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons,” Origins, August 14, 2003).

In this essay, I want to explore how something unthinkable only a few decades ago has already been legalized in more than a dozen countries. For the record, I am not arguing for homosexual marriages. Frankly, my early life in the pre–Vatican II church, my Jesuit training, and my study of Thomistic philosophy strongly bias me toward what I will call the essentialist mindset. Thus, I prefer clear and distinct ideas, and I lean toward the view that anything less than the best is not good enough. I usually find the Vatican’s moral positions to be intelligently argued. Because of my background, I am predisposed to agree with the church’s approach to homosexual unions. Still, as a priest, I have learned that human life is messy and that the best is often the enemy of the good. That is why over the ages priests have supplemented normative ethics with a “pastoral approach.” At times, that approach has...

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About the Author

Edward Vacek, SJ, is professor of moral theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.