Thank you so much for the question. I really appreciate that you took the time to write it out, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to it earlier, I’ve had a busy schedule, so thank you for understanding.
What you ask is a difficult question to answer completely in a short concise statement, because it requires that we look at entire fields of philosophy, including ethics, metaphysics, and even some political philosophy. Since going over the whole history of western philosophy is not going to be useful here, let’s make a deal, I’ll skip some introductory stuff and start in the middle and try to write as brief as possible, (and it will still be way too long) but if you’re confused about or disagree with something, please message me back on what specifically you’re confused on or disagree with, and I’ll try to expand a little more on it.
With that out of the way, I think it’s important that we start with a basic thing that often gets overlooked:
Sexual orientation =/= sexual identity
What I mean by this is that in our culture, one’s sexual orientation, whether they are attracted to men or women, or both, is often turned into a sexual identity, gay, straight, bi, etc. This is a mistake. As BadCatholic put so eloquently in this post, “the unique identity of man is not defined by where he wants to put his penis.” Thus, I often try to avoid talking about people with same-sex attraction as “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexual.” They are people with same-sex attractions. Homosexual does not describe a person, it rather describes a sexual act between two people. The fact that a man prefers men to women does not affect their sexual identity anymore than the fact that I prefer brunettes to blondes. Thus, we are not gay and straight men and women, rather we are just men and women. Some of us are attracted to men, some of us are attracted to women, but whoever we are attracted to, does not define us.
Now that we’ve talked a little bit about sexual orientation, let’s talk about sexuality. Fundamentally, our sexuality is a “force” or “urge” within us that drives us to “productive unity.” Now, what do I mean by that term? I mean that our sexuality calls us first to “unity” with another person. Human beings are inherently social, and our sexuality is clear evidence of that. Fundamentally, we want to become “one” with other human beings. This becoming “one with” other human beings is very different from the way I become one with a hamburger. In that kind of union, the hamburger is consumed, ceases to exist, and becomes a part of me. I take what I want and leave the rest behind. That is a union of domination. Though it sounds silly to say it this way, I dominate the hamburger. I don’t see the hamburger as an equal partner in the relationship. (And because it is a hamburger I shouldn’t) However, that is not what we are talking about when we talk about a union of human beings. A union of human beings refers to a relationship in which they act as one, AND YET, retain their unique identities. It is a relationship between equals, characterized by respect, compassion and self-giving. It really is, love.
In love, or a “productive unity,” we recognize that the union is working “for” something. We experience it as a push, beckoning us to service. This can be done in several ways, through charity to others, to perfection of each other, and to procreation. In this sense, one’s sexuality does not belong to oneself, rather, one’s sexuality belongs to the whole community, in the sense that the fruits of sexuality ought to benefit someone else, not oneself, either through the works of mercy, (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, teaching the ignorant, etc,) by helping someone live virtuously, or by the creation of new life through the sexual act. Note that these are all expressions of sexuality, even if we don’t experience it as such. I certainly don’t love the person begging for food the same way I love my best friend, or the way a husband loves a wife, but each of these relationships with each of these people stems from the same fundamental human desire to love and be loved.
Now, having laid down the groundwork we can start getting around to answering your question, but, there’s something else we have to cover. Having talked about sexuality and its relationship to our desire to love and be loved, to enter into relationship with others, it ought to be clear that there are moral imperatives related to our sexuality. This is because it has an “end” something it strives for. To turn it away from that end would be morally wrong. Taking this into account, we see that for example, masturbation is wrong. The reason is because it is taking something, our sexuality, which is meant to be “other-oriented” and turning it onto ourselves. Thus, the part of ourselves that exists for others, instead of being used for others, is used for ourselves. It is turned away from its purpose, its “end.” Similarly, pornography is wrong. The reason is, because it turns other people, (the people in the pornography) into sexual objects. Those people are being used, (first by the pornographers to make money, and then by those watching the pornography for pleasure) like objects. They are not being treated like people. In doing so, it reduces their humanity. As the great John Paul II so wisely said, “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of a person, but that it shows too little.” Thus, instead of using our sexuality to serve others, when we use pornography we are using others to serve our sexual desire, and so it is wrong. It is like the relationship between me and the hamburger. The person who watches porn takes the parts of the person they like, uses it for their pleasure and ignores the rest. It is a relationship of domination. Thus it is wrong because it dominates another human being. Again our sexuality is really our gift to others, and so it is important to understand it as such.
Now, we’ve talked about sexual orientation and sexuality, and talked about some offenses against sexuality, I want to talk about vocations. Vocation is often used by many people to mean a job or a career, and this is one use of a vocation, but there’s another meaning to vocation that I think is more important. Your vocation refers to how you live out your sexuality, how you are to serve others. There are many different vocations, including being single, being married, being a priest, being a brother, a monk, a sister, a nun, etc. and there are even subdivisions in these, like, do I want to be a missionary, do I want to live in a cloistered order, do I want to take a vow of silence, how will I devote my time to my friends, family, and community? Will I work creating wealth to share with my community, or will I provide direct service for those who need it and cannot afford it? etc. Now, these aren’t jobs, though fulfilling one’s vocation often requires some kind of career or work as well. Rather, a vocation is a “canvas” on which we can paint the picture of how we are going to serve people. A vocation connects “who we are” “what we do” and “why we do it.”
Everyone has a vocation, and though everyone’s is a little bit different, they are all expressions of sexuality. Because of this, we all need to learn chastity. Chastity is often seen as an imposition, or something made to limit our freedom, but this is a mistake. All chastity refers to, is to having a proper understanding and control of one’s sexuality. In the sense that cultivating chastity gives us control over our sexuality and how we express it, it is very much a positive expression of our freedom, since we choose to live in a well-ordered manner. Chastity is at its core, making sure that our sexual expression is always in service of other people, and never for ourselves. However, chastity is expressed differently in different vocations.
In marriage, which is what concerns us currently, (promised I’d get around to it,) chastity is expressed through union and procreation. Union means that for the many people whose vocation is marriage, they are able to physically “become one” with their spouse. This stems from the “productive unity” I talked about above, but it’s even deeper. Essentially, this union is the two people saying “I do” to each other with their bodies. (Seriously, look up the powerful chemicals at work during sex. The psychology of sex clearly shows us the powerful bonding it creates between two people.) Even if that’s not what we intend to happen, even if we are just looking to “feel good,” that is what happens. In fact, because sex causes us to bond in such a powerful way, it is important that we have sex only within the confines of a committed monogamous union. In a sense, to have extramarital sex is a bit like lying. It is saying with one’s body, “I am giving you everything I have, everything I am,” when one’s not actually intending to do that. Which is one major reason why sex cannot be separated from marriage.
The other reason is procreation. Procreation refers to the creating and raising of children, and it most certainly is a sexual expression of the parents. Essentially sex is ordered towards creating new life, sexual intercourse is called the act of sexual reproduction. Marriage exists between a man and a woman to create a stable family structure to bear and raise children. Numerous studies show that a committed marriage is the ideal environment in which to raise a child, and in fact, family life is often the best indicator of future success of a child. We recognize that marriage and the sexual act are both ordered to procreation in this sense.
Having established that marriage and the sexual act is ordered towards union and procreation, something immediately jumps out at us. Marriage necessarily exists between a man and a woman. The reason for this is that it is only between a man and a woman that both the unitive and the procreative functions of marriage can take place. Only a man can give his full self to a woman and only a woman can give her full self to a man, because one’s full self includes one’s fecundity. Thus, the sexual expression of marriage, union and procreation can only take place between a man and a woman. So, two men or two women could not marry each other, not because their love doesn’t count, or that it’s not as valuable as the love between a man and a woman, but because that love, and that relationship is necessarily different, (not better or worse) than what we understand marriage to be. It is a different vocation. (Another note, marriage is not just for the couple but also for children, and children deserve a mother and father. People with same-sex attractions are no better or worse at parenting than people without same-sex attractions, but, it’s not a question of being good at parenting, it’s just that children have a right to a mother and a father. And a man can be the best father in the world, but no matter how good he is, he cannot be or make up for a mother, in the same way that a mother can be the best mother in the world, but no matter how good she is, she cannot be or make up for a father. Thus, those who argue for adoption by same-sex couples are wrong, not because people with same-sex attractions can’t be wonderful parents, but because a child deserves both a mother and father.)
Having established that marriage is necessarily between a man and a woman, we can finally get into why same-sex marriage hurts people with same-sex attractions. (I know it was a hard road, but we’re finally here) Fundamentally, the reason is, it takes people away from their very real vocations and promises them a fake one. Now, I’m not calling the relationships between people of the same sex fake. Those are very real relationships, with very real love. But, what I am calling fake is the labeling of those relationships as a marriage, because, for the reasons we’ve already talked about it is not marriage. People with same-sex attractions are called, like everyone else to love by and be loved all people, and to develop deep passionate friendships, and may, like many people without same-sex attractions develop romantic feelings for people, and that’s okay. But, it’s necessary to understand that marriage, and therefore, sexual intercourse can only exist between a man and a woman. Thus, same-sex marriage cannot exist for the same reason that a square circle cannot exist. The people who push for gay marriage who are trying to force people who aren’t attracted to people of the opposite sex, who don’t have calling to marry someone of the opposite sex, to see their relationship as sexual or as a marriage, are putting pressure on, and misunderstanding the beautiful passionate friendship that already exists there in favor of a relationship that can never exist. This can harm people with same sex attractions, because they will be looking at, and thus acting in, their relationship not as it is, but as something it is not. When that happens, the relationship loses, maybe not completely, but in some way, the capacity to be a true loving encounter with the other person, and gets caught up in abstractness. Thus, opposition to same-sex marriage exists, not because we want to deny people with same-sex attractions a relationship, but because we want to preserve the one that is already there, a celibate friendship.
Having answered that question, the only question that remains is how do we help our brothers and sisters with same-sex attractions? And this is a question that we as a society have not answered nearly as well as we should have in the past. Clearly, for the reasons stated above, same-sex marriage isn’t the way to do it, but neither are “gay conversion centers” which try to “make people heterosexual.” Not because its necessarily impossible for some people to be able to change who they’re attracted to. For some people it may be possible, for most, it doesn’t seem that way. But, centers like this don’t seem to be addressing the root issue.
Really, it seems like the most helpful thing would be to help people with same-sex attractions accept those same-sex attractions, and provide them assistance, if they need it, in learning how to live a celibate lifestyle of service. In this second effort, I think priests would be people who can help. Priests, who (in the Latin Rite, with some exceptions,) are celibate, can share the knowledge they’ve gained about celibacy through their classes and their life experience with the gay community, and show how meaningful human relationships are not only still possible while one is celibate, but how in many ways, celibacy can lead to still deeper relationships. Of course, most priests don’t have experience ministering to people with same sex attractions in this capacity, and so, priests will have to listen to people with same-sex attractions and learn about their specific needs and struggles to be accepted. Through this dialogue, I have high hopes that great progress on this issue will occur.
I’ve already taken way more of your time than I should have, so I think I’ll end hear for now. Thank you very much for reading, and I hope everything made sense. If it didn’t, again, please message me back. And if you have any other questions, feel free to ask.