By: Fr. Paul Scalia
One slogan used for promoting “gay marriage” is the pithy phrase “Love is love.” In fact, our President tweeted his praise for the recent DOMA decision with the “#Loveislove” hashtag. It is a great piece of propaganda, because, well, who wants to fight against love? Do any of us want to be told that our love is illegitimate? So the mantra goes on and wins support for “gay marriage.” But does anyone give it any thought? Is it true? Are all loves the same? Is love love?
In one sense, Yes: love is love. It always involves an affirmation of the other (“It is good that you exist”) and a deliberate choice for the other’s good. For that reason we are obliged to love all people. We must look at each person and affirm: It is good that you exist. We must say to each person, I want what is good for you. So all embracing is this aspect of love that we must hold it both for God…and for our enemies.
In another sense, No: love is not love. Just a little reflection reveals that not all loves are the same. Suppose a woman walks into a coffee bar and says, “I love you” to her husband, then to her children, then to a friend, and finally to the barista. She means it differently for each person. At least, her husband hopes so. And if a husband gets home from work and announces, “I love my secretary,” he had better intend a different kind of love than he has for his wife. If not, he could always justify himself by saying, “Honey, love is love.”
In short, the object of our love determines its shape or structure. We love parents differently from friends, and friends differently from spouses, and spouses differently from God. And because we are embodied souls, the body plays a part in determining the structure of our loves. That love traditionally called eros – romantic love – seeks sexual expression, physical union. Which is to say that the shape or structure of eros is determined by the design of the body.
A husband and wife say, “I love you” to one another in a way they do not to anyone else. Their love is different from all others because it involves a union of bodies in the very manner that bodies are designed to be united and in which only a man and woman can be united. Now, if we say that the male/female physical union is just one option among many, then we lose the distinctiveness not only of marital love but of other loves as well. They begin to bleed into one another. Friendship has suffered disproportionately from this blurring. Since we have extended eros to the love between two men or two women, we have experienced at one and the same time a decline in genuine friendships and also “friends with benefits.”
The need to distinguish between different loves goes beyond the marriage issue. It is at the heart of all morality to bring one’s loves into proper order. After all, the dissolute man has many loves. But they are all out of order. He loves his drink more than his kids, or his money more than his wife, or his wife more than God, and so on. The morally upright man, however, has brought his loves into proper order. He keeps each one in its place, where alone it thrives.
Most importantly, the Christian life requires such distinctions: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39). By His words Jesus clarifies the proper order of loves – so that we can give our hearts rightly. By His grace He establishes this order within us, granting us the peace of a rightly ordered heart. We would be fools to allow a mere mantra to part us from this gift.