Tuesday 25 October 2011

I want to marry my cat...

After same sex 'marriage', what's next? How long before we hear the following sort of case?

Argument: For many years, I have been in love with my cat. I now want to marry her.

Objection: Marriage is between two human beings. It cannot be between a cat and a human being.

Response: Marriage is a human institution and has taken many forms over human history. There is absolutely no reason why it cannot change again to take account of interspecies relationships.

Argument: Marriage has recently been extended to include same sex relationships. I would now like it to be extended to include relationships between a cat and a human being.

Objection: Even if same sex marriage is accepted, it remains a relationship involving mutual consent. It is not analogous to a relationship between an animal and a human being.

Response: Please see my earlier response. What marriage involves is purely a matter for human, social decision. Different features will occur at different times. There is no reason why consent should always feature as an aspect of marriage. The key analogous feature here is the existence of love and mutual dependence.

Argument: There is a social benefit in recognizing interspecies relationships by marriage.

Objection: There is already a mechanism for recognizing that relationship –ie ownership. By linking completely different sorts of relationship within the same institution, you are undermining the nature of marriage.

Response: Although you keep harping on about ‘the nature of marriage’, I have already shown that there is no such nature –it is a human construct. So what are the benefits of constructing marriage in the way I suggest? Well, the current institution of ownership does not reflect the love and mutuality that is at the heart of marriage: by encouraging people to think of pets as things to be owned rather than as partners in a lifelong relationship, we see the terrible social consequences in terms of the abandonment of animals that results. By replacing ownership with marriage, human partners will be encouraged to take responsibility for their animal partners and, in the case of breakdown of the relationship, will be forced to take continuing responsibility for their dependents.

Argument: The only people opposed to this are religious.

Objections: Even if this is true, so what? Don’t we have a right to make our case? Catholic arguments at least are based on an understanding of human nature which was articulated by Graeco-Roman philosophy and engages with the concerns of the non-religious world.

Response: Many of us who support interspecies relationships are not religious. We should not have to have our views dictated to by believers in a bronze age god. But even amongst the religious, there is no consensus on this. There is no clear statement in the Bible that marriage between species is wrong. There are certainly statements against types of sexual behaviour with animals, but none which rule out committed relationships of the sort envisaged. In a modern go ahead Scotland, there should be no laws which are against the free exercise of love, unless there is a clear reason on the ground of harm to have them –and in this case there is not.

Very many good and socially important people have strong relationships with their cats and prefer them to human beings. What right do you have to stop them celebrating that love in a dignified manner?

[I had thought this was satire or at least a reductio ad absurdum. I discovered it wasn’t:

A GERMAN postman has "married" his obese and asthmatic cat, saying he wanted to tie the knot before his pet died here.]


  1. The only disadvantage I see in marrying a cat, or any other animal for that matter, is having a mother-in-law.

    Some mothers-in-law can be quite beastly, you know.

    God bless.

  2. I would do just about anything for my cat...but marriage would be a step too far :).

    Seriously, though...isn't it rather insulting to same-sex couples to compare same-sex civil partnerships or marriages to "marriages" between humans and animals? Isn't that a misunderstanding of the value of that relationship and the human commitment those 2 men or 2 women have to each other? It is as silly as arguing that if a priest claims to be "married to God" then that is only one step away from marriage between humans and Disney characters.

  3. I was trying to walk a narrow line here between drawing out the logical absurdity of same sex ‘marriage’ and yet avoiding gratuitously insulting gay people. (My position is simply that of the Catholic Church: we all wrestle with concupiscence and God loves us all.) I chose cats because, whilst absurd, I’m not sure it is insulting to accuse someone of wanting to marry a cat! (I have known some fine cats in my time.)

    As to devaluing same sex relationships, well, from the full position of the Church, they are not as important as marriage. Quite apart from their sinfulness (if they embody homosexual intercourse) they do not reflect the complementarity of man/woman which reflects the life of the Trinity. That is the full Catholic reason for arguing that they are of less value than marriage.

    But putting aside the broader theological issues and focusing on natural law, the main question is one of which (valuable) relationships society facilitates and which it simply tolerates. There are all sorts of different relationships (between men and women, between people and animals) that society tolerates, may even appreciate, but which it does not facilitate and encourage. The state has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in ensuring the creation and good upbringing of the next generation. It does not have a similar interest in supporting either same sex relationships or interspecies relationships. To note that is not to make any judgment about whether those other relationships are valuable in other ways.

    The cat analogy is supposed to work like this: loving your cat is good, but that's not a reason to alter the definition of marriage to include interspecies marriage. Analogously, same sex relationships are good (and if lived out according to the Church's teachings there are) but that is not a reason to alter the definition of marriage to include same sex marriage.

  4. The Catholic understanding of marriage is not the same as the legal definition of marriage adopted by most states, nor has it been for a considerable time. Secular laws permit divorce and remarriage in circumstances not allowed by Catholic moral teaching. If you are going to criticise governments for undermining marriage by introducing same-sex marriage, then should you not also be criticising them for allowing divorce and remarriage? It seems to me that Christians only focus on same-sex partnerships, and conveniently overlook the fact that the legal and religious definitions of marriage are not the same.

    If the Catholic Church suddenly allowed same-sex marriage, I could understand you complaining that your (Catholic) religious definition of marriage was being undermined. But this isn't about the Church, it is about the secular state changing the law through legally and democratically legitimate means.

  5. I think it's helpful here to dump the word 'religious' for a time: the Catholic Church claims that its view on marriage is a political and moral view rather than (in any clear sense) just a religious one.

    Accepting that claim for the moment, then of course you're right that there are many other aspects of the current (state) law on marriage that the Church would regard as faulty and would object to. (And does.) But the current proposal in many jurisdictions (including Scotland just now and coming to England soon) is to amend the law to include same sex relationships. Just because there are lots of other things wrong with the current law is not a reason for not criticizing further deterioration.

    On the 'legally and democratically legitimate means', the Church wouldn't complain about the process of decision making. However, a good process can still come to a morally wrong decision.

  6. Just to follow up on that, Scout, an example of the Church criticizing other changes in marriage law: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/malta-bishops-say-divorce-voters-are-accountable-to-jesus/

  7. I find it worrying that the Catholic Church lobbies so hard against divorce law reform in countries where divorce is illegal. The civil law needs to take into account that in real life, relationships sometimes sadly break down. Even here, though...I don't hear anyone saying that allowing divorce under the civil law is a stepping stone to marriage between humans and animals!!!

  8. 1) On lobbying against divorce: relationships do break down, but then there is the question of how one deals with that breakdown. (The Church allows separation just not the denial of an original, valid marriage.) In any case, the point here is that the Church is consistent in its attack on all deviations from the natural law, not just same sex 'marriage'.

    2) On the 'stepping stone', the point is not so much that, if same sex 'marriage' is put into place, marriage between humans and animals will actually follow (though who knows) but rather that, if you abandon traditional definitions of marriage, there is no reason in principle why it should not follow. (You will have abandoned one key traditional element of marriage. (Gender.) Why not abandon another? (Species.))The chief actual danger of same sex 'marriage' is a further deterioration among men and women of the understanding of marriage as being based on its procreative function and this point is widely made.