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Of same-sex marriage and male lactation

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 29, 2013

“Legislating for the right for people of the same sex to marry is like legalizing male breastfeeding,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said in an interview with the Catholic Herald of London.

With all due respect to the archbishop—whose overall defense of marriage in the interview is admirable—the analogy to male breastfeeding doesn’t really work. As far as I know there are no existing laws against male breastfeeding. Or rather, the only law against male breastfeeding is the law of nature. What the state has to say about the matter is irrelevant.

Regarding same-sex marriage, however, the state’s decision—to recognize such unions or not—is crucial. Insofar as Archbishop Cordileone meant to say that people of the same sex cannot possibly form a marital bond, he is right. The state cannot legislate that bond into existence, any more than the state can require men to nurse babies. So if he had referred to the absurdity of a law that “required” male breastfeeding, rather than merely a law that “legalized” it, the archbishop would have been on stronger rhetorical ground.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a writer on the staff of the National “Catholic” Reporter also took issue with Archbishop Cordileone’s analogy. But—again, not surprisingly— Joshua McElwee’s complaint is quite different from mine. McElwee questions the archbishop’s grasp of the scientific facts, because “in certain, rare circumstances, males can, in fact, lactate.”

Where that recondite fact leads us, in terms of the debate on same-sex marriage, is obscure.

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