She has also given me permission to share her thoughts and insights via The Wild Reed, so please feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment.
Do same-gender couples dissolve their partnerships more readily than opposite-gender couples do? Perhaps they do. I do not have statistics to answer this question. Whether justified or not, the charge of instability is used to argue against legal status for same-gender unions. Rather than settling that question, this particular charge raises the broader question of why life-long monogamous relationships should be the norm.
Is there a rationale for life-long monogamy for people of either orientation? The question is about norms or ideals. In practice, people of both orientations do what they do. For many reasons they do not live up to moral ideals. But are there good reasons for our saying that people should form and maintain life-long partnerships? Are they better for the individuals and for society?
The ideal of life-long marriage has its grounding in a view of the world and human life as static, enclosed lifetime by lifetime. Generation after generation people lived within their cultures, their geographical area, their religious traditions, maintaining the stability and smooth functioning of the society. In the cyclical, diurnal life of an agricultural/ village society or even an industrial society with rigid class divisions the task of each generation was to keep the universe intact for the next generation. Life-long monogamy was the norm because first of all the children needed formation, and then the young parental generation needed role models and the help of grandparents, and then the whole cycle began again. Male and female He created them. Till death do part them. The goal was stability.
To put that static worldview in Catholic religious language, sanctifying grace, delivered through the sacraments, including life-long marriage, administered by duly ordained men under the authority of bishops who are in turn under the authority of Rome, transforms the individual and community life of the local church. This cyclical life, measured by the events of the liturgical year, repeats generation after generation until God decides it's a wrap.
For a couple of centuries now, that cyclical worldview has been morphing into an evolutionary one in the West. In this view, the cycles are still rotating but they are rotating in expanding spirals moving forward.
Socio-economic circumstances have changed and so have norms of behavior. The focus has shifted from a stable community of individuals to the individual contributing to many overlapping and less stable communities during a lifetime. Transformation occurs in individuals, in their interior lives, and in communities through them. The interior life of one individual, his/her consciousness, is expanded through interaction with many various communities, including past communities, through vastly expanded technologies of communication. Individual interior lives evolve or they remain stagnant. Intimate relationships, partnerships evolve together or they dissolve. Individuals are responsible for their own integration and authenticity and for that of the communities that support their lives.
Part of integration and authenticity is responsibility for commitments to others, particularly children, and for the well-being of all. Each person has to choose the associations to continue and the ones to dissolve. This means that the predominant value has moved from life-long stability to life-long individual and communal growth to which stability, though still important, is subordinate. Couplings and communities are either conducive to growth or they are not. Some people grow through life-long commitment; for some the responsible move is dissolution.
Ethical understandings evolve. We have faculties to help us steer a course, imagination, desire, reason, and we humbly depend on dialogue with our religious traditions, the best thinking of communities of inquiry, and our fellow citizens to guide us in discerning norms of human behavior.
In this view, same-gender partners in whose judgment the stability of civil marriage would be conducive to their growth together, should be allowed to enjoy its rights and responsibilities. There is no life-long contract requirement to qualify for civil marriage.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Real Gay Agenda
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Gay Adoption: A Catholic Lawyer’s Perspective
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex