April 11, 2013
Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109
As a married Roman Catholic, I have been following the news of the United States Supreme Court’s consideration of gay marriage closely. I believe strongly in and find great comfort in my marriage not only as a perfect union between a man and a woman but also as a Sacrament of the Church. You have my appreciation and great respect for leading as chairman the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
While I in no way reject the view that marriage is the best place to raise and nurture children, I do not believe that the argument against gay marriage hinges on procreation. I was pained to read your words justifying the manner in which you defend traditional marriage in the March 25, 2013 edition of USA Today. You stated, “To legalize marriage between two people of the same sex would enshrine in the law… that marriage is essentially an institution about adults, not children; marriage would mean nothing more than giving adults recognition and benefits in their most significant relationship.”
You further state when asked how this view applies to elderly or infertile opposite sex couples:
Infertility is, as you point out, part of the natural life cycle of marriage (people age!), as well as a challenge and disappointment some husbands and wives have to go through. People who have been married for 50 years are no less married because they can no longer have children.
Adoption can be a wonderful happy ending for children who lack even one parent able or willing to care for them. But notice, when a man and woman cannot have children together, that's an accident of circumstances, the exception to the rule. When a husband and wife adopt, they are mirroring the pattern set in nature itself....
As a non-elderly infertile woman (I am 35 years old), I cannot disagree more with this view. However, I firmly believe you did not intend to hurt infertile married couple through your comments. For some of us, infertility is not just a part of the natural life cycle, it’s a permanent status. If I may, let me take you briefly through our infertility journey.
In 2008, in preparation for our wedding, my husband and I learned the Natural Family Planning method through our local parish in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. After one year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, we went through every diagnostic test outlined by the NaPro Technology system including laparoscopic abdominal surgery by a Catholic surgeon 135 miles from my home. Three years since that surgery and additional Church-sanctioned fertility treatments, my husband and I have never conceived a child. We have always been open to new life. We have never used artificial contraception or Assisted Reproductive Technology treatments.
We have further discerned that we are not called to adopt a child. Adoption is a complicated legal process and can be very costly. Not only that, because many states allow birth parents a period in which they can change their mind about the adoption, children are sometimes taken away from a loving adoptive family in a heart wrenching process. To view adoption as an easy remedy or quick alternative to infertility is simply not true.
My husband and I are struggling to live a full life in Christ as a committed, loving, childless Catholic couple. I hope you will understand that our infertility journey has been much, much more than a “challenge and a disappointment.” This journey has been at times heartbreaking, isolating, and has profoundly changed the course of my life.
In a faith community where families are large and many people assume that if you don’t have children you’re not a good Catholic and are using artificial contraception, the community can feel unwelcoming and judgmental. Many times I’ve shared with friends that the only way I’ve been able to accept my situation is because I lean totally on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for strength and fortitude.
You labeled infertile couples as “an accident of circumstances” and an “exception to the rule.” I firmly believe that in a loving Christian community, infertile married couples cannot be considered inconvenient statistical outliers that get in the way of the accepted argument against gay marriage. We are not tools or convenient anecdotes. We are committed Catholics struggling like every other believer to uphold our values and live out God’s commandment to us: to love one another.
It is exactly because we are exceptions to the rule that I believe infertile couples, are worthy of compassion, respect, and attention.
My prayers are two-fold. One, I pray you and the Church leadership will emphasize the unique and special qualities of opposite sex marriage beyond procreation. My husband and I recognize our marriage as the greatest opportunity for ministry. We are complete as a man and a woman living together in a Christian home. Many sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Marriage, if fact, support the holy mystery of marriage without emphasis on children or family.
Two, I would respectfully ask for greater understanding and outreach by the Church towards infertile married couples. To illustrate just how marginalized the infertile community can be, a infertile woman who moved to Los Angeles in 2011 called the Family Life Coordinator of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest diocese in the United States and discovered that although there were support groups for widows and separated/divorced people, there were none for couples suffering from infertility. Just as I believe Christ has been my constant, faithful companion throughout this painful journey, more recognition by the Church could ease the suffering of many couples who now feel they are pushed aside in a world where fertility is taken as granted.
I believe God has given me and my husband the cross of infertility in part to make others aware of a problem most people don’t give a second thought. You can imagine my surprise when the topic of infertility was suddenly a critical companion to a national debate about gay marriage. If you would like, I can discuss my concerns and ideas with you further. I can be reached at [my email address] or by phone at [my phone number]. You and your critical work in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are in my fervent prayers.