Italian fashion designers Dolce&Gabbana waded into a gay rights hurricane last week by criticizing same sex marriage and “designer babies.” The storm started when Stefano Gabbana said in an interview with Italy’s Panorama magazine, “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.” Domenico Dolce added, “You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be. I call the children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”
Singer Elton John, who used IVF technology to get two sons with his partner David Furnish, was deeply offended and fired off a response:
“How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic’. And shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at IVF — a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfill their dream of having children.”
The pop star went on to say he would never wear Dolce&Gabbana creations again, and called for a boycott.
Gabbana fired back, calling Elton John a fascist and ranting:
“I didn’t expect this … coming from someone whom I considered, and I stress ‘considered,’ an intelligent person like Elton John … you preach understanding, tolerance and then you attack others? Only because someone has a different opinion? Is this a democratic or enlightened way of thinking? This is ignorance, because he ignores the fact that others might have a different opinion and that theirs is as worthy of respect as his.”
The sight of aging gay men publicly feuding has set the gossip columns afire. Trendy celebrities have gasped in horror at the non-PC opinions of Dolce and Gabbana, both of whom are gay, while rallying to defend Elton John and David Furnish.
The sizzling feud has sparked some genuine fireworks. But can we find more than hysteria in the histrionics? Is there light as well as heat in the pyrotechnics?
The fact of the matter is, the entire human race is reeling from the most revolutionary inventions history has ever seen. Through modern reproductive technology, we have learned how to flip the switch on the baby machine. With artificial contraception, sterilization, and abortion we turn babies off. With in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogacy we turn the baby machine on. Never before have we had the technology to control conception with such awe-inspiring omnipotence.
A bomb has been detonated in the middle of the traditional family, and reproductive technology has been the fuse.
The clash between Elton John and Dolce&Gabbana is a public conflict that reflects millions of head-scratching, heartbreaking dilemmas in families around the world. Because of the reproductive choices available, more sexual choices are available and, as a result, ordinary men and women are faced with extraordinarily complex ethical situations that our parents and grandparents could never have imagined.
Scarcely a month goes by in which an ordinary parishioner does not seek me out for advice about a mind bogglingly difficult moral dilemma:
- Here, a sweet old Mass-going widow asks if she should attend her lesbian granddaughter’s wedding. There, a woman in her 50s can’t decide whether to support the christening of her gay brother’s IVF-conceived newborn.
- Here, a couple — rendered infertile because of artificial contraception gone wrong, ask if they should try IVF. There, a friend tells me, with more bewilderment than anger, how his teenaged son masturbated to provide the sperm for the artificial insemination of his lesbian daughter’s partner.
- Here, a couple who are pillars of the church tell me in an offhand way how they have paid for an abortion for their son’s girlfriend. There, a fellow priest announces to his congregation that he’s attending a gay wedding to “support” his friends.
At a recent seminar on the family, I asked participants to raise their hands if, in their extended family, they were facing difficult decisions relating to homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and reproductive technology. Nearly every hand went up. Every pastor with intelligence and compassion admits that the situation is nearly impossible. How does one welcome all to Christ’s family while still upholding the standards of Christian marriage and family life? In the face of all these situations, do I simply shrug and say, “Who am I to judge?”
Because of reproductive technologies, everything that once seemed secure is shifting, dissolving, and falling away. The only thing various Christians can seem to agree about is that they disagree. In the face of the daunting complexity of the pastoral situations, and without a clear teaching authority, the majority of Christian denominations have, for the most part, thrown down their weapons and fled the battlefield. Most non-Catholic pastors adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or, recognizing that they have no definitive answers, throw up their hands and admit that the family game is now a free-for-all.
But it doesn’t have to be. While admitting there are immense pastoral difficulties, the Catholic Church offers objective, authoritative answers to these most difficult questions:
- Basing her teaching in both natural law and divine revelation, the Church insists that true marriage can take place only between a man and a woman.
- Catholic teaching prohibits artificial contraception, sterilization, and abortion.
- It also vetoes in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogate motherhood.
The Church promulgates these teachings for the sake of the child — insisting that a human being is more than the product of a laboratory procedure, and instead has the right to be conceived in the marital embrace of his parents and carried in the womb of his natural mother.
This is because the sexual act itself has meaning. It is not simply for self-gratification. By its very nature, it has two components — the unitive and the procreative — which are naturally united. To willfully separate the procreative and unitive aspects is to go against the natural order.
Artificial reproductive technologies raise other issues important to the human race. IVF and artificial insemination makes the child a commodity, and makes doctors, technicians, and even business people part of the conception process. Furthermore, the eggs or sperm may be provided by a third-party donor rather than the natural mother or father. Finally, most of the fertilized embryos that are frozen indefinitely for later implantation end up being used for research or are discarded. The end result is a dehumanized, mechanical process for the creation of human life.
Catholic prohibitions on sexual matters are too often perceived only in negative terms. It should be remembered that Catholic teaching, first and foremost, upholds the dignity of each person and the beauty and sacredness of marriage and family life. The Church is opposed, therefore, to anything that damages the fragile and precious life of the individual and the family. The Church recognizes the attraction of reproductive technologies and the profound pastoral complexities of individual cases; nevertheless, she insists on the high ideal of that which is universally human, historical, and natural.
While acknowledging the advantages that reproductive technologies might bring to individual families, the Catholic Church would be remiss not to point out the disadvantages and dangers to the whole human family. Taking the widest perspective, she reminds us that reproductive technology is only one aspect of a medical technology that is tinkering with the very fabric of humanity itself. Genetic engineering, sex-selection abortion, and the elimination of “defective” fetuses are stepping stones to wider acceptance of eugenics, assisted suicide, and enforced euthanasia.
In short, when we interfere with the reproductive process we interfere with humanity. When we play with the creation of life, the doctors become God, and then we must ask whether we trust the doctors with the decisions of life and death that ultimately affect us all.
Are Dolce and Gabbana truly Catholic? Although they have used graphic and negative language, they have expressed the Catholic view.
Put more positively, Catholics continue to affirm the goodness of the natural family. We affirm the lifelong union between one man and one woman because that is the most psychologically and socially secure environment for a child to be nurtured and thrive. We are therefore against anything that breaks this sacred and fragile union.
Even if there are benefits and blessings to individuals through modern reproductive technologies, for the sake of the greater good and the future of the human race, we draw back. Although we cannot prohibit, we can protect; and while we may not disallow, we have every right to disapprove.