The 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae has brought in its share of apologia, among them Russell Shaw's piece in the Arlington Catholic Herald. There are two main themes that most cite. One is the equation of blastocysts with fetuses and the implication that stem cell research and birth control constitute an act of murder. The other is the usual handwringing about the separation of the generative and unitive purposes of sex when artificial birth control is used.
Both are problematic.
Scientifically and morally, there is evidence to show that Paul VI and John Paul II were just plain wrong. Until gastrulation, which occurs after implantation, twinning can occur (a moral objection to the gestationalists) and hybrids continue to develop (proving that a blastocyst may not actually be a human in some cases if bestiality was involved in the conception). 40 years ago, the Pope's scientific and theological advisors told him as much and were disregarded. In ethics class, this is called vincible ignorance and does not excuse the evil it causes.
Married Catholics also provided advice to the Pope on this issue and were also ignored, as they supported artificial birth control. As a married Catholic myself, the idea of taking advice about sex from confirmed celebates strikes me as a bit odd. As one who is approaching middle age and whose wife is approaching menopause, I find the assertion that sex without the possibility of procreation to be less than worthy to be personally insulting. The argument ad aburdo arising from this position is that I should divorce my wife and find a twenty year old for more procreation. That may work in some fundamentalist Mormon sects, but it is hardly Catholic.
The increase in sexual permissiveness since Humanae Vitae, which Shaw notes, has nothing to do with Humanae Vitae, since the encyclical was directed at married Catholics, not singles or gays and lesbians. Some of it comes from the liberalization of divorce laws, which left a lot of formerly marrieds in search of casual sex. Casual sex among the young has more to do with their increased economic power and the rise in collegiate and coeducational education than any teaching about married sexuality. Gay liberation has nothing to do with separating marital sex from creation. There has not been any increase in the incidence of homosexuality. What has increased is the tolerance of it and this is a good thing. Studies show that even young conservatives are more sexually tolerant than their traditionalist parents, which is why the hierarchy is so afraid. Their prejudices are going to die off when they do.
A separate piece that I read recently and cannot seem to locate made the outlandish assumption that gay marriage is wrong because it cannot reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is also compared to the marriage covenant. This argument is almost circular, as originally the comparison between Jesus and the Church with marriage was used as a teaching tool. Comparing marriage back again is to turn the entire exercise into a tautology. There is also a problem with considering marriage in this way, since it clearly puts the female in a subordinate position.
Wives are no longer considered the property of their husbands, so the analogy breaks down - as it should anyway. In the Last Discourse, which was written after the Pauline Epistles, Jesus states that he no longer considers the Apostles (and the Church) as servants but as friends and brothers. This is an entirely different covenant than the marriage covenant described by Paul or by pseudo-Paul in Ephesians and Collosians.
Gay marriage is headed toward legal and constitutional acceptance in the not too distant future and the unraveling of the Republican Party will prevent any constitutional amendment in reaction to an almost certain overturning of gay marriage bans under equal protection grounds.
This will be a hollow victory, however. True acceptance of gays will only come when the Church doors are opened to them for marriage. The condemnations of homosexuality found in Scriptures did not consider such relationships, as most homosexual men had wives as property as well, or practiced pederastry, which is detestable even among liberals (when Jesus taught about corrupting children and the preference for being thrown in the sea with a milstone around one's neck, this is what he was referring to). When Paul wrote his letters, he fully expected that the preaching of the gospel to the known world would result in the imminent return of Christ. We're still waiting. We now know more about human sexuality, including the formation of sexual preference and its innate nature. Very few are "turned gay" if any (although some may be initiated into cycles of pederastry, which is different). With this in mind, the kind of moral ideal Paul recommends would be served rather than harmed by the celebration of Gay Weddings. Doing so allows the preaching of that sexual ideal, rather than presuming that gays and lesbians are naturally promiscuous. We can't share that message, however, until we abandon the notion that homosexuality is somehow disordered. How are gays to trust us with the words of Eternal Life if we do not trust them when they tell us that they did not choose their homosexuality?
Finally, there is the key teaching about marriage itself. Marriages are made by the parties involved. The Priest is merely a witness for the community. God blesses all marriages entered into in a sacramental spirit, whether witnessed or not. The fruits of this have been demonstrated by gay couples modeling the love of Christ in care for their partners suffering with AIDS and other maladies. To deny this is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit, which according to Luke was said to be sin which is not forgiven.