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Historic Night for Same-Sex Marriage

Among the notable electoral events last night were 4 ballot initiatives concerning same-sex marriage. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage, and voters in Minnesota rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned gay unions. Boston.com reports:

The tide has turned when voters have the opportunity to really hear directly from loving, committed same-sex couples and their families, they voted for fairness, said Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, a California-based gay rights group. Those who oppose the freedom to marry for committed couples are clearly on the wrong side of history.

The affirming states are the 7th, 8th and 9th states to do so, here for the first time by popular vote. These states won't be the last: poll data shows that this is a generational issue. Younger voters are strongly supportive of equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay Americans. Here is one example of how Catholics are hanging on to the good news of Catholic Social Teaching, at least as they see it. One attendee at a pro-gay marriage prayer vigil in Washington last Sunday put it this way:

Catholics believe Christs primary message is one of love, and Catholic social teaching teaches us that God loves everybody. We are standing up for centuries of Catholic social teaching, a vigil attendee told seattlepi.com.

Magisterial teaching against same-sex CIVIL marriage hinges on the category of procreation, seemingly asserting that the institution only has social value because children might result. But our own teaching on marriage is richer than that--marriage has value that includes procreation (or not), but also reaches beyond that important but ultimately merely biological category to encompass all the richness of living in committed relationships. Perhaps this is a moment when Catholics voting for marriage equality are showing that they have indeed learned the lessons of Catholic teaching, both the social teaching of the equal dignity of all people and our own rich heritage on marriage.

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Lisa, if you are still checking in here, I'm interested in understanding how it is that voting for same-sex civil marriage could be against Catholic teaching, as Archbp Nienstedt and others told us. In other words, how one could be a "bad" Catholic by supporting such a law. It seems to me that supporting a civil law that expands a civil right is different from supporting this same right in the church. Indeed, couldn't one agree with the church on gay marriage and support a smae-sex marriage law?I think of contraception legalization, or better still supporting nondiscrimination laws for women -- while still supporting the church's ban on women's ordination. The church has said that racism is an instrinsic evil, and so supporting racist laws could be seen as against church teaching. But then the bishops are hoist on their own petard, to invoke a cliche, because they say that their opposition to civil marriage for gays is not like racism. Anyway, I just don't understand the connection between Catholic doctrine and voting on same-sex marriage.Enlightenment?! Thanks.

The bishops -- and most Catholics -- would be well served if they took the time to read this:http://www.yawningbread.org/apdx_2004/imp-141.htmAnd this: http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2012/05/13/44400?utm_source=feedburner&...

It looks like the sensus fidelium is at work, and reserved not only to the Church.

I'm looking forward to many, many more wonderful varieties of marriage in the not-too-distant future. The gay and lesbian community has led the way, but that's just a beginning, folks! Our rich heritage on marriage is in for a rich abundance of happy surprises.

How naive. As if marital love was disembodied and did not reflect the fact that "male an he female he created them." The "rich heritage" David Smith is talking about is called Gnosticism.

This may help summarize the issue, Carlo notwithstanding:"I do not know how or if our culture can ever recapture the profoundly beautiful idea of human love that the Churchs belief in traditional marriage as a sacrament was intended to enflesh. Too often, that beauty is obscured by hateful, anti-gay bigotry, which has no place in any Christian pulpit or Christian heart, even when traditional marriage is being celebrated. But, I do know this: When the daughter of the most conservative President in modern American history embraces gay marriage, politically, the issue has been decided."http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/politics-gay-marriageWhat has happened is a CIVIL issue, dealing with civil rights, benefits andresponsibilities.What Carlo has stated has absolutely nothing do to with civil matters ... nothing.

Jim:did you read Lisa's post. Let me cut and past the final paragraph for you:"Magisterial teaching against same-sex CIVIL marriage hinges on the category of procreation, seemingly asserting that the institution only has social value because children might result. But our own teaching on marriage is richer than thatmarriage has value that includes procreation (or not), but also reaches beyond that important but ultimately merely biological category to encompass all the richness of living in committed relationships. Perhaps this is a moment when Catholics voting for marriage equality are showing that they have indeed learned the lessons of Catholic teaching, both the social teaching of the equal dignity of all people and our own rich heritage on marriage."To me it seems she is talking about the Catholic view of marriage, and so did the previous commenters. But, please, prove me wrong.

Jim:as I pasted it I noticed that unbelievable sentence by Lisa: "procreation... [is an] important but ultimately merely biological category." That statement by itself, the body-soul dualism it implies, the obvious disregard for the mystery of human sexuality, and for the complementarity of fatherhood an motherhood, the cavalier assumption that "biology" does not have any sacramental significance... it would make the day of any scholar of Gnosticism.

These elections were not about the Catholic view of anything, irrespective of how hard the bishops tried to interject their opinion and bias. The elections were about the civil institution of marriage that imparts rights, benefits and responsibilities to all individuals willing to enter into a civil contract. I personally do not care what the Catholic view of marriage is - it doesn't apply to me because they say it does not apply to me. Fine. Then the Catholic church can stay out of a view of marriage that does apply to me.

"These elections were not about the Catholic view of anything"Lisa's post and my response were. If you do not care about it, don't comment.

And who exactly appointed you comment gatekeeper? This is not the NCR blog, you know!

Jim:non sequitur

Re: male and female he created them.Well, not exactly. It behooves us to be much more humble about sexuality in light of the fact of transgender births and all we do not understand about the shadings of identity. Or does God make a mistake about an integral aspect of human nature with each such birth?Reviewing the range of presentations of newborn photos in one documentary, what seemed the more obvious choice of sex based on externals was often enough incorrect. The dominant preference of those children in later life was frequently counter to the physical evidence. Brain chemistry is a key factor. My impression was that those babies subjected to early surgery endured heartbreaking conflict. The question is not about taking the bible literally, but taking the bible seriously. Complexity, complexity, as Ann O. often writes.

"Perhaps this is a moment when Catholics voting for marriage equality are showing that they have indeed learned the lessons of Catholic teaching, both the social teaching of the equal dignity of all people and our own rich heritage on marriage."One rule of thumb that may be helpful is this one: if it contradicts Catholic moral teaching, it isn't a genuine expression of Catholic social teaching.

Carlo: my statement stands: who appointed you grand poobah of the comments section?

@David,The most direct magisterial response to the question is here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_.... As far as I can tell, all American bishops' arguments merely echo or restate what's here. The argument hinges on procreation. The argument is set up with a subtle clarification, viz: civil law doesn't legislate every aspect of morality. At the same time, it cannot contradict the natural law. (True enough--if same-sex marriage could be shown to harm the common good, laws favoring it would be an unreasonable law, hence not law at all.) Then the question is narrowed to legal recognition, not merely the existence of same-sex relationships. So the argument needs to show how opposite-sex marriage contributes to the common good, and how same-sex marriage cannot. Here's how it goes:1. "Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race." Assuming the two sentences are intended to be parallel, they assert that marriage is important civilly because of procreation.2. "Homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the conjugal dimension, which represents the human and ordered form of sexuality. Sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open to the transmission of new life." In the understanding of ordered sexuality presented in John Paul II's Theology of the Body, only potentially procreative relationships can be complementary in the way appropriate for marriage. Again, procreation (or, here, at least heterosexual partnership with its potential of procreation,) drives the argument.3. "the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children." There is no evidence to support this claim, and increasing evidence to the contrary.4. "The inevitable consequence of legal recognition of homosexual unions would be the redefinition of marriage, which would become, in its legal status, an institution devoid of essential reference to factors linked to heterosexuality; for example, procreation and raising children." In other words, same-sex marriage is wrong because it is not heterosexual, and non-procreative.5. "Because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them institutional recognition." Again, procreation.So in sum, Ratzinger writing for the CDF says that the common good argument against civil same-sex marriage is essentially because marriage serves the common good because of procreation. (The complementarity argument is "proved" by the potential procreation that can happen in heterosexual sex.) Istm that this is a too-narrow view of the role of marriage in civil society. Companionship, help in parenting, intimacy, even good health, mutual responsibility in times of need, etc., all seem to me to be dynamisms served by marriage that are relevant to the common good.

To snip from the 2nd link I posted above:" --- in 2009 over 110,000 women aged 55 and older got married. That accounted for 5.1% of all marriages that year. The birth rate of women in this group is so small that the Census Bureau and the CDC dont even report it. For these women, the purpose of marriage is not procreation, not about bringing together moms and dads. And by the way, when women in this group do conceive, its generally through an egg donor, so even that is contrary to Maggie (Gallagher of NOM)s repugnant, repetitive rhetoric about marriage uniting children with their own mother and father (that is, repugnant to adoptive parents, at least, who apparently cannot count their children as their own). Now, that 5.1% figure is a bit higher than the 4.1% of adults willing to tell the government theyre gay or bisexual (which itself is different from the fraction who actually are gay or bisexual, but were concerned here with people willing to go on the record, as marriage requires)."If this church would take into account the "sensus fidelium" on this matter it might have the basis for a dialogue with those who see things otherwise. But it apparently is not willing to do that, and will continue to be ignored, not only at the edges of Catholicism, but most like in the center as well.

@Carlo, As to gnostic dualism, I don't think so. Rather, I'd place the body-soul unity not in procreation, but in sexual union. Sexual orientation is more than a matter of who one has intercourse with--it involves also who one falls in love with, body and soul. Lesbian and gay people can force themselves to heterosexual acts, (just as heterosexual people can have homosexual sex,) but their integrity as sexual/relational/body/soul/spirit persons means that a fully human sexual relationship can only be sought with a same-sex partner. Similarly, of course, for straights and opposite-sex partners. As to "male and female God created them," indeed--isn't that part of the reason why people should seek partners of the sex to which they are drawn, especially given what we know about sexual orientation?Procreation is a wondrous thing, co-creation with God. But just as human sex cannot be reduced to merely being ordered to procreation precisely because of our body/soul/spirit nature, even more so ought marriage not be reduced to matters of procreation. Shouldn't our marital ethics start with what is most resonantly human about our intimate relationships, the sharing of life and love, fears, joys and hopes, and all that lift our human relationships beyond those of animals seeking mates? Our own tradition recognizes this in thinking of marriage as a sacrament, and in recognizing the goodness of marriage for those incapable of reproduction. For civil marriage, the matter at hand here, a Catholic argument can be made, istm, in light of our usual norm for civil law: it must serve the common good, a matter of recognizing the equal rights of all, according to Paul VI. There's a strong common good case in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriage, on the same grounds for which Catholics might argue for the goodness of civil opposite-sex marriage even for those not interested in or capable of parenting. The common good argument includes, istm, a recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings, gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transexual, and of the important human and social goods that are demonstrably associated with marriage but not necessarily with procreation.And @ Carolyn: indeed, Catholic theology has next to nothing to say about intersex individuals, nor about transexual people.

I think the bishops should seek wisdom from the voters in the 30 states that have voted to reject homosexual marriage.

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About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).