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Notes on a Controversy

If, as G. K. Chesterton said, tradition is the democracy of the dead, then one can understand how someone might think of progress as the democracy of the future. That seems to be how many journalists and politicians are understanding progress when they talk about opponents of same-sex marriage being on the “wrong side of history.” Of course we can never be as sure of what most people will think in the future as we are of what most people have thought in the past. For the past, the vote is in. For the future, we have only extrapolations based on trends—in this case, surveys showing that young people are more likely than their elders to suppport same-sex marriage.

But just as a working democracy does not accommodate the opinions of the dead in its procedures, neither should it pretend to speak on behalf of future generations. A self-governed people must accept the burden of speaking only for themselves, only for now. We may think of posterity when we form our own opinions, but we cannot think for it and, just as important, it cannot think for us. If modesty doesn’t prevent us from pretending to speak for the future, historical awareness should. (Eugenics was once supposed to be a historical inevitability, until, after the Second World War, suddenly it wasn’t. Who knows? Perhaps it will get a second chance. Some future generation may decide that we overreacted to the ugly idea of Lebensunwertes Leben.) But we can speak only from where we stand. When we pretend to speak from farther down the road of history, we are only throwing our voices. Appeals to History’s moral authority are formally no different from appeals to divine authority: they both involve claiming some transcedent warrant for one’s position. The difference is that those who appeal to divine authority know and say that’s what they’re doing, while those who appeal to a speculative future insist they are merely looking at the hard data of opinion surveys and responding pragmatically.

* * *

If History cannot settle such a controversy for us, neither can the Constitution. Pretending it does is just another kind of ventriloquism. The Constitution gives us only the framework we need to settle such controversies for ourselves—until, that is, we settle them again differently sometime in the future. In a well-functioning democracy, there is no once and for all.

* * *

If it is OK for an advocate of same-sex marriage to make this kind of argument now, then it was OK for opponents of same-sex marriage to anticipate this kind of argument before—and not OK for anyone to mock them for doing so.

* * *

In traditional Catholic moral teaching, homosexuality was understood to be a kind of vice. But why do so many Catholics seem so much more concerned with sexual vice than with all the other vices? One obvious answer is that Catholics have no choice: they seem preoccupied with sex only because their church’s sexual teachings are the part of their tradition most at odds with the secular culture of this particular time and place; Catholics’ apparent obsession with sex is just a function of this contrast.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that our culture has a much bigger problem with lust than with greed or gluttony. Of course, sex is important, for reasons evident to everyone, but the church’s position has always been that, however important it may be, it isn’t necessary: one can live a good life, a full life, without it. Christian ascetics forewent the pseudo-immortality that sex and offspring offer because they had the real thing, the promise of eternal life. For most of the church’s history, what was most distinctive about Christian sexual morality was not its condemnation of sodomy or contraception, but its non-cultic celebration of virginity and what we might call its preferential option for celibacy. Notwithstanding the divine injunction to be fruitful and multiply—an injunction understood as a general imperative by Jews and, later, by many Protestants—the original Evangelical message was that you were to do without sex if you possibly could. The highest vocations, the most heroic holiness, excluded sex. This was true of no other object of natural appetite. The Christian ascetic fasted, but he also sometimes ate and drank; he slept less, but he slept. Sex he gave up altogether, because he could, and because he considered sex to be, at best, a distraction.

Now many popularizers of the Theology of the Body sound like a supernaturalized D. H. Lawrence. They have turned the satisfaction of a natural appetite, a common pleasure, into an esoteric rite, to be savored most fully only by those familiar with Trinitarian theology. In fact, early Christians were a lot closer to Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata than to Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

* * *

But what if those early Christians were wrong? Maybe their distrust of desire as concupiscence was excessive and unnatural. Maybe their Evangelical witness—joyfully forgoing the goods in this life in pursuit of those in the next—soon curdled into an unhuman contempt for pleasure. Many people thought so at the time, and many think so now. Sexual desire, like hunger and thirst, is a natural appetite, a part of our animal nature. Only, unlike hunger and thirst and every other animal appetite, it does not correspond to a biological need of any individual animal, but only to the need of the species to perpetuate itself. The human race cannot survive without sex, but a human being can. Maybe this is why some ancient Christians were tempted to think of sex as a kind of luxury—an unnecessary and therefore artificial desire. If so, they were wrong. It is no less natural for being (personally) unnecessary, no less natural than eating and drinking. That being the case, why speak as if sex can be theologically rationalized only by turning it into a pale representation of supernatural realities? That doesn’t sit well with ordinary experience. If the pleasures of the flesh—by which we usually mean one pleasure in particular—are only presentable in mystical disguise, then we should distrust them the way St. Augustine did. But if that pleasure of the flesh is no more suspect than any other—and the desire for sex no more connected to sin than hunger or thirst—then why not take our D. H. Lawrence neat rather than watering down a natural pleasure with pious obscurantism? The tension in our own tradition remains unresolved.

* * *

Today, when we talk about marriage, we talk about recognizing the intimacy between two people. But when we talk about divorce, suddenly marriage becomes just another dispensable legal arrangement. As long as we want it, marriage is whatever we want it to be, a projection of our deepest, truest selves. As soon as we want to be free of it, it becomes an inflexible institution totally at odds with our truest, deepest selves. We fall in love and get married. But it fails. It doesn’t work out. In retrospect, what we had described as a commitment becomes simply a failed experiment. The pain of divorce may be as great as the joy of marriage, but for the former we demand only complete privacy, for the latter public recognition.

* * *

If marriage is now about celebrating the love between two people rather than solemnizing a vow that involves the intention to be fruitful and multiply, then what possible objection can there be to same-sex marriage? Who will deny that people of the same sex can love each other as much as people of the opposite sex? As many on both sides of this issue have observed, the traditionalists lost the political debate over same-sex marriage a long time ago, before most of us knew it had even begun. The meaning of marriage has been changing for decades, even though we’re only now getting around to changing the formal definition.

The best nonsectarian arguments against extending civil marriage to gays and lesbians have insisted on the importance of marriage to children: it is the state’s interest in the welfare of children, we are told, that gives it a reason to involve itself in what might otherwise appear to be an entirely private matter. Children do best, say opponents of same-sex marriage, when they grow up in a home where they have both a mother and a father. That—and not just the obvious biological fact that it takes one man and one woman to conceive a child—is the rationale for the traditional definition of marriage.

But this is also an argument against no-fault divorce, and while some opponents of same-sex marriage may quietly acknowledge that we’d be better off without that too, they have no illusions about using the law to enforce the indissolubility of marriage vows. Insofar as it is true that divorce is usually bad for children (a disputed claim), we have already decided that the state should give the liberty and privacy of adults more weight than the psychological welfare of children. If the battle against same-sex marriage, then, is not so much about sexual morality as about child welfare, then those who are fighting this battle must do a better job of explaining why this is where they’ve chosen to take their stand. (They can no longer say it’s about probability of success.)

* * *

But I agree with the opponents of same-sex marriage: the state’s interest in marriage is principally about its interest in the welfare of children. Which is why it should stop regulating marriage and instead worry only about parenthood. Let the state concern itself with any household where children are being raised and leave sexual relationships to take care of themselves. For all other practical purposes—for hospital-visitation rights, pensions, etc.—civil unions are sufficient, not only for gay and straight couples, but also for a couple of friends or siblings who share a home. Here sex is irrelevant. The only thing civil unions need to have in common with marriage is the number two.

Of course, people will continue to get married, in their churches or in their backyards. Some of them—for example, Catholics—will believe they are partaking in a sacrament, promising themselves to each other before God. Others will believe they are making a solemn vow only before their friends and family. Some will be celebrating a relationship that already has more years behind it than ahead of it. Some will be saying, “Till death do us part,” while others will prefer less demanding vows. Some will understand fidelity to mean exclusive commitment, but others will prefer a marriage that is “monogamish.” Some will still marry to have children, but others will see the decision to have children as separate from the decision to marry. In short, marriage will mean different things to different people, because it already does. It is not necessary—and may no longer be possible—for the state to get them all to agree.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Thanks for the link to article in The American Prospect. Pretty fascinating. 

In traditional Catholic moral teaching, homosexuality was understood to be a kind of vice.

Surely this is true in terms of popular understanding.  But it's not precisely the way that the Catechism characterizes homosexuality.  The Catechism claims that homosexual acts are a kind of vice.

Perhaps it's just a function of where I hang out and the opinions to which I'm exposed, but I don't sense that opposition to same sex marriage runs broadly and deeply through the faith of the American Catholic people.  Polls show that American Catholics object to same sex marriage less than Americans as a whole.   That rings true to my experience.

I think you're right that the divergence of legal marriage from religious and sacramental marriage is very far along already.  It may be for the best, from the church's point of view.

I am sorry if this is persnickety, but you use the word "Evangelical" in these notes in a way that makes me think you mean "evangelizing".  I think of "Evangelical" as a specific theological tradition, as in, "Catholics and Evangelicals Together".

Until and unless Civil Unions are the norm for all unions that we currently call marriage, and the consequent rights, benefits and accountabilities currently accruing to marriage become the provenance of civil unions, then civil unions will be second class arrangements.

I agree that the state should stop trying to regulate marriages/civil unions and only worry about parenthood, assuming, of course, that that does not diminish the 1,049 federal statutory provisions that currently accrue to state-sanctioned marriages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rights_and_responsibilities_of_marriages_in_the_United_States).  Divorces, like civil unions, would be a contractual arrangement that can be negotiated up front and at the time that the arrangement no longer exists.

What I am describing is a long way from sacramental matrimony which, of course, would remain an option for those who wish to avail themselves of a religious blessing.  However, sacramental matrimony would not constitute a civil union/marriage in the eyes of the state and would not impart the associated rights, benefits and responsibilities connected thereto.

After 41 years of our relationship,  my partner and I have less time ahead of us as a couple than we have already enjoyed.  Children are not a consideration, nor have they been.  Please:  let us be and we’ll let you be.

Once the meaning of the word "Marriage" is legally decoupled from it's Judeo-Christian definition, it's meaning can then be re-defined adinfinitum.  Group marriages, human/animal marriages - hey, it will be open season.  And even now, there are discussions going on among psychologists to redefine sexual attraction of an adult for a child away from disorder to...well you may take it from there.  Small steps to the eventual disintegration of western civilization.

I agree with Bob Schwartz.

Group marriages, human/animal marriage

I would add:

  • washer/dryer marriage
  • cup/saucer marriage
  • clown car/town car marriage
  • You like potato and I like potahto marriage
  • inflected/periphrasitic marriage
  • tornado/tournedo marriage
  • old world monkey/new world monkey marriage
  • uptown/downtown marriage
  • elephant/oliphaunt marriage
  • Sex Pistols/PiL marriage
  • Joel Schumacher/Christopher Nolan marriage
  • Heathcliff/Garfield marriage
  • Madonna/whore marriage
  • pizza/calzone marriage
  • Jason Mraz/Dave Matthews marriage

Won't somebody think of the children?

Group marriages, human/animal marriage

Group marriages, human/animal marriages

Group marriages, human/animal marriages

Group marriages, human/animal marriages

Abe:

You forgot Duke Ellington/Lawrence Welk,

                  Alban Berg/John Phillips Sousa

                  Miles Davis/Harry James

                  Oscar Peterson/Liberace

                 

While I support same sex marriage and believe that in the future opposition will be viewed in much the same way that opposition to interracial marriage is today, I'm not a fan of the phrase "wrong side of history." It strikes me as smug and unlikely to be persuasive.

Bob,

Why is same sex marriage wrong? I find that the arguments either rely on empirically false evidence, create a double standard that would ban straight marriages if applied to them, or seem as arbitrary as kosher dietary laws.

I can explain why adults having sex with children is wrong. That is why society is not going to condone child marriages.

We can and do learn from history and also from evolving trends, but legalizing same-sex marriage isn't about trying to be in the vanguard of some future majority opinion -  it's about seeing justice done in the present.  "The best way to predict your future is to create it." .... Abraham Lincoln  :)

 

Ryan - -

Good question.  But so far the only half-way sensible reason I ever hear is that children need a father and a mother, and that is backed up by the fact that many children of single mothers end up  disadvantaged in many ways.  So let's look a kids and *their* (moral) marriage rights.

Of course, it is ideal for children to have two parents of the same sex  -- kids need role models of both kinds.  But when one parent dies we wouldn't think of taking the children away from the remaining parent, would we?  In other words, it's better to live with a single parent than to be brought up in an orphanage.  I conclude that *both* children and parents have a right not to live in ideal circumstances (though some circumstances are intolerable, e.g., when there is phsical and/or mental abuse).  If children had a right to demand ideal circumstances, heterosexual marriages would also mainly be barred.   

So I say, given that we currently find having only one parent tolerable, why wouldn't it be even better for a child to have two parents of the same sex rather than just one parent ?  True, the whole experiment of same-sex marriage and parenthoos is very new, and we can't predict what will be truly good for the kids of such unions yet.  But so far, the evidence seems positive.  No, not perfect, but all in all it's generally more good than bad.

I conclude that, possible harm done to kids isn't a justifiable reason to deny same-sex marriage. And that doesn't even consider same-sex marriage without kids where there is no possibility of harming kids.

"The meaning of marriage has been changing for decades ".

Wrrong - it's been changing constantly, for two millenia. Paul saw it as a remedy for lust, early Christians valued celibate (and so childless) marriage as more virtuous than sexual marriage. For centuries, formal marriage was only important for the rich, as a means to arrange dynastic alliances, and to preserve property and inheritance rights. What is commonly but inacurately described as "traditional" marriage, is a relatively modern invention. 

"Let the state concern itself with any household where children are being raised and leave sexual relationships to take care of themselves."

By this logic, the state should withhold marriage from couples who are unable or unwilling to have children - and grant it to the same - sex couples who are raising kids,

It is a complete myth that marriage exists for the purposes of procreation. Most children, and especially the first born in a family, are conceived outside of marriage - but marriage frequently follows before the resulting birth

For most couples, the decision to marry is not based on a desire to have children, but either to mark publicly a permanent commitment in love - or to protect the children that they have already produced or conceived.lThse considerations apply equally to all couples - or any orientation. There is absolutely no need for the state to draw any distinction between them.

 

 

 

In trying to anticipate the future we have forgotten the past.  

Genesis 6:1-4 tells us about human / fallen angel marriage:

"Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown."

and 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephilim

But perhaps these were civil unions and not true marriages. :-)

 

Ann, your logic is faulty in the following way:  Its fundamentally different to ex post raise a child in less than ideal circumstances, than it is to ex ante make that same decision.  Another way to think of it, is that everyone's right to life is superior to the circumstances of it, as opposed to a "right not to live in ideal circumstances" which seems nonsensical.

For most couples, the decision to marry is not based on a desire to have children, but either to mark publicly a permanent commitment in love - or to protect the children that they have already produced or conceived.lThse considerations apply equally to all couples - or any orientation. There is absolutely no need for the state to draw any distinction between them. 

 

This just reflects current thinking without considering how previous generations may have thought.  Makes me recognize the intelligence of this insight from C.S. Lewis:

We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century — the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ — lies where we have never suspected it.

None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.

Matt,

Paul Griffiths basically came to the same conclusion a couple of years ago in the print edition.  Ms Steinfels pointed out that it accepts that the Catholic position is sectarian.  What do you say to that?

Interesting point about Theology of the body. 

"The obvious answer is that Catholics have no choice: They seem preoccupied with sex only because their church's sexual teachings are the part of their tradition most at odds with the secular culture of this particular time and place." 

I disagree!  The hierarchy--except for Pope Francis-- and the right wind of the church are preoccupied with sex to the point where we are not addressing the systematic disenfranchising of the poor, greed, wage-theft, the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, the abuse ofthe elderly and the sick, the misuse of war as foreign policy, the irreparable harm done to the earth by the promotion of a throw-away culture--Catholic teachings about which are fundamental to the tradition!

Bruce,

Every couple is less than ideal. If we demanded no one have children unless they were ideally equipped to raise them, no one would have children on purpose. The question is not whether we can imagine a situation that would be better but whether we can expect them to fall into the range of quality that we generally find acceptable. I'm sure we all know couples who we would describe as less than ideal potential parents, but that doesn't mean that we stop their wedding.

David,

I thought that sentence was weird, too. Opposing contraception seems to me much more at odds with the secular culture of this time and place if you want to restrict it to only sexual topics.

It seems to me there is no black and white in the matter of sexual mores.  The old Catholic teachings need to be rethought and revised in s ome ways, as do the new, essentially late feminist views.  I say "late feminist" because I think that the 60's feminists have been most influential on the culture in holding that women have the right to be as licentious as men.  Current research, however, is starting to show that young women who buy that line are not as happy as others -- they are dissatisfied with the hook-up culture, and I expect that they eventually will reject it.    

It seems to me the problem is that the old notion that women are more monogamous than men was the true one, but people don't want to admit it.  So long as women want babies they will want the father to stay and support the family, and evolution seems to have confirmed that impulse by making women naturally on the monagamous side.  Further, as long as men marry and discover that family life is worth remaining faithful to their wives, then adultery will generally not be tolerated, or at least it will not be considered OK.  Fornication is another matter, but at the moment the tide seems to be going against it again. (The NYT had an article about this recently, though I didn't see it.)   As to other sexual sins, the Church needs to do some re-thinking as to the seriousness of such matters.  (I've said this before:  the Church needs to rethink the typical scholastic sexual ethics -- too often it is bad philosophy and so is bad ethics.)

 As I see it, the teaching that all sexual sins are equally mortal sins (yes, that is what Aquinas says)  is the single teaching most responsible for the drift of Catholics away from the Church.  It's an obviously silly teaching.  Just compare the Spitzer and Weiner cases -- Spitzer was guilty of adultery many times over, while as far as we know Weiner has not been guilty of adultery at all.  Their sins are apples and oranges. (True, Weiner's apparently addictive personality surely is relevant to the discussion of his fitness to serve.)  What I think is really strange is that people are putting those two guys in the same basket.

Ryan,

Yes, every couple is less than ideal because they are human.  And no one is suggesting that only ideal potential parents be allowed to marry; thats an obfuscation.  My point is that children have a right to their less than ideal biological mother and father.  The fact that some are raised after the fact without one parent is fundamentally a different question than planning to raise them in a situation where its known before the fact that one biological parent will be absent.  While we may consider the end result in both similar and less than ideal, how you get there matters.  Think about someone killed in a car accident - it matters whether the driver was drunk or not.

Bruce --

No, children do not have an absolute right to both parents.  If they did, fathers would never be sent off to prison or war.  So the question becomes:  in which circumstance do they have such a right?

Bob:  the world is full of people who do not adhere to the Judeo-Christian traditions and who participate in marriage in all of its various forms.  Are their marriages less than a Judeo-Christian form of marriage?  Are you not confusing sacramental marriage (matrimony) with other forms of marriage and saying that the former is somehow superior to the latter?

About a third of the world is at least nominally Judeo-Christian (http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110303165123AAEXLK8) so what you are fixating on is the minority view of marriage.

And stop trying to link same-sex marriage to an attraction of an adult to a child.  The two are not remotely connected, any more than Catholic matrimony is akin to serial monogamy that passes for marriage in much of the Western (and Judeo-Christian) world.

Bob:  the idea of an Oscar Peterson/Liberace marriage is more than even I can countenance!

I disagree!  The hierarchy--except for Pope Francis-- and the right wind of the church are preoccupied with sex to the point where we are not addressing the systematic disenfranchising of the poor, greed, wage-theft, the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, the abuse ofthe elderly and the sick, the misuse of war as foreign policy, the irreparable harm done to the earth by the promotion of a throw-away culture--Catholic teachings about which are fundamental to the tradition!

What is the scope of "we are addressing" in this statement?  Do you mean, we (the church) are (or are not) eng

topics that tend to get reported in, and amplified by, the media?

I ask because in my own preaching and pastoral work, I focus much more on the list of social-justice issues you mentioned (and more besides) and almost never do I touch on the locus of sex- and marriage-related issues.  (And the last time I did preach about one of the latter, I got a bit of a finger-wagging from the pastor for bringing up topics that are sensitive to children :-)).  In the church's preaching, which is about as fundamental a church activity is there is, an adherence to the discipline of the lectionary will ensure the sort of balance I'm describing - or so it works out for me.  (I know there are johnny-one-note preachers out there who talk only about abortion, week after week, or some such, but that is not the norm around here, and I fervently hope, not the norm more generally!)

I am not sure what happened to my previous comment, but it seems to have gotten chopped up quite a bit in the first paragraph.   Let me try to redo the comment:

What is the scope of "we are addressing" in this statement?  Do you mean, we (the church) are (or are not) engaging publicly in the political process on those topics?  Or perhaps that these are the topics that tend to get reported in, and amplified by, the media?

I ask because in my own preaching and pastoral work, I focus much more on the list of social-justice issues you mentioned (and more besides) and almost never do I touch on the locus of sex- and marriage-related issues.  (And the last time I did preach about one of the latter, I got a bit of a finger-wagging from the pastor for bringing up topics that are sensitive to children :-)).  In the church's preaching, which is about as fundamental a church activity is there is, an adherence to the discipline of the lectionary will ensure the sort of balance I'm describing - or so it works out for me.  (I know there are johnny-one-note preachers out there who talk only about abortion, week after week, or some such, but that is not the norm around here, and I fervently hope, not the norm more generally!)

Ann,

I disagree.  Children do have an right to both parents, but parents have other obligations which must be balanced against the responsibility to their children.  And war or prison do not extinguish the parents obligation to their child.  But certainly, no parent has the right to procreate with the express purpose of abandoning their child.

And please dont respond with an unmarried couple who put their child up for adoption.  Lets give them the benefit of the doubt that they were hoping the act would be one of the many that are nonprocreative.

Bruce,

No children have a right to their biological mother and father. Their parents are able to relinquish parental rights and give a child up for adoption without any consent of the child. In fact, the pro-life movement strongly promotes this practice as a potential alternative for women who are considering an abortion. Whether a child is with their biological parents is not irrelevant, but it is an exteremely small consideration compared to whether the parents are willing and able to give children the support they need.

Matthew's opening paragraph makes reference to how we argue/discuss/debate a subject, in this case same-sex marriage. He mentions the phrase "the wrong side of history," which is an argument about losing; it implies that those opposed/critical/uncertain about the recent Supreme Court decision might as well give up their opposition/criticism/uncertainty and go with the flow. (I set aside what the SC decision really decided about s-s marriage as such; we'll see.)

The article in the American Prospect raises the question of what liberals and progressives will argue when other forms of "marriage," polygamy, polyandry, child marriage, incest, etc., come before the courts. Arguments in favor of these have been dismissed as improbable, etc., but as the author asks, what in the Court's constitutional argument makes them improbable, at least in the long run. He seems to think that liberals and progressives should sober up, and look at this issue carefully. I agree.

One of the challenges of winning an argument whether through the courts, legislation or executive order, is to understand its limits. The civil rights movement of the 60s and the legal changes it engendered were a great advance, but in many ways they did not remedy the myriad economic, social, and political disadvantages of the African-American community. The women's movement followed making some of the same arguments, legal and moral, with perhaps greater success, especially for white women. Now the movement for marriage equality has followed suit. In each case, there is a sense of triumph, and often enought bullying arguments about the "wave of the future"; followed by claims for what society owes each of these disadvantaged groups (though careful thought should be given to the difference in degree between being black and being a woman or homosexual in the United State, for one thing there are myriad class issues).

A winning argument in court is not necessarily or immediately a winning argument in society. The civil rights movement and the women's movement show some of the limits. Winning arguments may point to the wave of the future, but maybe not.

 

 

My goodness, it certainly seems Matthew covered most of the relevant bases on this issue particularly well!  Thank you!

 As luck would have it my wife and I recently attended a Washer/Dryer wedding.  One would understandably predict a union so conforming to natural law would be without controversy.  Sadly, a local community of committed Chlotheslines got wind of the event and were unable to resist picketing. 

As unquestionably well meaning as it clearly is, focusing on one of the products of a healthy relationship rather than the relationship itself seems near-sighted in practice.  Healthy children are one of the products of a healthy relationship not the reason for one.  BTB, I am not using the word product in anything remotely resembling the capitalistic sense.  There is nothing whatever mystical in capitalism.   The skill and patience required to intervene successfully in assisting a child whose "gods" have clearly failed is a challenge beyond words and often an experience so brutal a sane person is reluctant to repeat.

BTW, anyone notice there is one often tragic outcome of heterosexual relationships to which we can reasonably rely upon same-sex couples not to give birth.....orphans.

No children have a right to their biological mother and father. Their parents are able to relinquish parental rights and give a child up for adoption without any consent of the child.

 

Ryan,

You have completely mischaracterized the argument.  Historically, children were put up for adoption because the parents believed it was better for the child.  That is the same argument advanced by the pro-life movement; in that case adoption is obviously better given the alternative is death.

If you believe that children can be procreated with the specific intention of NOT living with their biological parents then the child has lost its human rights and become a tradeable object.

"If you believe that children can be procreated with the specific intention of NOT living with their biological parents then the child has lost its human rights and become a tradeable object."

Ova CAN be fertilized with the specific intention of being "donated" (sold) to couples able to afford to buy them.  A dotcommonweal thread was devoted to promoting that disgusting practice recently.  

http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/designer-babies

 

 

 

"Historically, children were put up for adoption because the parents believed it was better for the child."

No.  Children were given up for adoption because one of the parents (the father) abandoned the mother and his child.  Without "wedlock," a child was "illegitimate" and doomed to be separated from the "unwed" mother.  

That notion has gone the way of the notion that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry. 

Here are 2.4 million leads to information about the decline of maternity homes the Church operated to separate unwed mothers from their illegitimate children.

http://www.google.com/search?site=&source=hp&q=catholic+maternity+homes+...

Without "wedlock," a child was "illegitimate"

 

Since the illegitimate child would be ostracized for no fault of their own, adoption was thought best for the child.  Your argument with the Church is more about the method, not necessarily the rationale.  

The story of Cain and Able makes clear that we are responsible for the good of others.  That is certainly true of parents towards their children, especially at the childrens earlier stages of life.  That is even more true for children who have no voice.

 

The story of Cain and Able (sic) makes clear that marrying your sister is okay.  

 

This is late in the day, but not wholly irrelevant.

Matthew's initial post has much that is right about it, but it's not the wole story. He says: "A self-governed people must accept the burden of speaking only for themselves, only for now."

However correct that might be, all arguments about practical matters occur within a historical horizon. This is cetainly the case when the topic is public policy. We argue against the background of an REMEMBERED past (never exhaustively correct) and in the light of an IMAGINED future (again, never fully precise). In effect, any adopted public policy is a bet about how the future will turn out, a bet that is wagered on a reading of the past. There is no exemption from this condition. It means, among other things, that we never get certitude about what the outcome of adopting any policy will be. It also means that the "wining side" of any policy debate has an obligation in intellectual honesty to be prepared to find that its policy preferences may well turn out to be flawed, even badly flawed.

It follows that, since our policy choices will likely have an impact on future generations that we can't anticipate, we ought to be careful about simply writing off any thoughtful oposition that the "losing side" offerred.

FWIW, and perhaps somewhat pursuant to Bernard's excellent comment directly above, I do think the mantra, "Don't be on the on the wrong side of history" packs a certain amount of rhetorical power.  I think it's very effective - it manages to be pretty evocative of a lot of powerful emotions and aspirations, rooted both in shared history and experience, and projecting hopes for the future.  We live in an age of 140 character limits, so it's a great advantage to be able to frame one's view on contentious issues in this way - super-succinct yet connotative of much, much more.

 

This article by Richard Posner in the New Republic, "How Gay Marriage Became Legitimate / A revisionist history of a social revolution" may have some tangential relationships to Matthew's musings here.

Gay marriage is actually not about sex (as some of the rhetoric quoted by Mr Boudway seems to entail) but about building a secure, deep and lasting loving relationship. This is a dream that the church and society deemed in accessible to gay and lesbians in the past. Now millions of young gays and lesbians are thinking seriously about marriage and thousands have tied the knot. Many others are reflecting ruefully on oppportunities lost forever, especially gay priests, cheated of their natural right to marry both by canon law and the absence of civil law. This is a simple human breakthrough, which needs no elaborate argument; call it an anthropological revolution if you like, but note that the democratic revolution, though it seemed radical and eccentric at first soon imposed itself by the simplicity of such principles as "”liberte egalite fraternite” or ”inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. It is this fundamental simplicity that has increasingly persuaded me that gay marriage too is on "on the right side of history". "If marriage is now about celebrating the love between two people rather than solemnizing a vow that involves the intention to be fruitful and multiply, then what possible objection can there be to same-sex marriage?" Especially given the fact that we treat sterile marriages and marriage of the aged a legally and morally equal with same-sex marriage. "Who will deny that people of the same sex can love each other as much as people of the opposite sex? As many on both sides of this issue have observed, the traditionalists lost the political debate over same-sex marriage a long time ago, before most of us knew it had even begun." They lost it because they let themselves be overrun by biblical fundamentalism (even in some church documents) and because of their dishonesty about psychological reality and their refusal to dialogue with gays and lesbians.

"Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that our culture has a much bigger problem with lust than with greed or gluttony."

True, but the difference is that there are few, if any, people unabashedly defending greed or gluttony as a wonderful thing that should not merely be tolerated but rewarded by the state. In practice, certain Republicans' positions on taxes are probably reducible to that, but in public, they don't say that greed is wonderful or have greed pride parades. Instead, they try to argue that what looks like greed is in fact wanting to be rewarded for risk-taking that ultimately benefits innovation and the economy.

 

Terence: "For most couples, the decision to marry is not based on a desire to have children, but either to mark publicly a permanent commitment in love - or to protect the children that they have already produced or conceived.lThse considerations apply equally to all couples - or any orientation. There is absolutely no need for the state to draw any distinction between them."

You don't seem to realize that you've argued yourself out of any reason for "marriage" to exist in the first place. If all that marriage means is loving commitment, then there should be no such thing as "marriage." Lots of people love each other -- friends (some friendships last longer than many "marriages"), cousins, etc. Granting that love is a nice thing, why should the state draw any distinction between some loving relationships (calling them "marriages") and others that are of equal value?  

 

 

 

 “ "Whenever people talk about traditional marriage or traditional families, historians throw up their hands," said Steven Mintz, a history professor at Columbia University. "We say, 'When and where?'" The ancient Hebrews, for instance, engaged in polygamy — according to the Bible, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines — and men have taken multiple wives in cultures throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. Polygamy is still common across much of the Muslim world. The idea of marriage as a sexually exclusive, romantic union between one man and one woman is a relatively recent development. Until two centuries ago, said Harvard historian Nancy Cott, "monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion" of the world population, found in "just Western Europe and little settlements in North America."  “

“The first recorded evidence of marriage contracts and ceremonies dates to 4,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia. In the ancient world, marriage served primarily as a means of preserving power, with kings and other members of the ruling class marrying off daughters to forge alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs. Even in the lower classes, women had little say over whom they married. The purpose of marriage was the production of heirs, as implied by the Latin word matrimonium, which is derived from mater (mother).” 

“For thousands of years, law and custom enforced the subordination of wives to husbands. But as the women's-rights movement gained strength in the late 19th and 20th centuries, wives slowly began to insist on being regarded as their husbands' equals, rather than their property. "By 1970," said Marilyn Yalom, author of A History of the Wife, "marriage law had become gender-neutral in Western democracy." At the same time, the rise of effective contraception fundamentally transformed marriage: Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. If they were unhappy with each other, they could divorce — and nearly half of all couples did. Marriage had become primarily a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness. This new definition opened the door to gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married, too. "We now fit under the Western philosophy of marriage," said E.J. Graff, a lesbian and the author of What Is Marriage For? In one very real sense, Coontz says, opponents of gay marriage are correct when they say traditional marriage has been undermined. "But, for better and for worse, traditional marriage has already been destroyed," she says, "and the process began long before anyone even dreamed of legalizing same-sex marriage." “

(http://theweek.com/article/index/228541/how-marriage-has-changed-over-centuries)

Ann
"Of course, it is ideal for children to have two parents of the same sex -- kids need role models of both kinds. But when one parent dies we wouldn't think of taking the children away from the remaining parent, would we? In other words, it's better to live with a single parent than to be brought up in an orphanage."

I've been thinking the same thing for quite some time. I eventually concluded:
1) that the possibility of gay adoption is not a sufficient argument against gay marriage
2) that if all else is equal between potential adoptive parents, it is not unreasonable to give preferential treatment to the heterosexual couple in an adoption. In other words, the Catholic adoption centers in Massachusetts that placed some hard to place children with homosexual families should not have been forced by the archdiocese to terminate the practice. Yet, they also should not have faced a lawsuit for showing preference to heterosexual families. This is not to say that homosexuals lack equal rights, but to say that we search for the best possible homes for orphans.

Jeff --

I mainly agree.  Yes, the gay adoptive parents have rights, but the problem is:  what are the rights of the children?  They are the most vulnerable in an adoption process.  How to determine what is best for them within any given set of options?  If it is really better to have parents of two different kinds, then surely that should be a factor in determining who gets a child.  Horrible sort of Sophie's choice situation.

Exactly Ann

I also don't want to see any more Catholic adoption centers close their doors as a consequence of gay marriage.

What children of any stripe need is loving, committed parents.  The gender of said parents is secondary to how these children are treated, loved and raised.