The Things We Share

A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage

There's this guy I know in Manhattan. Call him Jim. Jim Watson. We’re friends, I guess. We used to be friends, anyway—grabbing a hamburger together near Gramercy Park, from time to time, or meeting out on the Stuyvesant Town Oval on a summer afternoon to play some folk and bluegrass with the guitar strummers, mandolin pickers, autoharpers, and amateur banjo players who’d drift by. None of us any good, but fun, you know? Old-timey Americana like “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Pretty Saro,” and “The Orphan Girl.” A version of “Shady Grove,” I remember, was one of his specialties: When I was just a little boy, / all I wanted was a Barlow knife. / But now I am a great big boy, / I’m lookin’ for a wife.

A few years ago, his friendship began to cool, bit by bit. You understand how it is: a little here, a little there, and last time I was through New York he didn’t even bother to answer my note suggesting we put together one of our low-rent urban hootenannies. The problem, our conversations had made pretty clear along the way, was that I am a Catholic, and Jim is gay.

Well, actually, gay isn’t the word he would use. I have what might be the worst ability to recognize sexual orientation on the planet, but no one needed sensitivity to guess Jim’s views. Not that he was campy or anything when I knew him, but he was always vocal about his sexuality, naming himself loudly to anyone nearby with words that polite society allows only in ironic use by gay men themselves.

Anyway, Jim gradually started to take our difference personally, growing increasingly angry first at the Catholic Church for its opposition to state-sanctioned same-sex marriage and then at Catholics themselves for belonging to such a church. His transformation didn’t come from any personal desire to marry—or, at least, from any desire he ever articulated or I could see.

But then, I’ve already mentioned how blind I can be, and maybe a hunger to marry was gnawing at his heart. However much the culture piously proclaims the equivalence of all lifestyles, a vision of the lonely bachelor’s deathbed can begin to haunt any man. We could talk here of what even back in the 1820s Schopenhauer insisted was the woe in marriage, but we can’t deny the sheer companionable comfort that marriage seems to promise as well: the hope that we won’t grow old and die alone, the hope that the good life and good death of Baucis and Philemon (in Ovid’s wonderful old myth about the gods rewarding an aging couple) might still be available—for me, for you, for any of us.

Still, as Jim began to formulate the emerging thought, his anger wasn’t for himself but for his people: exactly as though sexual desire had created an ethnic group that was the source of his deepest, truest self-identity. Measured by the lifetime of most cultural upheavals in American history, the debate about same-sex marriage has risen to its current prominence with astonishing speed. But rise it did, like the sun, becoming the symbolic issue around which a whole galaxy of moral impulses, political aims, social discontents, and personal grievances seem to gravitate. And my friend Jim found himself, like many others, pulled into that orbit.

Fair enough, I suppose. Certainly, without an expressed desire to be married himself, Jim’s support for same-sex marriage was at least partly free from the grating self-interest, the fallacy of special pleading, that infects too many declarations on the topic. When we’re told—as we were, for example in the spring of 2013—that the conservative Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) now supports same-sex marriage because he’s discovered that his son is gay, it may have a certain rhetorical effectiveness. And so too when a gay-rights activist speaks emotionally of the personal sorrows he suffered during the time he was unable to marry. But even when offered in service of something we agree with, doesn’t that kind of personal fact deployed as argument reduce public discourse to little more than self-interest and self-importance? The sexuality of Portman’s son doesn’t strengthen the logic of the senator’s new position; it weakens it, when offered as the reason for Portman’s changed views.


IT'S A LITTLE ODD, I realize, to press an argument against special pleading while writing a personal essay—especially one that opens with a plaint about a decaying friendship. But Jim’s increasing anger, the manner and the timing of it, at least helped bring into focus for me the question of what purposes the fight over same-sex marriage has been serving.

Not the fact of the legality of same-sex marriage, exactly. That ship has already sailed, as well it ought to have. By July 2013, thirteen states had already recognized it, and under any principle of governmental fairness available today, the equities are all on the side of same-sex marriage. There is no coherent jurisprudential argument against it—no principled legal view that can resist it. The Supreme Court more or less punted this June in its marriage cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, but it was a punt that signaled eventual victory for advocates of same-sex marriage. And by ruling in Windsor that Section 3 of DOMA (the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act) is unconstitutional, the justices made it clear that the court will not stand in the way of the movement’s complete triumph. We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.

For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about. There’s a reasonable case to be made that the struggle against abortion is slowly winning, but the fight against public acceptance of same-sex behavior has been utterly lost.

I find these practical considerations compelling, just as I think most ordinary Catholics do. The church in America today is in its weakest public position since agitation about Irish and Italian immigration in the 1870s prompted thirty-eight states to pass anti-Catholic Blaine amendments to their constitutions. A great deal of goodwill was built up by Catholic work in the 1980s and 1990s, from John Paul II’s successful campaign to “live in truth” by opposing Soviet Communism to the prestige of Mother Teresa’s work with the poorest in India. But the goodwill disappeared in a flash, just over a decade ago, with the Boston Globe’s 2002 stories of the horrifying priest scandals.

Regardless of the church-bashing uses to which some commentators put the news, the central fact of the scandals remains: a corruption, a horror, and an outrage, which many bishops tried criminally to bury in their bureaucracies. And major effects of the scandal included feeding the schadenfreude and sense of victory among anti-Catholics, wiping out the moral stature of the church in the mind of the American public, and eliminating the respect in which the seriousness of Catholic ideas was once held even by those who thought that such seriousness began with mistaken premises and arrived at false conclusions. In the context of the deserved contempt that followed, what kind of loony, pie-eyed judgment could lead the bishops to engage in a sex-based public-policy debate they are doomed to lose—feeding mockery of the church while engaged in the expensive process of losing that fight?

An easy answer is that America’s bishops have not always been famous for their skill at predicting public reaction. But the more serious response is that the bishops hold exactly what’s held by everyone from the Communist Party to the NRA, Occupy Wall Street to National Right to Life: Prudential and practical concerns direct how one fights in public but not why one fights. If a legal regime is wrong, then it’s wrong. And however much the culture despises and punishes those who resist its judgments, somebody needs to rise up and say we’re going to hell in a hand-basket if that is indeed where the culture seems to be going.

Like most Americans, I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for those who resist cultural consensus—the gadflies, curmudgeons, and cranks—however idiotically they choose their fights. And given the social and historical prominence of their ecclesial positions, and the confidence in same-sex marriage among the young and the cultural elite, the American bishops have chosen what these days can only be called the countercultural side in opposing civil recognition of same-sex marriage in America. They cannot have done so for prudential reasons, for every such consideration is against them. Rather, they have taken their position, the place at which they make their stand, for the simple reason that they think same-sex marriage is philosophically wrong: damaging to the individual and destructive for society.

In other words, the bishops are not going to be convinced to end their hopeless fight by some casual appeal to cultural consensus or a feel-good call to join the winning side. And if we appreciate a willingness to be countercultural, how can we ask them to do so for those reasons?

In June 2012, David Blankenhorn took to the New York Times with an interesting op-ed titled “How My View on Gay Marriage Changed.” To read Blankenhorn’s books—especially his 1995 Fatherless America—is to think him the nation’s leading commentator on the social importance of marriage. And he opened his op-ed with his long-held view that “marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social, and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children.”

Same-sex relationships, he noted, cannot by their nature fulfill the biological condition in his deep definition of marriage. But against that fact, he set three considerations that led him to support same-sex marriage: equal treatment (“legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness”), comity (“we must live together with some degree of mutual acceptance, even if doing so involves compromise”), and respect for the emerging consensus on the topic (“most of our national elites, as well as most younger Americans, favor gay marriage”).

I understand the point, and I suspect that Blankenhorn and I, like many others, are arriving at much the same place. But the Blankenhorn line leaves me unsatisfied. It’s not enough for a Catholic to say that legal fairness and social niceness compel us. We have a religion of intellectual coherence, too, and the moral positions we take have to comport with the whole of the moral universe. That’s the reason for trying to be serious—for demanding that the unity of truth apply, and that ethical claims cannot be separated from their metaphysical foundations.

If there is no philosophical or theological reasoning that leads to Catholic recognition of civil same-sex marriage, then we’re simply arguing about what’s politic. What’s fair and nice. What flows along the channels marked out by the dominant culture. We’re merely suggesting that Catholics shouldn’t make trouble. And how is that supposed to convince anyone who holds intellectual consistency at more than a pennyweight?


I DON'T MEAN to hide this essay’s conclusions. Where we’re going with all this is toward a claim that the thin notions of natural law deployed against same-sex marriage in recent times are unpersuasive, and, what’s more, they deserve to be unpersuasive—for their thinness reflects their lack of rich truth about the spiritual meanings present in this created world. Indeed, once the sexual revolution brought the Enlightenment to sex, demythologizing and disenchanting the Western understanding of sexual intercourse, the legal principles of equality and fairness were bound to win, as they have over the last decade: the only principles the culture has left with which to discuss topics such as marriage.

And so, I argue, a concern about the government’s recognizing of same-sex marriage ought to come low on the list of priorities as the church pursues the evangelizing of the culture. For that matter, after the long hard work of restoring cultural sensitivity to the metaphysical meanings reflected in all of reality, Catholics will have enough experience to decide what measure of the deep spirituality of nuptials, almost absent in present culture, can reside in same-sex unions.

But before we reach for those conclusions, there remains, I think, a question religious believers must ask: a prior question of whether the current agitation really derives from a wish for same-sex marriage, or whether the movement is an excuse for a larger campaign to delegitimize and undermine Christianity.

The question is not an idle one. Yes, American culture, through the devices of American capitalism, has repeatedly proved its ability to adapt to social changes, reshaping them into middle-class norms. This was exactly the complaint of the activist Donna Minkowitz back in 1994. Bruce Bawer had just published A Place at the Table, his plaintive call for national acceptance of a bourgeois gay lifestyle, and Minkowitz raged against it as a betrayal, a co-opting, of the true radicalism of the gay and lesbian movement. “We don’t want a place at the table,” she announced on Charlie Rose’s national television program. “We want to turn the table over.”

In the years since, the radical wing lost badly the fight to be the public face of the movement, but Minkowitz’s successors have hardly been shy about their desire to use the visibility of the same-sex marriage debate as an opportunity to damage public perception of Christianity. And watch, for instance, the downstream effect on someone like Patrick B. Pexton, who used his Washington Post ombudsman’s column in February 2013 to explain that journalists like himself “have a hard time giving much voice to those opposed to gay marriage”—because “they see people opposed to gay rights today as cousins, perhaps distant cousins, of people in the 1950s and 1960s who, citing God and the Bible, opposed black people sitting in the bus seat, or dining at the lunch counter, of their choosing.”

One wonders what the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., would have had to say about this interpretation of the civil-rights movement as fundamentally an overcoming of Christianity. But if that’s what the same-sex marriage movement is really about—the redefinition of history as Christian oppression, the rereading of even success stories like the civil-rights movement as tales of defeating Christian evil, all for the purpose of cutting off the religious roots of Western civilization—then to hell with it.

To hell with it, as well, if the campaign for same-sex marriage has anti-Catholicism as one of its major causes, or a feeding of anti-Catholicism as one of its welcome effects. Well through the nineteenth century, the church often seemed as much a refuge as those who felt same-sex desire were likely to find. There are reasons that Oscar Wilde, for example, returned to the church after his public trials, and they involve his aesthetic sense of the capacious Catholic understanding of sin and grace in a fallen world: the beauty of European Catholic medievalism, matched with a sophisticated, confessional-trained understanding of the real pressures under which human beings labor.

In Protestant America, however, a word like sophisticated (to say nothing of confessional) was more a denunciation than mild praise of practical wisdom. Catholics sometimes exaggerate the extent to which they were oppressed by their WASP overlords, but they are not wrong that suspicion of Rome is one of the small but constant motors on which our national story has run.

By the late 1960s, some of the fuel for that motor was still coming from the far right, among the traditionalists keeping alive the antique quarrels of the Reformation. And some was coming from the far left, among the radicals who saw the Vatican as a hindrance to either the communist future of the world or the transformation of human nature through the sexual revolution. At least a little anti-Catholicism, however, remained in the central current of American elite culture, among the heirs of the old Protestant consensus.

They stripped out much of the doctrinal Christianity, of course; the general collapse of the mainline Protestant churches is one of the most fascinating historical trends in the past fifty years. But the elites kept that curious mainline class-based combination of a nobly wide ethical concern and an infuriatingly self-confident assertion of moral ascendancy. And to listen to its current members is to get the feeling that they may have also kept, and even reinvigorated, the good old-fashioned, all-American anti-Catholicism and suspicion of Rome. If the campaign for same-sex marriage is just a further development in this historical line, then the theological argument isn’t worth making. Isn’t worth even trying to develop.


THINK OF IT THIS way: The funny thing is that, back when I first knew him, my gay friend Jim Watson was more conservative than I was. Or more Republican, at any rate. My writings against the death penalty, for instance, produced nothing except a snort from him. He hated the huge tax bite of New York City, municipal taxes piled on state and federal, and the best way to turn him away from his let’s-embarrass-strangers-with-my-sexuality game was to mention Manhattan’s rent control—provoking a free-market tirade that was good for at least fifteen minutes of soap-box statistics. It bored me, but then my vociferous opposition to legalized abortion probably bored him, and affectionately putting up with each other’s crotchets may be as good a description of friendship as we’re likely to find in this fallen world.

Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bawer, Michael Lind, even David Brock—the 1990s had its share of avowedly conservative or libertarian commentators who were also more or less openly gay or activists for gay causes. Sullivan, for instance, is a disciple of the British political theorist Michael Oakeshott, and I remember reading a passage in which Sullivan was willing to put (even though he disagreed with it) a fair statement of a political-theory rejection of same-sex marriage. To be conservative, Oakeshott had famously written, “is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.” No culture has ever fully embraced same-sex marriage; every culture has understood that marriage, through heterosexual procreation, touches the deepest and least-understood structures by which civilization survives. And this wide testimony from human experience, together with the dangers of meddling in the unknown, ought to make us hesitate.

By somewhere around the midterm elections of 2002, those conservatives had generally disappeared from mainstream conservatism. (Or, at least, the male ones had. Interestingly, the Libertarian, Catholic, and Straussian lesbians tended to remain, many of them still writing for conservative publications.)

Some gay conservatives would later insist that they had been pushed out of public-intellectual conservatism by what they believed were bigoted Evangelicals—the people a conservative movement needs to attract to overcome the large Democratic voting blocs. A good example might be the argument, through the 1990s and 2000s, against allowing gay and lesbian anti-abortion groups a place in prolife marches and strategy meetings. And there are still portions of the Republican world that suffer no dissent on social issues. Just this year, I was invited to give a small talk on faith at CPAC, the enormous annual conservative convention in Washington—and then disinvited, my time given over to someone safer on the topic of marriage.

Other gays seem to have felt the pressure more on the inside, finding it impossible to hold both support for same-sex marriage and any political theory that rejects same-sex marriage. But regardless of the cause, they nearly all disappeared from conservative discussions precisely at the time the issue grew in public importance, and I doubt that there was a single one who didn’t vote for Democratic candidates in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

My friend Jim Watson certainly became a functional Democrat, suppressing his fiscal conservatism to vote for Barack Obama as the official candidate of gays. A relatively wealthy man who inherited trust-fund money from his grandparents, he stopped giving to conservative candidates and even gay groups like Log Cabin Republicans, transferring his election-year donations to left-leaning same-sex-marriage organizations and Democratic office-seekers.

Along the way, Jim also picked up a case of virulent anti-Catholicism. I suspect that there genuinely exist activists who welcome same-sex marriage as part of the great destructiveness of the Enlightenment project: a blow against whatever medieval Christian ideas still linger in modernity. I also suspect that they are a minority, and Western culture will prove, as it has so often before, resilient enough to absorb same-sex marriage—turning it possibly into an aid to, but at least not a further weakening of, the endangered culture of marriage.

Still, I can’t ignore the changes in Jim. In the first years I knew him, he would speak of the Catholic Church as something like a batty great-aunt: crazy, of course, but fondly indulged. He admired the solemnity of the Mass, in the abstract, together with the beauty of the church’s long deposit of art and architecture. The dedication of hospice nuns invariably made him quote Santayana’s wistful line, “There is no God, and Mary is his mother.” Without a religious bone in his body, as far as I could tell, he nonetheless appreciated the seriousness of Catholic intellectuals, even if the church’s continuing ability to attract any intellectuals seemed to him one of the mysteries of the age.

A decade or so later, and all that was gone. The Catholic Church now appeared to him genuinely evil, and Catholic intellectualism an entirely malignant force, born mostly from hatred of gays in general and even, at his most paranoid, of him personally. The long denunciations of the bishops’ contrarian and countercultural leadership had taken its toll. The old ACT-UP protests over condoms hadn’t moved him, but the same-sex marriage agitation pushed him over the edge—until I do not believe Jim can now be conciliated even by something like the Catholic case for same-sex marriage. Nothing but the total eradication of the Catholic Church, its complete repudiation by its members, will satisfy him. Ecclesia delenda est, I can picture him mumbling to himself as he paces through New York. The church must be destroyed.


ONE MORE ASIDE before we arrive at the argument for same-sex marriage—not a mea culpa exactly, but an attempt to examine my own conscience, for even as I write this personal essay, I’m growing uneasy with the petulant and aggrieved way it is presenting the idea that anti-Catholicism was one of the purposes of, or at least one of the bonuses for, the cultural elites who took up the cause of same-sex marriage.

I’ve made it sound, for example, as though the fading of my friendship with Jim came entirely from his side. Actually, it did, considered purely as a private matter. If only the personal were the political, as the 1970s feminists used to claim, then Jim and I wouldn’t have had much more than an abstract disagreement. Unfortunately, often enough, the political becomes the personal, and Jim had public activities for which to blame me.

I did not believe then, as I do not believe now, that opposition to same-sex marriage must, by its nature, derive from (or issue in) hatred of gays and lesbians—else one would never see pieces like Doug Mainwaring’s “I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage,” which appeared in March 2013 to argue, “In our day, prejudice against gays is just a very faint shadow of what it once was. But the abolition of prejudice against gays does not necessarily mean that same-sex marriage is inevitable or optimal. There are other avenues available, none of which demands immediate, sweeping, transformational legislation or court judgments.”

Still, in the current state of the public square, opposition to same-sex marriage gets portrayed (and thereby perceived) as hatred. And if I have felt old friends pull away from me over the issue, then I also have to admit that they must have felt my occasional public work on the topic to be the equivalent from my side. To be my breaking off friendship with them. To be an attack on them individually in what they take as part of their very existence.

I think I met Bruce Bawer once at a poetry festival or a magazine party, but maybe not, and regardless I can’t say I know him. Still, perhaps we could use him as an example here—for I recall being taken aback when I came across an interview in which he declared me fundamentally unchristian, some years after my negative review of his 1996 anthology, Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy. Insofar as I remember the book, I still think Beyond Queer was not great work. For that matter, even though Bawer is an admirable poet and interesting author of nonfiction, he has surely received other unflattering reviews. But what I hadn’t considered is the way disagreement over this particular topic feels intensely personal: perceived not as rejection of a public position but rejection of how one understands the self.

We could probably work up an indictment of the media, identity politics, and the grievance industry for this perception (as Bawer himself has in other contexts): turning even slight deviations from the accepted position into occasions for full-blown accusations of bigotry. But why bother? Hot or cold, the water in which we find ourselves is the water in which we have to swim. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between same-sex orientation and same-sex activity that might have once seemed intelligible, even commonsensical. But the distinction has absolutely no purchase today. And what good does it do to complain—as does, for example, Ryan T. Anderson, the sharpest of the younger activists now working against same-sex marriage—that the distinction somehow ought to have purchase?

Some of the perceived offense may have come from inattention. In 2011, the Washington Times asked me for a little piece celebrating the anniversary of the classic 1981 BBC mini-series version of Brideshead Revisited. And after its publication, David Boaz, the gay-marriage supporter from the libertarian Cato Institute, dropped me a note taking me to task for using the word “homosexuals” instead of “gays” in my opening description of the series’ reception. He understood that I was trying to recapture the tone of those early 1980s days, when homosexuals was still more or less the polite term of reference. But we are long past all that, he insisted, and I should realize that the word, taken as a generic noun, had picked up enough negative connotations that writers ought not to employ it even in a historical way.

I think I replied with a casual apology and a hackneyed quip about how one should never give offense unless one actually means it. But I didn’t mean personal offense with any work I did on same-sex subjects—and still I managed to give offense.

How rarely the subject actually came up surprises me now, looking back. In the hundreds of essays, poems, and reviews I published over those years, opposition to legalized abortion and rejection of the death penalty are constant themes. Raging themes, to the point where I probably lost most of even the best-willed readers. But gay topics? A brief contribution as the token Catholic in a little-noticed symposium in Newsweek. A 2004 editorial co-written with Bill Kristol. A review of Bawer’s anthology in the Weekly Standard. Another of Andrew Holleran’s depressing novel The Beauty of Men. And not much else that I can still find.

In my editorial jobs at the Weekly Standard and First Things, of course, I came to know some of the people fighting same-sex marriage. Ryan T. Anderson, for example, co-author of the widely discussed, career-defining 2011 essay “What Is Marriage?” in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Later expanded into a book, it remains the clearest, most cogent defense of traditional marriage. David Orgon Coolidge, too, founder of the Marriage Law Project before his untimely death in 2002: Richard John Neuhaus helped raise money to support Dave’s work, and we would often sit together and drink at Fr. Neuhaus’s innumerable theological and social-policy meetings.

I was much under the influence of the Christian poetics of W. H. Auden in those days—a man who, though gay himself, hated organized homosexuality: “the Homintern,” he mockingly named the gay establishment in poetry (playing off the Comintern, the international arm of party-line Soviet policy). Under the influence, for that matter, of the suspicions of attempts to claim victimhood expressed by René Girard—the contemporary writer who most formed my mental universe. Then, too, as the mantle of gay rights passed from the wild contrarians and countercultural figures of its early days to become the received view of the entire elite liberal class, it came to seem increasingly bland and uninteresting, with little in it tempting me to reject the general conservative position.

“At times one remains faithful to a cause,” Nietzsche writes, “only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.” It’s a sad observation of human behavior, but who among us hasn’t been guilty of it? “Same-sex marriage is the great civil-rights struggle of our time,” a young newspaper writer grandly announced to me in 2009. She had come to interview me for some article she was planning, but she spent most of her time lecturing me on how immoral it is that anyone opposes the right of gays to marry.

As it happens, when I asked, she proved to know almost nothing about the controversy: hadn’t read the legal decisions, hadn’t followed the arguments, hadn’t examined DOMA, hadn’t even tried to keep up. Only the warmth of her conviction of her own moral superiority seemed necessary, and I remember thinking: This is supposed to persuade me? Insipid self-righteousness—delivered in exactly the hectoring tones with which her Protestant great-grandparents would have lectured me about lack of Catholic support for Prohibition?

At the same time, looking back, I can see that even in my editorial choices I was avoiding the topic. Not entirely: there are some pieces the institutional weight of a magazine simply won’t let an editor refuse. But generally I turned down pieces on same-sex topics—and I did so by telling myself I found the subject dull. That’s an editor’s privilege, of course, and a lot of the thinking genuinely was dull. Dull as dishwater, gray from all the old, similar writing that had already been washed in it. But the avoidance was also, I now realize, a species of dishonesty: an unwillingness to sit down and decide what I really thought about it all.

Not that the world was waiting breathlessly for my nattering asseverations on the topic—and, anyway, the moment for being genuinely serious about same-sex marriage may have passed while I wasn’t looking. Or while I was refusing to look.

Still, it all came to a head for me when, one morning down in Lansdowne, Virginia, Chuck Colson woke up with a plan to gather every religious leader he could find and decry the destruction of Christian culture in America—promising civil disobedience, if necessary. The outcome was The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, a manifesto issued in November 2009 that equated abortion, same-sex marriage, and intolerance of religion, and vowed to oppose any mainstream consensus that licensed them. Dozens of important religious figures met with Chuck Colson in New York to become the initial signers, and The Manhattan Declaration would go on to find half a million additional signatories.

One of the problems with the document was that none of the people on the drafting committee—Chuck himself, Princeton’s Robert P. George, and the very smart Baptist divinity-school dean Timothy George—were primarily writers. They were activists and teachers who happened to write, sometimes (as in Robby George’s 1995 book Making Men Moral) with real skill. But the genuine literary talent behind an entire generation’s set of manifestos had been Richard John Neuhaus—first as a Christian protester against segregation and Vietnam, and then as a Christian neoconservative. And with Richard’s death from cancer earlier in 2009, they had to produce The Manhattan Declaration in his absence.

The result would prove turgid, politically clumsy, and strangely disorganized. Just as there’s a rule in some online discussion groups that you’ve automatically lost an argument if you compare your opponents to the Nazis, so there ought to be a rule in public discourse that you’ve guaranteed your failure if you compare modern America to the decline of Ancient Rome. But that’s how the declaration opened, and as it wandered through its various complaints about the nation, it came to seem more and more a laundry list in search of a thesis: there’s bad stuff out there, people hate us, and it all adds up to, well, a picture—a modern reflection of the moral collapse of Rome from the stern glories of the republic to the satyricon of the empire.

I spoke to Chuck privately about the draft several times, urging him to reorganize it and tone it down, but he was too enamored of the frisson of rebellion in its call for civil disobedience to agree. Finally, at the New York meeting, I got up and announced publicly my unease: The equating of these three concerns is a mistake; not only do the possible negative results of same-sex marriage fail to match the horrors of abortion, but religious freedom isn’t even the same kind of thing. It’s like equating a small weed to a giant sequoia—and then lumping them both together with an umbrella. The entire text needs to be recast, I said. If the document has to threaten civil disobedience, then it ought to be about freedom: religious Americans may accept a culture that recognizes same-sex marriage, but they hereby announce that they will not accept a legal regime that uses same-sex marriage as a wrecking ball with which to knock down every religious building in the public square.

And in response, Maggie Gallagher stood up in that crowded room to call me a coward—or, at least, she declared that any reduction in the status of the fight over same-sex marriage was a counsel of cowardice, born from a fear that same-sex marriage was inevitable. A writer and activist, former president of the National Organization for Marriage, Gallagher has always struck me as a fearless and contrarian figure, and in this case, I think, she was correct.

Oh, not about the law: the legal victory of same-sex marriage actually was inevitable; not a single persuasive legal argument emerged against it in the courts. But right in her accusation of cowardice—although maybe not in quite the way she thought. My worry with The Manhattan Declaration wasn’t about the consequences of defeat, as Gallagher suggested; if something is wrong, you oppose it even though the heavens fall. But cowardice about my own mind, yes: my profamily friends were a strong public-intellectual force opposed to abortion, and I went along with them on same-sex marriage mostly because I lacked the seriousness and strength of mind to work through it for myself. I was just like that young woman journalist I found so insipid and self-righteous for pronouncing uncritically the views of her class.

In the end, my friends...but why should I continue to blame them for my own fault? In the end, I let myself be talked into publishing the (only slightly altered) document, despite my objections—talked into becoming one of the original signers of The Manhattan Declaration myself. It was a mistake, and one I regret.


LET'S TURN AT LAST to the actual intellectual questions raised by same-sex marriage. At the time Americans were waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the two pending marriage cases, Catholics were waiting to see if the new reign of Pope Francis would signal any change in the church’s views. And if, as I suggested earlier, the Supreme Court basically punted when it handed down its opinions on June 26, the pope refused to punt at all when he promulgated his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, on July 5.

There’s something in the new encyclical to disappoint everyone who longs for direct political action from the Vatican. Those who were hoping that a radically leftist Pope Francis would repudiate what they saw as the radically rightist work of his predecessor are bound to be saddened. A draft was prepared under Benedict XVI before his retirement on February 28, and Francis himself has described the completed document as written with “four hands”—Benedict’s and his own.

At the same time, disappointment must haunt those who hoped that a radically traditional Francis—a lifelong churchman instead of an academic theologian like his predecessor—would step back from the softness of Benedict’s economics and confront the world with the hardest edges of the institutional church. Faith is at “the service of justice, law, and peace,” Francis insists. We need it “to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted.” Yes, he notes, all “authority comes from God,” but it is meant for “the service of the common good.”

Not since John Paul II’s great crusade against Soviet Communism has the Vatican been easily classifiable by the world’s political categories, despite the incessant effort of the world, left and right alike, to pin the church with those categories. That unclassifiability may be the best way to understand our new pope. He is an advocate of the poor who opposed many of the Argentinian government’s programs for the poor. A social activist who cannot be counted on to support social reform. A churchman who refused the elaborate trappings of his office even while he promoted the power of the church. A radical who rejects the state power and cultural change demanded by the secular left. A traditionalist who despises the accumulation of wealth and libertarian freedoms praised by the secular right. No attempt to impose liberal and conservative definitions on him will succeed. Pope Francis simply won’t fit in those categories.

Still, in Lumen Fidei he grants the faithful Catholic little room to maneuver on same-sex marriage. In “Faith and the Family,” section 52 of the encyclical, he calls the family the “first setting in which faith enlightens the human city”—a political-theory reading of the church’s interest in the institution. Indeed, “I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage,” he explained. “This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom, and loving plan.” In marriage, “a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith.... Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person.”

But perhaps Francis does offer us an opportunity to think about marriage in terms of the politically unclassifiable that constitutes much of Catholic teaching. The stony ground on which the church must sow is the landscape created by the sexual revolution. Made possible by the pill, accelerated by legalized abortion, aided by easy pornography, that revolution actually needs none of these any longer to survive, because they never defined it. They merely allowed it, and the completed change is now omnipresent. The revolution is not just in the way we use our bodies. It’s in the way we use our minds.

One understanding of the sexual revolution—the best, I think—is as an enormous turn against the meaningfulness of sex. Oh, I know, it was extolled by the revolutionaries as allowing real experimentation and exploration of sensation, but the actual effect was to disconnect sex from what previous eras had thought the deep stuff of life: God, birth, death, heaven, hell, the moral structures of the universe, and all the rest.

The resulting claim of amorality for almost any sexual behavior except rape reflects perhaps the most fascinating social change of our time: the transfer of the moral center of human worry about the body away from sex and onto…well, onto food, I suppose. The only moral feeling still much attached to sex is the one that has to hunt far and wide for some prude, any prude, who will still condemn an aspect of sexual behavior—and thereby confirm our self-satisfied feeling of revolutionary morality. Of course, the transfer of moral anxiety away from sexual intercourse might not be so peculiar. Think how often ancient thinkers, from the pagan stoics to the church fathers, would reach to gluttony and fasting, instead of lust and chastity, when they needed examples for their discussions of virtue and vice.

The turn against any deep, metaphysical meaning for sex in the West, however: that is strange and fascinatingly new, unique to late modernity. Jean-Paul Sartre once denounced Michel Foucault as one of the “young conservatives” for his refusal to embrace Communism, but in other ways, the radical gay philosopher, the very model of a star French philosophe before his death from AIDS in 1984, was the key explicator of the sexual revolution. And just as he saw a change in moral understanding of the body slowly developing among Christian writers from the fourth-century John Cassian to the eleventh-century Peter Damian, so he saw yet another change emerging in modern times. The comic line that “sex was invented in 1750” is an exaggeration of his thought, but Foucault quite rightly understood that there were bound to be consequences to what Max Weber called the great “disenchantment of the world” in the joining of the “elective affinities” of the Protestant Reformation, the scientific and industrial revolutions, and the triumph of Enlightenment philosophy.

Those consequences were, in essence, the stripping away of magic—the systematic elimination of metaphysical, spiritual, and mystical meanings. Science, Francis Bacon told us, could not advance in any other way. Real democracy, Diderot explained, would not arrive “until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” When the Supreme Court gave us the infamous “mystery passage” in the 1992 abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey—“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”—the justices were merely following out to its logical conclusion the great modern project of disenchantment. And it’s worth noticing that the mystery passage was quoted approvingly and relied upon in the 2003 sodomy-law case Lawrence v. Texas and by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2005 when it ordered the state to register same-sex marriages.

As a practical matter, the gay-rights lawyers were probably smart to take the mystery passage and run with it. You use what tools you’re given, even if they confirm your opponents’ inchoate sense that all social issues are somehow joined, abortion of a piece with same-sex marriage. But as a theoretical matter, I’m less convinced. What kind of moral or social victory do you obtain if the marriage you’re granted is defined as nothing more than a way in which individuals define the concept of their own existence? Marriage seemed one of the last places left where Weber’s “great enchanted garden” of traditional societies could still be found.

And yet, again, I could be wrong, even about a premodern enchantment perduring in marriage. G. K. Chesterton once suggested that if there truly exists such a thing as divorce, then there exists no such thing as marriage. The root of the paradox is his observation of the metaphysics implicit in marriage ceremonies: “There are those who say they want divorce in the second place without ever asking themselves if they want marriage in the first place. So let us begin by asking what marriage is. It is a promise. More than that, it is a vow.” If we allow divorce, then we have already weakened the thick, mystical notion of marriage vows. Adultery is an everyday sin. Divorce is something more: a denial of a solemn oath made to God.

I’m not trying to argue here directly for an end to the culture’s embrace of legalized divorce, much as the sociological evidence about the harm to children now appears beyond dispute. Rather, the point is that the legal and social acceptance of divorce, building in Protestant America from the late nineteenth century on, culminated in the universal availability of no-fault divorce. And if heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?

Think of the parallel with laws against sodomy. Justice Thomas may actually have been right that, bad as such laws were, it’s better to have our feckless legislators accept democratic responsibility and replace them than it is to have the courts rule on their constitutionality. But whatever the cruelty and prurience of such laws in the first place, they had become entirely ungrounded by the time of the 2003 Lawrence case. If marriage is nothing more than a licensed sexual playground, without any sense of sin attached to oral sex and anal sex and almost any other act, then under what intellectually coherent scheme can one refuse to others the opportunity for the same behavior?

And, of course, not only did marital relations become a value-free zone in the sexual revolution, but non-marital relations did as well. The seal of virginity, the procreative purpose, the mystical analogy of marriage to Christ’s espousal of his church, the divinely witnessed vow, the sexual body as a temple, the moral significance of chastity: all that old metaphysical stuff got swept away. And regardless of whether the metaphysics was right or wrong, without it there is simply no reasoning that could possibly outweigh the valid claims of fairness and equality. Same-sex marriage advocates don’t just have better public relations than their opponents. They have better logic, given the premises available to the culture.


THIS POINTS US toward the general problem with arguments that rely on natural law—natural law, that is, in the modern sense, as developed most notably by the philosophers John Finnis and Germain Grisez, and explicated for political application by Robby George and many subsequent conservative writers. As deployed in our current debates, this kind of thing has always seemed to me a scientized, mainline-Protestantized version of the thicker natural law of the medievals: natural law as awkwardly yoked to the “elective affinities” of modernity.

On point here is Russell Hittinger’s critique of “new natural law” as an attempt to have a theology-free version of a rational philosophy that depended, by its original internal consistency, on premises of God, creation, and Aristotelian natural forms. Natural law was always a little theologically thin. It derived from a rich understanding of the world, yes, but it was something like the least common denominator of spiritual views: a “mere metaphysics” (to misapply a concept of C. S. Lewis’s). And it worked well enough as a philosophy in a time when people generally agreed that the world was enchanted, however vehemently they disagreed about the specifics of that enchantment. Natural law broke spirituality down to its most basic shared components and then built a rationally defensible ethics up again from that foundation.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in a thick natural law. To read the questions on law in the Summa is to watch Thomas Aquinas assemble a grand, beautiful, and extremely delicate structure of rationality. As the Duke theologian Paul Griffiths pointed out in a prescient 2004 Commonweal article (“Legalize Same-Sex Marriage,” June 28, 2004), the premises may not be provable, but they are visible to faith, and from them a great and careful mind like Thomas’s can logically derive extraordinary things. The delicacy is revealed, for example, in his analysis of the questions of marriage. Too careful, too honest, simply to condemn everything except the sanctified monogamy that Christianity had given him, Thomas works through an escalating series that ends up preferring the Christian idea of nuptials as the richest, most meaningful form of marriage—without condemning even polygamy as necessarily a violation of the most philosophically abstract application of the natural law.

In this, I think, is a model for how Catholics might think about the world in which legal recognition of same-sex marriage has emerged. The goal of the church today must primarily be the re-enchantment of reality. This is the language in which Pope Francis speaks: Marriage “as a sign and presence of God’s own love.” Birth as “a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom, and loving plan.” Mutual love as something that engages our entire lives and “mirrors many features of faith.”

Is sex the place in which that project of re-enchantment ought to begin? I just can’t see it—not after the nearly complete triumph of the sexual revolution’s disenchantment, not after the way “free love” was essentially sold to us by the Edwardians as an escape from narrow Victorian Christianity, not after part of the culture’s most visible morality became the condemnation of those perceived as condemning something sexual. The campaign for traditional marriage really isn’t a defense of natural law. It revealed itself, in the end, as a defense of one of the last little remaining bits of Christendom—an entanglement or, at least, an accommodation of church and state. The logic of the Enlightenment took a couple of hundred years to get around to eliminating that particular portion of Christendom, but the deed is done now.

We should not accept without a fight an essentially un-Catholic retreat from the public square to a lifeboat theology and the small communities of the saved that Alasdair MacIntyre predicted at the end of After Virtue (1981). But there are much better ways than opposing same-sex marriage for teaching the essential God-hauntedness, the enchantment, of the world—including massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed simply because they are Christians, and a church-wide effort to reinvigorate the beauty and the solemnity of the liturgy. Some Catholic intellectual figures will continue to explore the deep political-theory meanings manifest in the old forms of Christendom, and more power to them, but the rest of us should turn instead to more effective witness in the culture as it actually exists.

In fact, same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in chastity in a culture that has lost much sense of chastity. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in love in a civilization that no longer seems to know what love is for. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in the coherence of family life in a society in which the family is dissolving.

I don’t know that it will, of course, and some of the most persuasive statements of conservatism insist that we should not undertake projects the consequences of which we cannot foresee. But same-sex marriage is already here; it’s not as though we can halt it. And other profound statements of conservatism remind us that we must take people as we find them—must instruct the nation where the nation is.

For that matter, the argument about unforeseen consequences is a sword that cuts both ways. Precisely because human social experience has never recognized same-sex marriage on any large scale, we don’t know the extent to which metaphysical meanings—the enchantment of marriage—can be instantiated in same-sex unions. How faithful will they prove? How much infected by the divorce culture of modern America? How spiritual? How mundane? How will they face up to the woe of the quotidian that, as Schopenhauer insisted, marriage forces us to see? How will such unions aid their participants to perceive the joy of creation?

The answer is that we can’t predict the effects of same-sex marriage. I think some good will come, I hope some good will come, but I cannot say with certainty that all must go well with this social change. Still, as the church turns to other and far more pressing ways to re-enchant the world, we’ll have time to find out. And when we are ready to start rebuilding the thick natural law that recognizes the created world as a stage on which the wondrous drama of God’s love is played, we will have the information we need to decide where same-sex marriage belongs in a metaphysically rich, spiritually alive moral order.


I UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS not the answer my traditional-marriage friends demand. But then, it’s not the answer same-sex marriage advocates want, either. Far too many people on both sides see the issue in such stark terms that they dismiss any nuance as merely giving excuse to immorality. As only lending countenance to evil.

Certainly it will not satisfy Jim Watson, my old friend from New York. How could he accept talk of the Catholic Church’s charity and evangelizing? He wants the church hurt, its tax exemptions and even property-holding rights stripped away until it not only accepts laws allowing same-sex marriage, not only encourages same-sex marriage, but actually performs same-sex marriage. Even that might not be enough; the institutional weight of the history of Catholic bigotry, he thinks, is probably too much for repentance and reformation to overcome. Best, really, if the Catholic Church is systematically outlawed.

And that is one Catholic fear about same-sex marriage with force—the fear that the movement is essentially disingenuous. That gays don’t actually want much to marry, but Catholic resistance to the idea is just too useful a stick not to use. That modern Americans, heirs to the class-based self-satisfactions of their Protestant ancestors, look at same-sex marriage and think how wonderful a device it proves for a little Rome bashing.

But how can we not take same-sex marriage advocates at their word, accepting that they really seek the marriages they say they desire? For that matter, I still believe in the general resilience and common sense of America, which will halt those who wish to hijack the movement. Christians are sometimes called to martyrdom: “The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants,” as the interesting lesbian Catholic commentator Eve Tushnet once observed here in Commonweal (“Homosexuality & the Church,” June 11, 2007). But I just don’t think that same-sex marriage is going to be the excuse America uses to go after its Catholic citizens.

At the same time, there’s been damage done in the course of this whole debate, some of it by me. And I’m not sure what can be done about it. I certainly lost my friend Jim along the way. Some come here to fiddle and dance, I remember he used to sing. Some come here to tarry. / Some come here to prattle and prance. / I come here to marry. You remember how it goes. “Shady Grove,” the song is called. A bit of old-timey Americana, the stuff we all still share.

Funding for this essay has been provided by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.



Commenting Guidelines

I wonder how much money the Henry Luce Foundation would have given Jody Bottum to argue against gay marriage?

Thank you, Joseph Bottum, for advancing the discussion, and thank you to the Henry Luce Foundation.

A lengthy and far more sophisticated and nuanced argument than I am prepared to make. Nevertheless, I in fact do see this (gay marriage) as the latest attempt to drive a nail into the coffin of the dying "institution" (we Catholics still call it a sacrament) of marriage, understand as a covenanted relationship involving God and one man and one woman. Our Hebrew ancestors in the faith (think Abraham, for example) were polygamists. In fact, aren't there more theological precedents therefore for polygamy as a form of marriage than for claiming that persons of the same sex can "marry?" Biologically, we all start out ultimately the same way, by the union of a male sperm and a female egg. Now it is true that that can be accomplished artificially these days, and indeed embryos from such unions can be "selected" and the others destroyed. All of that, of course, is condemned by Catholic theology. God did made us male and female, and the fact that some of us much prefer ( I say "much prefer," because as a physician and observer of human behavior I think that many of us are not  100% hetero-or homosexual in our preferences) those of our own gender does not alter the fact that heterosexual union is in fact the biological foundation of all of us. As Christians and, in fact, as observers of what seems best to work in the real world, we believe that a committed relationship of the man and the woman makes the best home for children. Of course we are all too aware of the sad failures, the divorces, the abusive relationships, etc. Puzzling to some of us, given that biologically and historically (I am unaware of any advanced, certainly any monotheistic culture accepting homosexual marriage), is why civil unions, recognized by the state as such, with legal rights guaranteed) are not acceptable to those of the same gender. I do agree that the advocates of "gay marriage," as it is now called, are on a roll, having captured the imagination of all of the theologically naive, the admirers of Hollywood and pop lifestyles, and having cloaked themselves in the role of advocates of civil rights, arguing that they have the same heritage in that way as those who demonstrated at Selma and died as the result of racist brutality. Interestingly the majority of the black church in this country and of Christians, Protestant and Catholic alike, in most developing countries, aren't buying this argument, so chic in the Western world. I also agree that the Catholic bishops in the U.S. and Europe, after the horrible and ongoing sex scandals involving so many priests, are in a very untenable position to speak forcefully to society at large about this issue. They can try to inform the faithful about Catholic positions on marriage, but to invest church funds and come out politically in a manner which in fact gives the opposition further fuel for Church-bashing, which indeed it is doing, is an error. We must, on this issue, assert what we are for and defend it, without attacking those who do not agree and without condemning those whose sexual preference is to a very large extent one with which they are born, plus or minus the effects of the particular environment of their family and community. We all have much to learn about this issue and in general need to lower the speaking tone and increase our listening. Thank you for providing us a thoughtful article to ponder and to discuss. 

If that is the best Catholic case for same-sex marriage that exists, the Luce Foundation wasted its money.

I have never understood why the Catholic church or any other religious group can claim the right to weigh in on what constitutes CIVIL marriage, other than in the most generalized First Amendment sense. The institution of civil marriage is parallel but quite different from that of a marriage recognized by the these groups, appropriately so. They are perfectly free to recognize marriages according to their own dictates, but have no right to then claim that they should also use their particular precepts to define what should be defined as a civil marriage, with legal rights flowing therefrom.

One can use all of the talking points (convoluted and otherwise) one wishes to say that the religious groups are the victims in this regard, but I do not agree. The issue was simply whether lesbians and gays can have their unions recognized by the state, and obtain the same legal rights that straights do. I don't see any way to claim to affirm gays’ and lesbians’ dignity when they are told that their unions are not worthy of state recognition, and that they are not entitled to the equal protection of the laws.

Sickening article.  This guy calls himself a "Catholic," yet he's happy to encourage people to place their eternal souls at risk by celebrating mortal sin.  I'm supposed to believe he loves people whom he doesn't care if he encourages them to select hell for themselves?

And what kind of "Catholic" magazine publishes trash like this?


A meandering, confused, and ultimately meaningless essay that proves little more than Bottom's superficiality as a thinker. 

Apparently Bottum regarded it as necessary to write something to publicly rationalize his surrender to a corrupted zeitgeist, so he threw together a heap of disconnected and vague observations that he hoped would stick. And to boot, he conned the Luce Foundation into paying him for it, and Commonweal into publishing it, a cooperation that does not speak well of either institution.

Marriage of two consenting, committed adults (a person-person relationship), whatever their sexual orientation, is not a problem.  The problem is treating the other as an object.  Let us, let the church focus on this -- and then later maybe focus on the issue of same-sex marriage. Why should the church concern itself with marriages that are not between Catholics, are not in the church? 

I-Thou relationships are person-person, as in any marriage.  I-It relationships are abusive, as in an authority figure taking advantage of, treating as an object, one of lesser stature, especially a child. 

I can't help thinking that the recent concern about same-sex marriage is a way of avoiding or deflecting the focus on the church's sexual abuse scandal.  We should all read or re-read Martin Buber's "I-Thou."  Once (if ever) we learn to treat all others as persons, then we can concern ourselves about secondary matters such as who marries whom.      

Bottum's attempts fail. I will not describe "attempts at what" for it would take as many words, perhaps more, to disinter the many phantoms of complete notions as this essay contains.

Mostly I am saddened by the recurring sense of diminishment that his lament provokes. I couldn't bring myself to go back an count the number of single sentence claims which were just bluntly and provacatively offensive of decency.

Were I to take his argument for acceptance as genuinely from civil fairness and equality then this essay would have wrapped itself to a close shortly after this:

"I'm growing uneasy with the petulant and aggrieved way it is presenting the idea that anti-Catholicism was one of the purposes of, or at least one of the bonuses for, the cultural elites who tuook up the cause of same-sex marriage."

Of course it did not.

What supposed Catholic intellectuals still don't get, if Bottum is any example, is that the world of enchantment they aspire to doesn't end in their lifetime - it doesn't reach clever certainty. It muddles, messily, with or without sexual liberty, from one moment to the next; each is an opportunity to employ grace or leave it unclaimed.

Gender orientation of sexual desire is a footnote in that reality - it was before and remains sense the Enlightenment. This is not to trivialiaze the found diversity of sexual attraction; nor to diminish the search for a just path in relationship equity - it is to remind that sexuality is not at the center of devotion - to any creed or any vow.

The enchantment one can spin around a profound commitment to marriage is in the mystery of living it; the ubiquity of such person-to-person commitment is sufficient testimony to its human importance - particularly since the mechanics of reproduction bear no original contribution from our species. Relationship rules - natural law is context, variously certain and  often opaque to individual knowing.

By contrast, the world of ideas is a graced reward; it is not the Summa - the sheltered enclave of Aquinas did indeed produce a delicate thing. Far too delicate a thing to be other than the thinnest row of molecules on a keel of faith cast of much more mundane substance.

If enchantment be the goal, then we do well to look elsewhere than this labored and quasi-apocalyptic defense of the male, celibate hierarchy's right to go on distorting the Faith in Christ to whatever preverse worldly purposes serves them. Don't get mad at the non-Catholics - increasingly they simply stand around shaking their heads at the determined cluelessness of essays such as this one.

I’m growing uneasy with the petulant and aggrieved way it is presenting the idea that anti-Catholicism was one of the purposes of, or at least one of the bonuses for, the cultural elites who took up the cause of same-sex marriage. - See more at:

I’m growing uneasy with the petulant and aggrieved way it is presenting the idea that anti-Catholicism was one of the purposes of, or at least one of the bonuses for, the cultural elites who took up the cause of same-sex marriage. - See more at:

I’m growing uneasy with the petulant and aggrieved way it is presenting the idea that anti-Catholicism was one of the purposes of, or at least one of the bonuses for, the cultural elites who took up the cause of same-sex marriage. - See more at:

Three things:

Marriage vs Holy Matrimony.

The purpose of marriage.

Bishop’s Tobin’s ultra right wing, politicized snit over his defeat on gay marriage legislation. Indicative of Catholic reaction

MARRIAGE vs HOLY MATRIMONY. ... Metaphysical foundation to marriage? Please, for most of the last 3,000 years marriage was a commercial transaction, a way of managing the rights, inheritance and transfer of property. What the church solemnized in the Middle Ages was the alliance of two big property owners, and the hierarchy ordained by God which called for obedience to God, the Pope, The Lords and bishops. And the lord and bishops needed their property to be protected and preserved form one generation to the next within god’s feudal hierarchy. Procreation indeed would be the chief marriage concern in a property and heir driven society. ... And, where, please is the metaphysics in islamic marriage, especially the one might marriages? They are about conformity to a legal code, about a man’s need to be righteous. Moralistic, transactional, commercial, not metaphysical. ... The requirement for a church wedding for Catholic peasants was started in France by the lower clergy in order to provide the paperwork to prove land ownership by the peasants as a defense against appropriation of their land by the lords (including bishops).  Admirable. Based on property issues.

Of course Holy Matrimony is a another marriage. Here the Sacramental Union performed by the two spouses (not the priest), in addition to ll the normal or “natural”: purposes of marriage, is deliberately meant to be a pledge that their union will reflect the love and respect of the union of Christ and His church. Definitely metaphysical.

Imagine if the hierarchy had said that same sex marriage is understandable and acceptable in a diverse society. But such a marriage could not be performed in a Catholic Church or by a Catholic priest because of church doctrine and the meaning off Holy Matrimony. And then proceeded to talk about the spiritual meaning of Holy matrimony and the pledge each makes to the other and God and the congregation in the presence of Christ, infused with the Holy Spirt.

THE PURPOSES OF MARRIAGE. ... In my Catholic grade school we were taught that the primary natural purpose, in our advanced society, of marriage would be companionable love. That would be followed procreation or generative love, an active nurturing concern for the next generation, even among childless couple. The next purpose would be community building. Then if the couple were getting married with the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the pledge to live for each other and for the children as Christ and the church lived for each other. Something along these lines. At any rate the purpose of marriage was not reduced to the purpose of copulation among animals, procreation.

THE POLITICAL SNIIT BY BISHOP TOBIN. After his politicking against same sex marriage failed and the state allowed for same sex marriage, this angry man addressed the Republican Party in the state of Rhode Island, self-importantly announcing that he was now registered as a Republican. He also said he would welcome the triumph of the Republican doctrine that the federal government should do nothing to directly benefit the poor or the middle class, with only local charities offering assistance. A mean-spirited and silly statement, utterly imprudent. Local charities and parishes would go broke trying to help, especially if Republican policies prevail and wages sink and unemployment grows as a result. Of course he could give parishes and charities the option of being guided by the words of St. Ayn Rand rather than Christ. It is not just the sex scandal that has sunk the credibility of the hierarchy, it is their arrogance, politicking, and bitterness. By the way, out of grim duty, I made phone calls on behalf of legislation allowing for same sex marriage. Practicing Catholics were strongly supportive. Many I called were ex-Catholics because they chose the full acceptance and love for a child’s same sex marriage.

Remember the ridiculous slogan pushed by Catholics against same sex marriage: “Marriage has always and everywhere been between one man  and one woman. It may e that they don’t read the Bible, which would prove them wrong, but surely they are aware that there are Muslims in the world. For this reason many of concluded that they were deliberately lying, as they had throughout the priest sex cover-up disgrace.


This article is the largest pile of incoherence I have read in years. Good God! Your complete lack of understanding about law is risible.

If it is immoral, it can't be enchanted.

To say this article, and in Commonweal is a disappointment would be an understatement.  Look, I know Commonweal swings fairly left, but this is a new nadir. 

The one bright spot is that many who made comments feel like-wise.  That's encouraging being that I'm often one of the 2-3 lone rangers on this board.

I have no intentions to even debate this.  As someone already pointed out, it's rubish.  And, certainly not Catholic, and for that matter, not even Christian, save for the "man-made invented kind that disregards the revelations of Jesus Christ consequently marches to  a "whatever feels good and works for the given time,place, and agenda."

I suspect it's just a matter of time before the 'catholics' of which  you embrace Joseph split off to a Protestant "American Catholic." or something to keep feelilng good and holy while living in oppositon to the teachings of Christ.  

So much for the fact that Jesus taught his followers that folliowing HIm would involve radical and countercultrual love.  I've written plenty on this "false love" in previous posts.  Authentic love doesn't embrace others in their sin, at any cost. 

If only those who feel otherwise could recognize apostacy when it's in front of them.




Joseph Bottum has spent his professional life in the more conservative circles of politics and religion and these values are evident throughout his article despite his final conclusion to support gay marriage.

Mr. Bottum ignores the totality of the Church's teaching on sexuality that is based not on spiritual or holistic human values but on a lingering Zoroastrian world view and a biological interpretation of "natural law". \there is a whole history since the early Church of teaching a Gnostic dualism regarding the body (matter, evil,darkness, female, mosit, earth) as evil, imprisoning th esoul (spirit, good, light, male, dry, sky. Evil is a syndrome associated with matter, body (hence sex), female and earth. God is a sky god somewhyere in the heavens associaed with light, male and spirit.

A brief History: the "Nicolaitans" denied the Incarnation because they denied the goodness of the physical world; Docetic, Valentinus, the Montanists, Cathals, Paulicans, Bogomils, Albigensians and later the Jansenists and nuns of port Royal. These movements were supressed by the civil or Church only when they appeared to threaten the civil authority of the government and unity of the Church.

The Church in my day has caused great damage to children in declaring masturbation a mortal sin punishable by hellfire. In this century the Church has been insistent on condemning contraception: Pius XI, Paul VI (despite a 30-5 vote by the Papal Commission on Birth Control to loosen restrictions on contractption) and John Paul II. Most American Catholics ignore this teaching.

IN the 1950's Catholic theologians taught that sex in marriage had two objectives, the strenthening of the partaners spiritual union in love and seconcly, the begetting of children. They taught that sex was permissible to achieve the strenthening of the marriage bond even though procteation was not contemplated. The Church silenced these theologians.

Local Bishops (Phoenix) and national conferences of Bishops have determined that aboration to save a mother's life is not allowed, even though both child and mother would die. Ireland rebelled against this notion and is changing the law to allow abortion in certain circumstances. Although claiming a "seemless" respect for lilfe, the Church has not marshalled its forces in any meaningful way (only writing mild teaching letters) against capital punishment and the many wars fought in the last years. Compare this to the diengenuous marshalling of its considerable forces to  oppose life-affirming Obamacare, a political not moral stance.

The Church's teaching against gay sexuality (God created persons to have a gay orientation) and the insistence on an exclusively celibate clergy (contrary to the married status of all but one of the Apostles and contrary to the practice of the Eastern Churches) resulted in an immature and repressed priesthood who preyed on young women and men, protected by the hierarchy's cover-ups.

The attitude of the Church toward sexuality, toward human relationships, and (let's be honest) against women shows how the modern forms of gnosticism are deeply embedded in the insitution and its hierarchs. The Church has forfeited its credibility as a teacher of morals.


Geezzzz.....if only I could think this well and then, miracle of miracles, write this well.  By golly, I'd be writing all the time and everywhere!

As for the detractors of this post, I am reminded of the question I have often asked myself.  How does one deal effectively with a person unable or unwilling to differentiate between divine inspiration and divine knowledge.  The former is very much a state of grace.  A place where one is a seemingly boundless source of joy.  The latter a place where one is a seemingly boundless source of self righteousness.  In other words, boring.  The words so often now tossed around by pseudo-intellectuals ignore the fact acient Hebrew and Greek simply did not have the words now used to damn LBGT folks or had altogether different definitions.  It seems the word of God has a bit of flexibity after all.  Perhaps God was clever enough to recognize our limitations.

As to the word of God, only God knows that.  Only God.  I do believe ole' Fran is making that very point and with a utterly engaging smile.  Like most I have only glimpes of the man but I have yet see him not remind us, and himself, of his humility.  A wise move when dealing with God.

No, the problem between you and your friend IS NOT that you're Catholic and he's gay.   Nice try.  The real problem is that (at least until recently) you didn't believe that gay americans are entitled to equality.   When the GOVERNMENT issues a CIVIL marriage license, it has NOTHING to do with YOUR religion.  You (until recently) were trying to push YOUR religious prejudices onto someone who doesn't share them.  Why can't you fundamentalis types get it, that the secular government is not in business to promote YOUR religion??   The fact that your friend got cool to you was that you were espousing views that made him LESS THAN EQUAL, so don't try to blame it on YOUR Catholocism.  The fact is, American Catholics support marriage equality at a level greater than the American mean.  Your friend wasn't reacting to your Catholocism so much as to your bigotry.

The problem, our conversations had made pretty clear along the way, was that I am a Catholic, and Jim is gay. - See more at:

The problem, our conversations had made pretty clear along the way, was that I am a Catholic, and Jim is gay. - See more at:

The problem, our conversations had made pretty clear along the way, was that I am a Catholic, and Jim is gay. - See more at:

Well, he certainly scraped the "bottum" of the barrel for these arguments, didn't he?

Seriously, Bottum's answers are so ludicrous it's hard to take them seriously.  Instead of standing up for truth, we should try to "re-enchant the world" (whatever that means) by:

(a) more charitable giving

(b) going to China

(c) getting martyred in the Middle East, and

(d) having better hymns.

Now we already do (a), (b), and Lord knows, Benedict tried (d).  As for martyrdom, why don't we stay where we are and suffer the martyrdom that is obviously coming from gay-marriage psychopatths like Bottum's bud Jim?

Doesn't everyone see that Bottum's bud Jim is plainly a nutball and his totalitarian opinions should not be driving a Catholic's view of the issue?

I got a kick out of Bill Carson's comment yesterday at 5:23.  He must be an absolute riot at dinner parties.

I find it fascinating that such a nuanced, thoughtful article could be met with such ignorance.  But then again, I'd not thought myself capable of such nonchalance but here we are.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond. 


Thank you for this thoughful essay.  Since,in a few months, I'll be witnessing a young (twenties+) family member's wedding, because of the wide acceptance of same sex marriage, I need to deeply examine all that seems appropriate to say.  All Sacrmental celebrations are "teachable moments."

The congregation will be young.  The celebrating community is comprised of various shades of Catholic/Christian belief.

This essay touches much of the various beliefs surrounding a traditional Nuptial wedding.  Because of this recent social change in Christian beliefs about samesex marriage, there is a great need for celebrants of Catholic weddings to avoid being "condeming and intolerant" of others beliefs.

This essay is a thoughtful reflection and an attempt to honestly examine and respect the belief of others.  Again, because of this sea (tusnami) change in attitudes I'll not linger long at the reception.  Even though a family wedding, after a few drinks, people might try to involve me in either a pro or con position on same sex marriage.

Bernard can I suggest that you "deeply examine" your Christian Faith (assuming you are one, as I suspect that you are)? 

This quote of yours is simply shocking, if in fact you profess to be a Christian:

Because of this recent social change in Christian beliefs about samesex marriage, there is a great need for celebrants of Catholic weddings to avoid being "condeming and intolerant" of others beliefs.

To believe that means to throw out the Divine Revelation of Christ, and renounce the First and most important commandment, making the tolarance of the culture the "new god."  Even more so, if you are Catholic, it's both Scriptual and two of the Spiritual Works of Mercy to  admonish sinners and instruct the ignorant.    

I suggest you "instruct and admonish" by not attending, being "condeming and intolerant" of all serious sins incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

Truly this is so sad to see the fall from Grace of some many, so easily.  I hope if this essay does anything, it brings the faithful to deeper prayer for you, JB, and all in agreement of SSM, especially Christians. 

But for the grace of God, go all of us!


Ichabod Bottum.

I think the words of the Academic Decathalon Judge in the classic film Billy Madison are apropos of Bottum's rambling essay:

"Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Just kidding.  (Slightly.)



My comment above could have used PREVIEW and EDIT options as some other sites offer, for example, America and National Catholic Reporter.  Or it could have used better writing and self-editing. 

I must admit the article was too long for me to read every word.  Reading about his friend, though, this straight Catholic thought of two gay friends who, the last I heard, had headed out to San Francisco before the AIDS epidemic.  The media back then showed many examples of what appeared to be largely casual I-It relationships.  Now, when more gays are seeking legal marriages, the church is taking a stand against this. You'd think the church would  at least see this as a better life style than those San Francisco bath house days. 

Again, I-Thou, person-person relationships are to be valued and promoted.  I-It, person-object relationships (including pornography and child sexual abuse) are the problem that needs addressing, IMHO. 

Okay, here's my serious response:

Bottum and, he claims, our society at large find natural law arguments to fail.  But he doesn't argue or explain why.

So it's a missed opportunity: a vapid and nugatory essay.  Instead of crafting something with substance, a substantial argument against natural law or Church teaching or in favor of gay marriage, he just devolves into a Saruman-like drone: "give up, we've lost, we can't win this battle."

The essay is so pathetic that I'm genuinely embarrassed for Bottom and I think it's very clever on Commonweal's part to have published it.

Comments as to the meanderingly tortuous course taken by this essay have a point.  But attend to other comments here and it becomes clear that the writing is a bit tortuous because its author was reasonably tortured in writing it.

There are many conservative Catholic circles where henceforth Joseph Bottum will be persona non grata.  How quickly friends can turn, and how vicious that turning, is evident in the commentariat here.

This took guts.  Thank you.

Spectacular article, to me. YMMV.

To the disenchanted I ask consider the parable about the sin of the jealous whole day workers demanding that those hired later in the day not get an "equal" amount.

Thomas Mullin

Encouraging writing, if more than a bit tortured. So let me get this straight, you are now in favor of same gender marriage only because you identify now as the victim of anti catholicism created by your own hand as the perpetrator? You now support same gender marriage because the church is being tarnished by the hate it promotes? 

I was reared in the catholic church but long ago left as it abandoned the teachings of christ. Namely, to take care of the weak and disinfranchised, and to celebrate and promote the mystery of love as christ taught. 

Instead, the core of catholic teaching was replaced with Republican talking point memos. Support the rich at all costs. Support wars. Bash the gays at all costs. Hide and protect child rapists from within. Etc. The list is long. And ironically, the churches core is about 180 degrees off of what christ taught. Compassion for others and love is completely missing from the modern church. 

Gay people really could give a flip about the church, they simply want to be left alone and treated equally under civil law. 

In other words, it is not about you. 



Perhaps while getting his doctorate in philosophy Jody was neglectful of learning:


The basis of truth and goodness is being. REALITY.


Two men can get "married" as easily as pigs fly.





Hmmm, all it took me was a few dollars and a government issued ID to get my marriage license. Pretty easy I would say. 

"As for martyrdom, why don't we stay where we are and suffer the martyrdom that is obviously coming from gay-marriage psychopatths like Bottum's bud Jim? " -

Oh, you mean like Matthew Shepard suffered?

Or these folks .....

Until this kind of violence happens to you poor picked upon kristyuns, keep your unfounded self-serving paranoia to yourself.


Mr. Englert,

Delivering an unpopular message takes some courage, too.  It takes courage for a Catholic priest or bishop to stand up and proclaim what the Church teaches about human sexuality.  I don't recall Catholic priests or bishops who actually do this getting much praise around here for being courageous, though.

On the other hand, what did this essay earn Mr. Bottum?  He has already gotten money from the Luce Foundation and a laudatory article in the New York Times.  When was the last time someone arguing in favor of Church teaching got either?

The big news here isn't that a Commonweal commentator offered an argument for the Catholic acceptance of same-sex marriage under civil (not church) law, but that Joseph Bottum, a star in the conservative American Catholic firmament, has come out in favor of the acceptance of same-sex marriage.  Undoubtedly that means Bottum's name is now mud among Catholic conservaitves, but is his argument, such as it is, worth anybody's while?  I'd say the gist of it may be, although his (IMHO typically conservative) grand ideas --  references to  "thick natural law" and "re-enchantment" -- don't help a whole lot. 

There's just no honest way to deny -- and nothing cowardly or morally reprehensible about admitting the truth -- that the civil rights case for same-sex marriage makes sense and will inevitably gain ground given American constitutional law. That doesn't mean the Catholic Church has to change its doctrine regarding marriage anymore than legalizing civil divorce meant the Church had to change its teaching on marriage and divorce.  What it does mean is that churchmen had better find ways to deal with the coming reality of same-sex civil marriage, and that simply railing against the idea, or worse, threatening to throw up one legal roadblock after another in an attempt deny a segment of society what they and others believe is their civil right, will do the Church itself more harm than good. 

That part of Bottum's argument makes complete sense to me.  True religious liberty in a democratic society means tolerating the rights of others, regardless of our own beliefs.  Conservatives may argue against tolerance, but it's the American way, and a proven boon to religion itself.  Most Christians -- including the Catholic hierarchy at Vatican II --  gave up fighting the idea some time ago.

The prospect of re-evangelizing the modern world, and via that evangelization persuading moderns of the correctness of traditional Christian teachings on marriage and other issues -- what Bottum apparently means by "re-enchantment" -- is the great challenge our Church undertook at Vatican II.  The immensity of that challenge has become even more clear as time goes on.  Little wonder so many want to ditch the whole plan and retreat behind barricades, hurling threats of eternal damnation on the way.  To say that won't work merely calls attention to the challenge ahead, a necessary, hardly cowardly, attempt at admonition.


Delivering Christ's good news to the secular world takes courage, of course, but simply stating that same-sex marriage is a sin hardly does justice to the bigger message or persuades anybody who doesn't already believe.  It's a priest's duty to admonish the faithful, not unbelievers.  Can you imagine the apostles converting the ancient world by, say, preaching that divorce is a sin and divorced people who remarry go to hell?  Once converted, the ancients were presumably ready for the rest of the story, but nobody could, or can, expect the non-converted to adopt rules churchmen say they should live by. 


Meaning Absolutely to Bill Carson's comment.

Ms. Bailey,

Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments about evangelizing the modern world.  I also agree with you that saying that same sex marriage is sinful hardly conveys all the Church should be saying. 

I think that Mr. Bottums' argument against the Manhattan Declaration is elitist and somewhat disloyal. I further believe that he is indulging in over-intellectualization of the issue. Be that as it may, his inevitability argument does not seem good if for no other reason than that it is immoral to give up the poltical fight, even though the culture and the shared concept of morality that underpins it, and  that made this country great and blessed, is likely fractured beyond repair, barring a spritual revival.

The article in the NY Times that is based on this Commonweal article emphasizes and focuses on 4 things: 1) Mr. Bottums is a religious man; 2) Mr. Bottums is a conservative; 3) Mr Bottums has changed his position from opposing gay marriage to favoring gay marriage and 4) Mr. Bottums will support the Republican Party. Presumably, Mr. Bottums want's all conservatives to stay within the Republican fold and go ahead and support gay marriage.

Mr. Bottums is right when he suggests, as I have, that the ship has sailed from this country and that we likely won't be ever again that great nation we once were. And, yes, of hope is that 300 million in China are Christians. But, our duty it seems to me is to stand here and fight the good fight and remain true to principle.

Chastity is not remaining a virgin. It is living one's sex live according to one's station.  If the Church accepts gay marriage, will homosexuals be adbvised to save themselves for marriage? If so, why? It makes no sense for a gay person to "save himself" because no pregnancy is possible. If chastity for gay people means sex outside of marriage, why do gay people need marriage? If gay people can be "chaste" and have extra-marital sex, then why cannot "straight" people have chaste  extra-marital sex? It seems to me, that if the Church accepts gay marriage, then the Church must abolish the idea of chastity.  The problem is that throwing away chastity means throwing out marriage, because only adherance to chastiry will keep husband and wife faithful to each other. Marriage is the opposite of sexual license or "Enlightenment."

A nation that accepts the "Sexual Enlightenment" is a nation with 40% of its children in broken homes. A nation with 40% of its children in broken homes is a nation with no future.

Society has a choice: Sexual licence and social chaos, or,  Strict sexual norms and social order.

Jesus never looked at a woman as a "hot chick." But most American men do. Re-enchantment of society will end this mode of thought. 

Question for Mr. Bottum: Define "marriage."



Although you clearly do not realize it, Jesus come not only to to save “the Catholics”; He came to save all mankind. If you actually realized that point you wouldn’t have been questioning the Church’s focus on marriages that are not between Catholics. 


But if you are a Catholic (and quite frankly, you don’t sound very Catholic), it is somewhat understandable that you know so little about your faith. Since Vatican II (1960’s), the new modern Church has all but abandoned teaching what was taught by the  Church fathers for almost 2000 years–that there is such a thing as mortal sin, and that those who embrace such sins without repenting will be damned to hell. 


Consequently, many “Catholics” (including the writer of this shallow tome) believe that if society believes there is nothing wrong with a particular act, such as practicing homosexuality, then it is not sinful. But they are very much in error who believe this way, and although they are being misled by many of the blind bishops and priests of our day, they will not be excused for their error and both will “fall into the pit”.


For those who might want to know what is going on in our Church today, they should take a look at a couple of very worthwhile publications that regularly discuss all of these issues juxtaposing the “modernist” view of the bishops since Vatican II, with the immutable dogma of the catholic Church that was handed down by Jesus Christ though Saint Peter and the first apostles. It is actually quite frightening.



As long as you are going to let the Luce Foundation fill your pages, You might ask them to pay for an editor.  Wading through this was brutal.  It proves that an incoherent idea can only generate incoherent arguments.  What does this mean: "Is sex the place in which that project of re-enchantment ought to begin?.".  I don't think he even knows what the virtue of chastity is. He seems to think its some sort of Puritan abstinence.  Finally, I would like to point out that his friend's actions are those of an intoleranr bigot, in their parlance a "hater".  I bet if you asked the guy he would agree with my assesment although with the qualification that he only hates those he perceives to be haters and are therefore deserving.


Did Mr. Bottum and his donors consider the ways this article would be perceived and referenced in the media and particularly the New York Times?  For, according to the Times (trumpeted under a headline that erases all the nuance and contemplation offered here), what Mr. Bottum has done is go towards the light against the darkness of the Catholic Church.  Full stop.    

Furthermore, as Mr. Bottum apparently granted an interview that produced this Times story, I wonder if he will  now discuss the hijacking of his essay in the service of using the gay marriage debate to club Catholic belief?  He dismissed concerns over this, painstakenly, here.  But reading the Times piece makes his dismissial ironic.

Also, having read both the Times article and this essay, I am left confused by the Times reporter's interpretation of Bottum's position on the post-sexual revolution world.  By claiming that Bottum is saying the following, the Times seems to be pushing him to conclusions not expressed here.  Will there be any response to that, too?  

"[I]f the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture" - Bottum qua the NYTimes.




The essay somewhat self-indulgently meanders hither and yon until arriving at its stated purpose. Still, it helped me clarify my own thinking about the subject. I was especially intrigued by the implicit suggestion that, if we are truly concerned about the institution of marriage, we may need to drop our opposition to gay marriage and become be more vocal about our opposition to divorce.

Whether one sides with the gay activists/allies who are working for marriage equality or the religious conservatives who oppose it, most of us can benefit from forgiveness and reconciliation. All of us want to be happy, no one wants to suffer.

It is obvious that heterosexuals do not have a monopoly on love and commitment. 

Humans fall in love, 

gay people are human, 

gay people fall in love.

It's interesting to see what creatures crawl out when one of their own turns over a few rocks that they didn't want overturned.

I never heard of Joseph Bottom before, I only came here because the Gays are tweeting the heck out of this, so here I am.

Bottom makes a good point that you Catholics with blinders on refuse to see. You hang out with each other, visit together on your conservative and Catholic websites and you do not interact with people who are gay. In fact I was never anti Catholic before sometime in 2010, much like Bottom's friend Jim Watson who slowly distanced himself from Catholic Bottom. When I was young and slept over at my friends house on Saturday night if they were Catholic I went with them to their Catholic Church on Sunday morning with the little lace doily on my head. I didn't have anything against Catholics, I wasn't one but I respected this religion. That all changed after I read a mainstream news article about this trial that was starting in California, called the Prop 8 Trial. In the news article there was a link to some gay rights website, I don't even remember which one it was, and off I went, clicking away. It will be 4 years for me this January since I read my first gay website and in that four years I have turned strongly anti Catholic. Strongly.


You all act as if we are the United Catholic States of America. And not only that, your church is very active globally trying their best to deny Civil Rights to sexual minorities worldwide. We are NOT the United Christian States of America, and after reading and participating and studyng on this issue for almost four years now I am decidely on the side of the gays and strongly against Catholic Leadership and any Catholics who work to deny Civil Rights to people who are gay. I didn't hate you before but I hate you now. YOU did that. It was your activism and your underhanded dirty tactics. How many times do I read in comments just on this webpage "sodomites?" The reason you do that is to take their humanity away, to mark them as evil, that is why you deliberately choose the word "sodomite." It is terrible and mean. Mean Catholics. I no longer see your religion as loving and compassionate and charitable, because of YOUR actions. I see you all as a bunch of meanies.


This is what you should have done, preached in your churches and cathedrals that you consider homosexual sex to be a sin and that your faith is that only Holy Marriage is for a man and a woman. But you didn't do that. Oh no, you stepped out into the public square and called people "sodomites!" You told them that they don't get the same civil rights as every other American. You Catholics along with whatever Mormons you can capture and those Evangelicals, and you are hell bent on denying Equal Civil Rights to people who are gay because it offends your religion. What you should have done is if it bothers you that much, you should have withdrawn being a State Official for signing the State Marriage Licenses. Simply maintained your Holy Marriage Sacrament and that is all. You should have clung to your beliefs and said, "We can't go along with what the State is calling Marriage so we will withdraw" But you didn't withdraw, you stood and fought. The result of that is that there are now millions of people like me, who had no bone to pick with Catholics before, but now I hate your leadership and the people who follow those Catholic Leaders who aim to destroy the lives of sexual minorities. A State marriage License is a Civil Right and there is no good reason to deny them to people who are gay. They are not hurting anybody. When two lesbians in my neighborhood get married it doesn't hurt me, and it doesn't hurt you either. It may offend you, but it doesn't hurt you.


The gays will win their fight for Civil Rights and all that is going to happen is that there will be a whole generation of people who unlike me when I was young, who don't like the Catholic Church. Is that what you want? Are you trying to push people away from your faith? Because that is what you are doing. You are trying to make Civil Law mirror your church teachings and that is not right. It just isn't. Instead of withdrawing and maintaining the sanctity of Holy Marriage you chose to fight. Well now you made an enemy, or rather LOTS of enemies. You will NOT beat science. Every single medical and psychological association says that homosexuality is on the NORMAL scale of Human Sexuality. There is just many of them is all, they are a minority. It's the God's honest truth not everybody IS straight.  In these 4 years since I started following this and learning about it, I am shocked at how many people say that they are not 100% straight, it is like 23%. As a straight person that number astounds me.


We don't legislate morality in our country. We only legislate that which harms, like sexual assault. That is why there are no slut laws. We don't arrest women or men for being a slut. We believe in Liberty, the Liberty to live your life according to how you wish provided you are not causeing harm. What is immoral to YOU is not immoral to THEM. Instead of St. Thomas Aquinas read John Stuart Mill On Liberty

This is what I believe in. Liberty. Gay people have the same liberty rights as straight couples to find a life partner and be married. How dare you claim something for yourselves that you do not grant to others. I have never been a fan of Natural Law anyway it is simply a device/mechanism to spread/apply Catholic Doctrine forcibly onto non Catholics. Calling it natural law is a misnomer, it should be called "Catholic Thought"


Do you want to see how hated you are because you are pushing your religion into civil law? Here read. Don't just hang out with Catholics, read from the other side.

FIRST look at them


It is your own actions that have made these people hate you. You had another choice and you chose not to take it. You chose to give yourself Civil Rights and deny those same Rights to them. One thing I learned in life, the oppressed will allways fight against their oppressor. And that is what you are, oppressors. You are not God's gentle people, you are militent oppressors. Read the gay blogs see what you are seen as.




This article must have been very difficult to write, and I believe there are a lot of things to react to, but I am struck by how unanalytical the reaction in the comments as been.  My take is that it tries to provide three different but interrelated answers to the question: should the church use its resources, goodwill, moral authority to oppose the acceptance of same sex marriage in the political sphere?

The first answer is the easiest to follow: opposition in the political sphere is unfair as a matter of legal interpretation (singles gays out in ways that are no longer possible for other groups) and it is alienating to those whose good will we would like to cultivate, believer or no.  I would add that in its current form, this campaign is successful only because it appeals to existing cultural bias against gay men and women and not because of any acceptance generally of the church's views on marriage.  For instance, Prop 8 would not have succeeded if it had sought to prohibit gay marriage, remarriage and the use of contraception.  In that respect, the church is making common cause with bigots and is not really gaining any fundamental appreciation for its position on marriage.

The second is, the application of natural law as it has been understood is inherently problematic even in an updated form when the cultural cohesion around the subject of marriage -- its purpose, its virtuous attributes, its core personal requirements -- has fragmented as badly as it has.  I would add that marriage is in crisis among heterosexuals under the age of 30 and there is no church organized effort that I can discern to study or even begin to address this problem, a problem that is as likely to threaten our future as any other I can think of.  Contra so much that is inherent in the pronouncements opposing same sex marriage, the goodness of marriage is no longer self-evident to many people.  In that sense, the opposition to same sex marriage is not much more than a giant diversion from the actual problems that our culture does face.

The third is, not only is politics not a shortcut to evangelization, but that evangelization and honest discourse on the subject of marriage might lead to a different answer from the one that the church currently offers.  It might even result in a natural acceptance of same sex marriage. 

You Catholics are NOT just about "preserving traditional marriage." You are simply anti gays. People who are gay are trying to get employment protections, to make a law that says, "You can't legally fire someone (or refuse to hire them) just because they are gay." 

In 27 States THIS is perfectly legal,

"You can pick up your check at the end of the day,I just found out you are a Dyke."

"You have the best qualifications of any applicant, but now that you are here in peron I can see you are a faggot. We don't hire fags here."

THAT is legal in 27 States. P-E-R-F-E-C-T-L-Y legal. The gays have been trying for the longest time to get employment protection. So what does your Conference of Catholic Bishops do? They send in a Letter to the US Senate and tell the Senators that the Caholic Church Opposes the proposed law for workplace protections for sexual minorities. Here read the letter yourself. This is your own Catholic Bishops working their angle to deny workplace protections for sexual minorities, on the flimsiest of excuses. It's shameful it really is.


And here is your ally in your anti gay war,  Gays should not be able to have a job becuse they are immoral.


The gays report on every single anti gay words spoken form the lips of Catholic Leaders. Nothing slips by them. The Catholic Bishops are just the WORST! If a State is having hearings on Civil Unions the Catholic Bishops and Preists we be vorifiously against Civil Unions. However in States that have Civil Unions and the gays are trying for marriage, the Catholic Bishops and Priests will with no shame at all, say that Civil Unions are enough that they support Civil Unions not marriage. Here is one memoriable Bishop. It doesn't have to do with Civil Marriage, but his anti Obama militancy is simply astounding. Again I got this from Gay Websites. Talk about militant! This proves to ME that You Catholics are trying to run the country, take over. You don't respect the seperation of Church and State. You do not believe that gay people are Equal Under the Law. To you they are less than, second class, becaue they are gay. Not deserving of the same rights as you.


This is who you are in bed with. The Vice President of the Family Research Council saying that this divide may lead to ARMED RESISTANCE against our government.

Do you see why I am for the gays and against you? You people are terrible.  Look who you align yourself with. Look who you march shoulder to shoulder with. These are your anti gay allies. 


Here more of your Evangelical best buddies. Re-Crimialize and ARREST sexual minorities. ARREST THEM.

LOOK at what is happening in Russia to Gay People, and the movement in Russia is the Orthodox Church. And by the way, in a later article we learn that the boy in the main picture killed himself. Do young people killing themselves make Jesus happy?


TBILISI, May 17 (RIA Novosti) - Some 30 people were injured when an angry mob led by clergymen broke through police cordons and clashed with gay rights activists in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Friday, the country's health minister said.

Gay rights activists from the Identoba (Identity) group planned to hold a rally outside the former parliament building on the city’s central Rustaveli Avenue on Friday afternoon, to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Tbilisi authorities had authorized the event.

However, thousands of anti-gay protestors, mostly Christian activists, priests and members of conservative non-governmental organizations, gathered in the designated location before the rally began, forcing gay activists to change the venue. Several dozen gay rights activists who came to take part moved to a small area adjacent to Freedom Square, about two hundred meters away from the initial site.

(Watch the video about in the middle of the article in the right)

A number of protesters carrying bunches of stinging nettles threatened to use them on gay activists. They insist that homosexuality runs against Georgia's traditional Orthodox Christian values.

Father David, a priest who was one of the organizers of Friday's anti-gay rally, said the parade "insults people's traditions and national sentiments."



Just LOOK at the world wide persecution of gay people lead by Churches. Look! Now with the internet you can watch the videos. You people are terrible, just terrible. Awful. It is NOT about Civil Marriage for you, it is simply Gay HATE. IT IS!! I monitor French Sites also, I didn't even bring those to you. Just about an hour ago I read a Tweet from a Catholic Bishop in France encouraging the Catholic Haters there to keep on protesting.

Africa is TERRIBLE. Just Terrible. Read, READ IT. Go ahead, I dare you.

This is simply a religious war against gay people. This is no way to treat our fellow human beings. It is not. And you all should be ashamed of yourself for perpetrating this. The biggest leader is the CATHOLIC CHURCH.



I agree with Barbara. I think the article is important and reveals the honesty and goodwill of Mr. Bottum. As well as his grounding in both medieval and modern thought. I majored in Thomistic philosophy at a Catholic college and during most of my long life, have been a seeker, and a long time in the Unitarian Universalist fold. I'd like to raise another issue that came to mind while reading his article. I would like to ask Joseph Bottum if he were a woman, would he so readily characterize pre-Enlightenment thought as framed in an enchanted world? A few years ago I picked up a history of the Masonic order which stated that it was Masons who made up the Royal Society when it formed in England, a society of scientists and engineers and philosophes striving to demonstrate things not take them on faith. As you know, it was pulled together by the restored King of England hoping to unite warring parties -- Cavaliers and Roundheads -- in order to make progress and make inventions that would help in war, among other things. One remarkable effect of this budding scientific effort, I read, was that within 20 years of its founding, they stopped burning 'witches' in England. Up to that time, the carnage was horrible and the belief in its necessity was a big part of the 'enchanted' world everyone lived in. What to do when one's (idealized) Enchantment was partly founded upon subjugation, hatred (and fear) of women? 

Despite Mr. Bottum's attempt to deploy Aquinas, does anyone really believe the Angelic Doctor appreciates his scholarship being used to justify sodomitic relationships?

Kids need a mom and a dad. Denying this ideal by making mothers and fathers optional does harm to our society. This isnt about the desires of adults, much less the "enchantment" of homosexual acts, this is about what marriage is (and isnt) and why it matters.

In his long and meandering essay, Bottum poses four questions which any Catholic should be able to answer clearly and without difficulty:

  1. By what authority do bishops pass moral judgments in political matters? By the infallible authority of Christ and His Church.
  2. Can atheism offer an intellectually coherent scheme for morality? No, it cannot.
  3. Can we know that an action or attitude is evil, a priori? Yes, we can.
  4. How can we ignore peoples desires? We shouldn't necessarily ignore them, but neither can we condone them when they contradict Church teaching.

That these simple Catholic answers elude Bottum is troubling, to say the least.


1: By what authority do bishops pass moral judgments in political matters? By the infallible authority of Christ and His Church.


"In the context of the deserved contempt that followed [the scandals in the Church], what kind of loony, pie-eyed judgment could lead the bishops to engage in a sex-based public-policy debate they are doomed to lose—feeding mockery of the church while engaged in the expensive process of losing that fight?" (Bottum, The Things We Share)


Sadly, almost any kind of "loony, pie-eyed judgement" imaginable could lead the personally fallible bishops to engage in any number of activities; However, only the infallible judgement of the whole Church could, would, and should lead the bishops (and all Christians) to engage in responsible, intelligent and moral public-policy debate:


It is a part of the Church's mission "to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. The means, the only means, she may use are those which are in accord with the Gospel and the welfare of all men according to the diversity of times and circumstances." (CCC2246)


Q2: Can atheism offer an intellectually coherent scheme for morality? No, it cannot.


"if heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?...If marriage is nothing more than a licensed sexual playground, without any sense of sin attached to oral sex and anal sex and almost any other act, then under what intellectually coherent scheme can one refuse to others the opportunity for the same behavior?" (Bottum, The Things We Share)


Clearly, whoever is not for the "old, enchanted metaphysical foundation of heterosexual monogamy" is against it. Each of us must take a stand, for or against marriage as a divinely instituted Sacrament as defined by Mother Church:


The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent. (CCC1625)


It is important for Catholics to remember that marriage is not a product of men, much less an invention of the state:


"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage." (CCC1603)


Q3: Can we know that an action or attitude is evil, a priori? Yes, we can.


"How faithful will [same-sex unions] prove? How much infected by the divorce culture of modern America? How spiritual? How mundane? How will they face up to the woe of the quotidian that, as Schopenhauer insisted, marriage forces us to see? How will such unions aid their participants to perceive the joy of creation?" (Bottum, The Things We Share)


God only knows. As a Catholic, Bottum must know that God can bring good out of every evil, including same-sex unions:


Where sin increases, grace increases all the more...What shall we say, then? Shall we encourage sin so that grace may increase? Of course not! (Romans 5:20-6:2)


We Catholics have a responsibility to oppose sin:


Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; by protecting evil-doers. (CCC1868)


Q4: How can we ignore peoples desires? We shouldn't necessarily ignore them, but neither can we condone them when they contradict Church teaching.


"…how can we not take same-sex marriage advocates at their word, accepting that they really seek the marriages they say they desire?" (Bottum, The Things We Share)


We can and must take them at their word, yes. They really want what they want. They seek power, freedom, security, health, love, acceptance--and what they seek is good. Bottum's role, as a Catholic, however, is to encourage these misguided advocates to seek what they seek--but not where they seek it. It's called tough love for a reason:


The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction. (CCC1829)


I'm afraid Bottum is getting swept up in the ever-shifting tide of public opinion. God help him.


God help us all.

 Went on Mr. Bottum's Facebook page; asked him repeatedly if he saw any Scripture to support his view in favor of homosexual "marriage?" He repeatedly ignored me. Then this exchange occurred after which he blocked me and, of course, never answered my question.

Me: Do you care what God says?

Bottum: Yes, Mr. Lofton, I care what God says. I was about to say that I don't much care for what the remnants of anti-Catholic Protestantism say, but it would be uncharitable--and that's why I'm cutting this off: My fault, not yours, but your multiple notes here are an inducement to my failure of charity.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican

Dir., The God And Government Project

Active Facebook Wall



About the Author

Joseph Bottum is an author whose latest book is An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America (Image/Random House). The former literary editor of the Weekly Standard and chief editor of First Things, he lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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