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A Reply to Joseph Bottum's Conservative Critics

As most readers of this blog will have noticed by now, Joseph Bottum's Commonweal essay on Catholics and same-sex marriage has provoked a good deal of criticism in the blogosphere. (Those who haven't noticed can see a few of the many reactions to Bottum's piece here, here, here, here, here, and, last and least, here.) Bottum doesn't need Commonweal—or me—to fight his battles for him; he is quite capable of defending himself, and has already done so (with more magnanimity, I might add, than many of his Catholic critics have displayed).

Nonetheless, I'd like to respond here to two of his more articulate critics, Robert Royal and Phil Lawler, because they are fairly representative of the response to Bottum's essay among conservative Catholics, and because they have both offered substantial responses and not just off-the-cuff reactions. Royal's reply is intelligent and sharply written. Lawler's is sober, honest, and not saturated with personal contempt. Both, however, fail to acknowledge plainly what the logic of their own position seems to require.

Royal and Lawler agree with Bottum that contraception and divorce are, like same-sex marriage, at odds with the Catholic Church's conception of marriage. And both Royal and Lawler fault Bottum for concluding that Catholics can and should give up their public opposition to same-sex civil marriage and instead direct their attention to other projects that are either more important or at least less likely to fail. Royal calls Bottum's conclusion "preemptive surrender." Lawler suggests it amounts to cowardice.

This raises an obvious question for both of them: Do they believe that the Catholic Church's honor requires American Catholics to wage a politcal campaign to get contraceptives and divorce outlawed? And if not, why not? Someone might answer, "Prudence." Someone might, but not, I think, either Royal or Lawler. Each of them has implied, perhaps unwittingly, that prudence is irrelevant.

Royal admits that opponents of same-sex civil marriage appear to many—including many of the opponents themselves—to be on the losing side of this battle. But he answers this common perception with a bit of history: 

In 1976, Henry Kissinger, “the smartest man in the world,” told Admiral Elmo Zumwalt: “The day of the United States is past and today is the day of the Soviet Union. My job as Secretary of State is to negotiate the most acceptable second-best position available.” The Soviets had only thirteen years left.

The gay surge in the West may seem much less likely to be reversed. There are days we all feel that way. And it may be so. But there’s only one way to find out. And it’s not pre-emptive surrender.

There you have it. According to Royal, it is idle to predict the future, and therefore prudence is irrelevant to politics because prudence requires, among other things, a consideration of the likelihood of success. We must fight the good fight and let the chips fall where they may. There is no such thing as a lost cause and to suggest otherwise is to prove oneself faint of heart. Sure, same-sex marriage is already recognized in thirteen states and all the political momentum appears to be on its side, but in a democracy bad laws can always be changed if enough of the public can be convinced of their badness.

In that case, why not try to change laws that allow divorce and the sale of contraceptives? After all, the church still teaches that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, and the idea that a marriage can simply be dissolved is no more reconcilable with the church's traditional understanding of marriage than the idea that a man can marry another man. Furthermore, the church teaches that the truth about contraception and divorce, like the truth about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, is a matter of natural law, not special revelation. Which means that, in theory at least, none of these teachings is better suited than the others to public reason. But aren't contraceptives and divorce a lost cause? If Royal is right, there is no such thing. We can't know what's possible until we try, and it's pointless to guess. What turned out to be impossible yesterday may be possible today; in the ongoing experiment of democracy, hope springs eternal. So if it is obvious that Bottum has capitulated to a decadent secular culture by advising Catholics to stop fighting against same-sex civil marriage—if his position cannot be defended as a prudential argument—then it is just as obvious that the bishops and almost all Catholics in this country have capitulated to the same decadent culture by declining to insist with as much vehemence as possible that the state forbid no-fault divorce and the sale of contraceptives.

To his credit, Lawler seems to have anticipated this point, but it isn't clear that he appreciates all its implications. He writes:

What should Catholics do, then, if the intellectual argument has been lost and public opinion is trending strongly toward acceptance of same-sex marriage? We should—we must—do more, in word and deed, to to educate our neighbors about the true meaning of marriage. That will entail re-opening the debates on contraception and divorce.... The weakest aspect of Bottum’s argument—as he acknowledged in a radio interview with Al Kresta—is his quick dismissal of arguments based on natural law. Bottum writes that these arguments have not proven persuasive. He should say that they have not persuaded the public yet.

"That will entail re-opening the debates on contraception and divorce." Which debates, exactly—debates about whether contraception and divorce are immoral, or debates about whether they should be legal in the United States? If Lawler thinks they should be illegal, he should say so outright. And once he does that, I think he will quickly find that he has alienated the greater part of the remaining opposition to same-sex marriage. But perhaps that, too, is what courage requires. The public has not been persuaded yet that every law in this country ought to be determined by the church's moral teaching, but give it time, Lawler pleads. They are bound to come around once they see the social devastation wrought by the "culture of hedonism."

That raises another question: Does Lawler imagine that most Americans will change their minds about the legality of same-sex marriage, divorce, and contraception—and, more generally, about the wisdom of allowing Catholic doctrine to determine the country's laws about sex and marriage—before they change their minds about some other, more basic things? Before they become Catholic? If so, he should tell us why. (Imprudence is one thing, delusion another.) And if not, then Lawler agrees with Bottum after all, however much he protests against the term "re-enchantment.'

These responses to Bottum's article exemplify two related tendencies that have become alarmingly common in recent years among conservative Catholics: the tendency to think of civil law and democratic politics as nothing more than a footnote to Catholic moral theology, and the tendency to assume that all people of good will are bound to accept the church's conclusions about public policy even if they don't accept the church's premises.

It is obvious why many conservative Protestants who oppose state recognition of same-sex civil marriage do not also campaign to ban contraceptives and divorce. But what about conservative Catholics? There are no doubt many plausible explanations. Same-sex civil marriage, unlike divorce or contraception, is a new phenomenon; until very recently few had even considered the idea; until even more recently, no one considered opposition to it a lost cause.

But let me offer one more explanation. Probably most conservative Catholics in this country have friends who are divorced or who use artificial contraception. Some of those friends are Catholic, some aren't; some are probably conservative Protestants. By contrast, outside of a few urban areas in this country, most conservative Catholics are able to avoid openly gay people if they wish to, so that gay people remain for them mostly an abstraction. No doubt they've met a few and tried to be polite, but they don't have to worry much about offending a lot of close friends by publicly opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. That may not be true for long. I don't say that such Catholics are all bigots, but I do think many of them find it easier to love the sinner more than they hate the sin when the sinner is straight.

In any case, the time has passed when there were enough bigots to combine with those who have honorable natural-law arguments against same-sex marriage to form a politically effective majority. Some Catholics may still yearn for a smaller, purer church; but, on this issue at least, a purer social conservatism will be too small to call the shots in this democratic country. Those who oppose same-sex civil marriage for any reason worthy of respectful consideration must "learn to be a minority," and that begins with accepting that they are one.


About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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Why stop at divorce and contraception? Why not criminalize all sexual activity outside of marriage? Mr Bottum's critics strike me as cowards. Unwilling to prudentially split up the culturewar alliance between absolute moralists and closet ditherers on sex.

The natural law arguments seem more like Aquinas's arguments of fittingness rather than proofs from observation of Creation. Those who already agree with the conclusion find it persuasive that this is how things should be, but those who do not already agree are almost always unpersuaded. The proponents of these arguments seem to understand this because they tend to cite the authority of these arguments rather than trying to use them to persuade the unconvinced.

On an unrelated thought, I'm a bit disturbed by the number of Catholics who do not seem comfortable with any division between the legal and moral spheres. They seem to think that all that is immoral must be illegal. The practical issues of enforcement are ignored along with the implilcations of living in a secular, pluralistic society (would they like their standards of involving church and state if applied by Evangelicals or Muslims?).


What about the sins of apostasy, heresy, schism, religious infidelity, and blasphemy?

I would think that the church wouldn't wish to impose a law on a civil society in which there is a consensus that the law is unjust, particularly if the society is pluralistic.  There are considerations of religious freedom that come into play.  In the cases of contraception and divorce, American society seems to have reached a consensus of broad tolerance.

Arguably, that hasn't happened for same sex marriage and abortion.  In both cases, very large pluralities continue to oppose legalization.  There is no consensus; society is divided.  In the case of same sex marriage, if states are allowed to continue to decide for themselves whether or not to allow it, it's quite possible that universal approval won't happen in our lifetimes, as no red state has yet approved it, and many ballot initiatives have failed.  

If the church is convinced that same sex marriage is wrong and that the stakes are high, I don't think it's wrong of the church to oppose it.  (Cf the bishops' stand on the contraception mandate.) How strongly to oppose it is a matter of prudence. I don't think Bottum expresses a view in his essay of how high he thinks the stakes are for same sex marriage, but he seems to imply that there are more important hills on which to take a stand.


"the tendency to assume that all people of good will are bound to accept Catholic conclusions about public policy even if they don't accept Catholic premises."

What they fail to notice is that even many *Catholics* don't accept or live by those premises either.  Instead of trying to figure out how they can convince a whole country of people to believe what only a tiny minority of the population believes, they would do better to take a second look at the beliefs themselves.  I read a quote from Oliver Cromwell the other day that  I wish these guys would consider ...  "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."

Here's a similar argument from the Australian Jesuit site, Eureka Street, by Frank Brennan SJ, ...  "It's rime to recognise secular same sex marriage"  ...

Matthew, it seems to me your remarks do reason and compassion proud.  And that is one of the many aspects of Catholicism I find most compelling.   At its best so much of its notions seem to confirm as reality there is no useful reason without compassion or useful compassion without reason.

I fully agree with Crystal's quote.  It seems to me altogether obvious the implied outcome of the two fellows on the crosses beside Christ fully support its wisdom.

For the bishops to admit that they might be wrong, it would be necessary to convince them that their theological epistemology is flawed.  That is, they would have to be convinced that bishops and popes may not ignore the experience and beliefs of the faithful.  At this time they don't *really* believe that the sensus fidelis can reveals true belief, nor do they believe that it is possible for them and for the popes to be mistaken.

It's hard to take the conservative elements of the church seriously on issues like contraception, given that 99% of Catholics use it, given that that most of those at V2 and those on the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control were for it, given the level of dissent from theologians and bishops after Humanae Vitae, and given  the practical fact that contraception saves lives.  To refuse to consider they might be wrong is just strange.

The logic of this article seems very crude. Since divorce, contraception and same sex marriage are all doing grave damage to our society, Catholics should spend exactly the same amount of effort against all three? But why? We are perfectly free to make prudential judgments about what poses the greatest danged at this particular moment in history, and adapt out actions accordingly.

I am waiting to hear from Mr. Boudway what we should do at the specifically polical level, to make sure as many children as possible grow up with two parents, including both a father and a mother. Otherwise, I will have to assume that he just expects us to go with the "liberal" flow of mainstream secular culture, which (in my peronal observation) massively failing our young people..

Yes, Christianity is kind of strange, is it not? We belive that Jesus lives in His Church and leads it through the apostolic succession. It is quite weird, if you think of it.  It is also very rewarding for those who accept it.

Matthew, one of your best posts. Happy that you point out the hypocrisy of attitudes toward divorce and contraception. Especially with contraception, even priests and bishops accept it as morally right, even though they will not say so publically. Benedict XVI, as Cardinal. referred to the issue of contraception as one that should be handled in the "internal forum" (confession). Which means that the church should give absolution but just don't talk about it publically. This is really hypocritical. But when your argument is shallow you can always seek refuge in authority. 

At any rate it is still inexplicably sinful to concentrate on same sex marriage et alii, when so-called Christians supported every war and so many people are being murdered every day throughout the world. The priority of Jesus of bringing the Gospel to the poor is on the back burner while so much time is spent on issues that generate heat but no light. 

The point of not knowing Same Sex couple is a very good one. While homosexuals run the gamut of bad and good, like heteros, those of us who know such couples are impressed with the generosity and goodness of so many. 

It's generally a good starting point to assume, if possible, that a person's beliefs are sincerely held. But now and then I catch myself wondering whether today's bishops, if they were starting from scratch, would reach the same conclusions on contentious issues like the "unnaturalness" of contraception and the "disorderedness" of homosexuality. They are boxed in by the pronouncements of their predecessors. Any deviation or rethinking would call into question the whole structure of divinely appointed authority by which they claim to govern the Church. And thus certainty becomes a virtue.

It may be a present comfort for certain kinds of minds to have a matter settled forever, but it makes too little allowance for the way that the world throws up new situations and perceptions and for the way that we ourselves have extended our understanding of it. Clinging obsessively to the norms of the past is as much a fetish as foolish future worship, and would make Young Earthers of us all. We are at our best when we take our days as they come, neither ignoring the lessons of experience nor taking them to be final.

Jim P - excellent point.  Following this line of thinking, Lawler et alii reject religious liberity unless it is narrowly understood as protecting catholics only - which is not what VII approved.  Unfortunately, as John Courtney Murray stated often, it will take the church generations to completely understand what VII said and did.

Finally, only one commenter has addressed the concept of natural law....historically, the church has used *natural law* to support many positions that today we find abhorrent e.g. slavery, racism, gender bias, monarchy, etc.

Natural Law is a good moral concept - but, like all concepts, it must develop and change.  This is one of the fallacies of Lawler et alii.

And I always have liked the simple question - okay, if you make abortion illegal because it is murder, will you put to death those who have abortions?



How does lawler reject religious liberty?

Better question, Carlo.  How does contraception do great damage to society?

Letting down a new generation of young gay folk who think marriage is a natural and loving way to live. Perpetuating clerical self-torture and taking it out on more victims of the millennial homophobic deviation.

It seems more and more that what the leaders of the church preach, and especially what they push for in the public square, is at odds with what actual Catholics do and believe ....  "What do believers believe?  (Not what you might expect)"  ...

So when we talk about those who disagree with Bottum's essay, we're talking about a minority report.

Carlo Lancelloti, yes, Christianity is kinda strange because is makes so much of love. In this debate the Christianity is on the side of the lovers, not the haters and the frustrated blockers.

"Love one another" "Love covers a multitude of sins" "Love never fails" -- what a charter! and at last gay folk have found the courage to claim it as their own.

The basic point of Matthew’s post is worthy of mention (though easily answered), but other parts reveal a “disordered” hermeneutics, for example:

I don't say that such Catholics [conservatives who live outside of all but a few urban areas] are all bigots, but I do think many of them find it easier to love the sinner more than they hate the sin when the sinner is straight.

Let me guess:   Some of your best friends are even conservative Catholics.


Responses to the basic point:

  1. The Church does not teach that the pill is inherently disordered, nor even immoral, in and of itself;
  1. Allowing the sale of contraceptives is not celebrating, nor even privileging, their use;
  1. The Church does not teach that it is wrong for a wife to leave a husband who physically abuses her.   She teaches, rather, that the wife is still married to the husband;
  1. And so forth and so on.

ISTM that while a big part of the argument between Joseph Bottum and his critics is indeed philosphical, an almost equally big part is a simple question of timing: When do you throw in the towel? Some folks temperamentally would rather go down in glorious flames than live to fight another day, and I don't think anyone can prove the validity or invalidity of that position logically.

That said, I would find it much easier to climb into the bunker now if there had been more than a muffled moan when we flat-out declared an aggressive war against Iraq on the principle of preemptive action. It was a really sad show for American Catholics when all we could point to was that, well, the Vatican envoy said the president shouldn't do it. Oh, how we and our spiritual leaders covered ourselves with glory on that one.

I guess when you live in a big military power with a mandate from God to punish the evil doers, you just throw in the towel early on mass destruction. Then having swallowed the camel of war, you strain out the gnats of same-sex marriage. Because some intrinsic immoralities are more immoral than others?


This post reminds me of older policy arguments.  Advocates for the legalization of drugs also label their opponents as hypocrites.  After all, alcohol causes untold damage, far greater than marijuana.  If the drug opponents were really concerned about damage to young lives they should concentrate on reducing alcohol consumption.  The fact that they don't wholeheartedly do this, the argument goes, shows that they are hypocrites, or worse, bigots.  And young people overwhelmingly favor the legalization of drugs, so the battle has already been lost and everyone should get on the right side of history and stop the hypocrisy.

IMHO, on the other hand, to attack those focused on lesser problems when greater problems exist is a recipe for inaction - for any problem it's always possible to point to a still greater problem.  And then we're off on a search for the proverbial "root cause."  And "radicals" will claim that nothing really changes unless the root cause is addressed - which never happens to their satisfaction.

And we should notice what is lost or ignored in the rush to condemn same-sex unions. VII taught that marriage has two, non-hierarchial ends: procreation and the loving life-union of spouses. JPII strove  mightily to convince Catholics that, contrary to VII, we can establish procreative capacity as gnomonic of union--if it's not hetero, it's not unitive. He essentially re-instituted the "procreation-first" model of marraige that VII rejected. And so like-minded epistemological contortionists on the Catholic right work mightily to insist that marriage has social importance only as a context for procreation. 

As the Wilson sisters sing so memorably, "What about love?" Why has the Catholic right so ignored what should be the FIRST principle for Christians? And the Catholic middle-ground seems able only to go so far as to make excuses for same-sex marriage, along the lines of "well, it's evil and pernicious, but I guess we can't effectively oppose it in the civil realm." Nonsense! Even the political right is beginning to claim--as Andrew Sullivan has for decades--that loving, responsible life-union is good for people, contributes to the common good, and (for the religious among them,) can speak grace in the lives of partners and society.

Why is love ignored as a true end of marriage?

Second: the insistence on the right to make marriage principally procreative effectively ignores the distinctive rewards, challenges, demands, virtues, etc. of parenting. We have failed to develop a substantive theology of parenting by subsuming it into marriage. But ask around--isn't parenting morally different than marriage? For most people, they are connected concepts, but they are not the same. We owe parents and children better. 

Conservative Catholic opponents of civil recognition of same-sex relationships tend to operate under a fundamental handicap:  they have never allowed this reality to emerge in their minds as a question.  It is, rather, a thesis, for which they marshall conceptual arguments.  Without real questions, insights never occur.  Such opponents can manifest great agility in rearranging concepts, but without achieving any real understanding.  

Many who stand opposite them have grappled with such questions.  Many, indeed, have changed their minds as the result of such grappling.  They may, in large measure, be less agile in rearranging concepts in theoretical coherence, and yet may very well understand in a way that opponents do not.

Natural law is a method for the emergence of understanding, and, as such, is dependent on the real occurrence of actual questions.  Without the occurrence of such questions, it tends toward ideology, and is about that convincing.

Thank you for the reminder of the militarist accomodation that characterizes a remarkably wide spectrum of American Catholics.  But, really, once you have rendered unto Caesar the right -- because the wherewithal -- to determinie whether human history continues or ends, why on earth, as in heaven, would you quibble about anything else?

Sorry, I guess I stunk up your garden party early today.  My bad ... Another example of those of us who are massively failing our young people.  

I'll try not to mention in the future that the "kings" have no clothes.

Thanks so much for this post. It is a very thoughtful response to Bottum's chief critics and it gives a further explanation of his core point. Very good.

Sure. Those too. But I was thinking more of the sins connected with same-sex unions, supposedly.

That's easy: by encouraging people to have sex with people they don't really love and by facilitating promiscuity. Also: by making it much easier for men to sexually exploit women without suffering any consequences.

Ah, sure. Love and you cannot go wrong. However, to truly love somebody you have to love his/her infinite destiny, nothing less. In fact, all of the Churches teachings are precisely about this question: what does it truly mean to love a human being.

Carlo --

Have you really never known a gay couple that truly love each other?  My question assumes that loving couples give signs which are evidence of genuine love, like never criticizing each other publicly, showing great consideration for each others feelings, showing better understanding the loved one  much better than others do, supporting the other through thick and thin even at great personal cost, etc., etc.  

If one sees the same loving qualities in gay couples as one sees  in loving straight ones, I don' see how you can possibly deny that the gay ones also truly love each other.  But, again, maybe you've never known a loving gay couple.   

 Really entertaining. Why? Sure, the Church can change anything, i.e., any regulation or law but there must be a reason for it. in the matter of ex Bible (Ex. Rom 1:21 is very unanimous). In other matters Paul writes how Aristotle logic led him for a right solution what to do with pagan sacrifices. If one legalizes somethig sinfull why  do not legalize any sinful and cirminal activity, ex. stealing ( a minority would be happy!)? HUmanae Vitae of Paul vi was issued to clarify the case of contaception because Bible itself did not comment on it in a straight way. Here, we have the case of saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, JUne 3 martyred also for being against homosexual acts! Now we have ...pastors for legalizing it in all denominations- not fullfilling the Apocalipse 21:22 with no need any more a TEmple (and pastors)?

ps. Fr. professor, Andre Guindon, O.M.I, St.Paul's University, Ottawa, Canada started the process in 80's, in The Sexual Creators (not creatures!). L'oservatore Romano, Feb 5,1992 is the reaction of Vatican. He....died. His arguments "pro" are just heve been repeated again.

A nice show of world madness now



The story of Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan Martyrs is about rape, pedophilia, tyranny and abuse.  It has absolutely nothing to do with being "against homosexual acts."  Had the group of martyrs been girls or the tryant a woman, the evil suffered by these martyrs would be the same.

It is worth recalling that homophobia, according to best opinion, is a sign of mental ill-health. Hard to offer therapy on comboxes.

I know siblings and friends who exhibit 

signs which are evidence of genuine love, like never criticizing each other publicly, showing great consideration for each others feelings, showing better understanding the loved one  much better than others do, supporting the other through thick and thin even at great personal cost,  etc. etc.

That really has no bearing on whether they should have sex with each other or be 'married'

I think Matthew's post fails to consider that society's acceptance of divorce, contraception and 'gay marriage' are at very different points in their life cycle.

Bruce --

I wasn't arguing about gay marriage.  I was arguing about the opinion of some people that gay couples don't truly love each other in any depth, that their love is somehow not genuine.  I  wasn't arguing pro incest or premarital sex, for Heaven's sake.  That's in your imagination.

Why is it that certain conservatives hear praise of gays and they immediately assume that the praise is a sign that the speaker is godless left-wing radical.  It really doesn't follow, and it's time you caught up with the fact. 

Yes, there are plenty of gay couples who are just as loving with one another as straight couples. Every young gay and lesbian should be exposed to such couples, in order to have some idea of what is possible in love and in life. Thanks to the deep misunderstanding on this that has prevailed over the Christian centuries the vast majority of lesbians and gays have been deprived of such models and indeed deprived of their self-worth as human beings. Let's hope the tide is turning.

"Ah, sure. Love and you cannot go wrong. However, to truly love somebody you have to love his/her infinite destiny, nothing less. In fact, all of the Church's teachings are precisely about this question: what does it truly mean to love a human being".

I doubt if any lover ever told his beloved, "I love your infinite destiny". 

Does Carlo believe it is possible to truly love someone to whom you are sexually attracted?



Ann and Joseph:


obviously two men can love each other, and it is possible to love someone to whom one is sexually attracted, but (unfortunately!)  in most cases true love means precisely not acting on such attraction.  For instance, it is very common for men to be sexually attracted to women other than their wives, but it would not be love for them to act on such desires.

Anyway, the question is how to treat another human being in a way that truly recognizes his/her full vocation as a child of God, not as a piece of meat. In that respect, sexual expression achieves the level of a fully human act only to the extent that it respects and accepts the other person in its fullness, including his biological integrity as male or female.

But are you saying that gay and lesbian couples treat one another as pieces of meat?

Or that gay men cannot appreciate the "biological integrit as male" of their partners, and likewise for lesbian women?


The charge of hypocricy isn't because people are focusing on one issue and not others. Rather, it is because people are calling Bottum a coward for deciding to stop putting his energy into an issue when they are doing that themselves with other issues of equivalent magnitude. 

Why is it that certain conservatives hear praise of gays and they immediately assume that the praise is a sign that the speaker is godless left-wing radical. 


You are attributing words and thoughts to me which I do not have.  I simply pointed out that other loving relationships exist.  It does not follow from that fact that their relationships should involve sexual activity and the same is true for gay couples. Knowing admirable gay couples does not mean gay marriage or gay sex suddenly becomes another form of human flourishing.  And if love is truly wanting the best for the other, then perhaps we should not hold up gays as an ideal since its arguable that their love is 'best' for the other.  


Why is it that certain conservatives hear praise of gays and they immediately assume that the praise is a sign that the speaker is godless left-wing radical. 


You are attributing words and thoughts to me which I do not have.  I simply pointed out that other loving relationships exist.  It does not follow from that fact that their relationships should involve sexual activity and the same is true for gay couples. Knowing admirable gay couples does not mean gay marriage or gay sex suddenly becomes another form of human flourishing.  And if love is truly wanting the best for the other, then perhaps we should not hold up gays as an ideal since its arguable that their love is 'best' for the other.  


While is Ann is indeed adept at attributing words and thoughts to people that they do not have, the point does remain: that gay couples are just as loving as straight ones. This is a reality that the opponents of gay marriage will have to factor into their reflections.

Most gay men in the past never considered that marriage was within their range of possibilities, indeed they were brainwashed into thinking that gays were incapable of marital love and fidelity. This has now been exposed as a monstrous lie.

More or less homophobic moral theologians like Xavier Thevenot were quick to say that the couple (marriage was not mentioned in those days) is not the complete answer to the "problem of homosexuality" (to quote the title of the Vatican document on the topic); their opinion was based on a very poor amount of research and exposure. I actually urged Thevenot to see the movie "Word is out", one of the first to propose the couple to what was then a wildly promiscuous US gay culture. He answered that he knew enough about gays and didn't need to see it... As if anyone could ever know enough about gays, or about straights either...

The once celebrated Marc Oraison, in a well-meaning essay, declared that gays were incapable of friendship (and no doubt he would have added that they were incapable of marital love) -- the level of homophobic prejudgment was terrific even among those who thought they were striking a blow for gays. It would be an interesting research project to reread what the moral theologians said during the 1970s and 1980s, and especially what they did not say, restrained by clerical caution and careerism.

I think Bottums' own essay made the clearest analogy:  the most important deviation from the natural law definition of marriage in secular legal terms is the facilitation of "no fault" divorce even in cases with children and without abuse.  What we have is what I like to call serial monogamy, which pays lip service to the demands of monogamy without actually insisting in any way that they actually be met on the basis of any religious notion of that concept.   Compared to SSM, which affects comparatively very few people, divorce completely redefines the nature of marriage, just not in terms of who is having sex, how and for what purpose.  This is my general complaint with Catholic doctrine on marriage, that it comes down in essentials to viewing the parties more or less as breeding animals and then fails as a logical force when it is called upon to analyze other aspects of marriage that are obvious to most people who are actually married.  The fight over SSM epitomizes that problem. 

I don't think divorce should be illegal, nor do most other people including Catholic bishops, but none of that means they can't think deeply about the fractured state of marriage generally, using it as an opportunity to reconsider doctrines on marriage, instead of specifically zeroing in on this tiny minority of people and asserting without any evidence that their marriage in particular will radically weaken the foundation of a house that has in my humble opinion been pretty well trashed by the people who are already living there, even if frequently for reasons beyond their control. 

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