Engagement or Retreat?

Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage

Last summer Commonweal published a controversial essay by Joseph Bottum, “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Bottum, the former editor of First Things, had long publicly opposed same-sex marriage, but in “The Things We Share” he argued that it was no longer prudent for American Catholics to oppose the legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage—because such opposition had likely become a lost cause; because the only good arguments against same-sex marriage were no longer intelligible in an essentially post-Christian culture; and because same-sex civil marriage might end up being good for gay couples, as well as for America’s marriage culture more generally. According to Bottum, Catholics should instead concentrate their efforts on the “re-enchantment” of a culture that had forgotten “the essential God-hauntedness” of the world. Because he did not argue for a change in church teaching, many readers of Bottum’s essay criticized him for not going far enough. Many conservatives, meanwhile, criticized him for going much too far.

We invited Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, and Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter to comment on Bottum’s argument. Douthat's piece appears below. Manson's piece is here, and Joseph Bottum's response to both is here.

 

I share many of the impulses that animate Joseph Bottum’s essay: a recognition that gay-marriage opponents have been thoroughly routed in a remarkably brief span; a frustration with how the debate has played out for the church; a desire to rescue the riches of Catholicism from the clichés and caricatures of culture war. I also share his skepticism about some of the natural-law arguments deployed in defense of traditional marriage, his view that the march toward same-sex wedlock follows logically from premises embraced by the culture long ago, and his emphasis on the metaphysical underpinnings of our present situation.

But for all that, I think his central conclusion is either confused or a cop-out. The logic of Bottum’s argument is similar (as he acknowledges) to the logic of Paul Griffiths’s essay in Commonweal’s pages a decade ago (“Legalize Same-Sex Marriage,” June 28, 2004), which argued that Catholics should support civil marriage for gay couples as a means of disentangling the church’s sacramental view of wedlock from a “profoundly pagan” cultural context, and in the hope of “making the church more seductively beautiful” by contrast with the civil law.

Writing in response to Griffiths, former Commonweal editor Margaret O’Brien Steinfels noted that basic Catholic ideas about wedlock were still widely shared (this was 2004, when 60 percent of the country still favored the traditional definition of marriage), wondered why Griffiths would “throw in the towel in a polity where there is general agreement about the fundamentals of marriage,” and accused him of succumbing to the lure of purity and separatism. “Withdrawal from public debate on the definition of marriage,” she wrote, “or any other publicly contested issue is the gesture of sectarians”—and one that non-despairing Catholics should reject.

Much has changed since then, and Griffiths was obviously prescient about the direction of the debate. But Steinfels was right about the implications of the kind of move he was suggesting. For the Catholic Church to explicitly support the disentanglement of civil and religious marriage, and to cease to make any kind of public argument against treating same-sex unions the same way opposite-sex ones are treated in law and policy, would be a very serious withdrawal from political and cultural engagement. It is one thing to urge the church to prepare for political defeat on this issue—such preparations are obviously necessary, more obviously so now even than when Bottum’s essay first appeared. But it is quite another—more separatist, more sectarian, and thus more problematic—to say that the church should preemptively cease to even make the argument.

After all, gay marriage is not the first case where the arc of modernity has bent away from Catholic ideas about the common good. (The age of social Darwinism springs readily to mind.) And it will not be the last. But to respond to such marginalization by simply withdrawing from the argument is a statement not of prudence but of cultural despair—suited to a social climate so corrupt, so pagan or post-Christian, that political participation is no longer possible at all.

The logic of Bottum’s essay, like that of Griffiths’s before it, points in this direction—toward a strategic withdrawal from a corrupted culture, with implications that extend well beyond the marriage issue. And some of his rhetoric has that flavor as well—for instance, his suggestion that not only the debate over same-sex marriage but engagement across the entire terrain of sexual ethics needs to await the results of a very long-term “re-enchantment” process.

But Bottum doesn’t want to follow this logic all the way to its separatist conclusion. Instead, he insists he’s not actually counseling any kind of political or cultural retreat: “We should not accept without a fight,” he writes, “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 what will the church be doing in the public square, once it has ceased to offer public arguments on questions where its position has become unpopular? Well, says Bottum, we need a “more effective witness in the culture as it actually exists,” and we need to find “much better ways than opposing same-sex marriage for teaching the essential God-hauntedness, the enchantment, of the world.” Fair enough, and I agree—but then, as his examples of that witness and those ways, he offers the following: “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.”

I am afraid this risks being ridiculous. Charity, missions, martyrdom, liturgy—of course these are all crucial areas of concern for the church, but saying that American Catholics should support missions in Asia as a substitute for arguing about sexuality and marriage in America is a kind of Mrs. Jellyby Catholicism, in which the issues that Providence has actually placed before us are deemed too difficult to wrestle with and in their place we are to turn our gaze to the problems of Christians ten thousand miles away. (Suggesting that we should all go “face martyrdom” is less Jellyby-ish but even more implausible.) A church that followed this advice would be turning inward by turning outward; it would be no less sectarian than the MacIntyrean church that Bottum disfavors, but perhaps more self-deceived.

 

THE POINT IS this: If Catholics are to continue contending in the American public square, if they are going to choose active participation over catacombs and lifeboats, they need to have something to say to actual Americans about actual American debates. Those debates may have to do with economics, immigration, health care...but in a culture that’s increasingly libertine, atomized, and postfamilial, some of what the church has to say will necessarily have to do with sexuality. And in arguing about sexuality, there is no honest way for the church to avoid stating its position on what the legal definition of marriage ought to be—even in a world where that definition has changed and doesn’t seem likely to change back.

This need not mean starting every conversation with same-sex marriage; once the legal change is accomplished, it may involve talking about the issue less often, or talking about it in some very different way. But it cannot mean pretending that the church’s opposition to calling same-sex unions “marriage” no longer exists.

Unless, of course, it actually doesn’t. Bottum’s essay, as I read it, does not make an argument for a formal change in church teaching, only for ceasing to defend that teaching’s application to secular law. But in some passages he does tiptoe up to an argument that many liberal Catholics would make more explicitly—that is, the idea that there might be not only a small-c conservative case for gay marriage but a specifically Catholic one as well, and that an eventual ecclesiastical blessing of same-sex unions might actually fit in neatly with the church’s broader message on marriage, and help our culture strengthen the crumbling link between sex, monogamy, childrearing, and wedlock.

I hesitate to rebut an argument that’s only gestured at, even if it’s one that many readers favorably disposed to Bottum’s essay would endorse—and one that, if offered, might have lent his essay a little more coherence. So I’ll just say this much: I think a serious look at the trends that have accompanied the advance of gay marriage, at the legal arguments deployed on its behalf, at the shifting understanding of marriage that has made it seem commonsensical, and at the direction of the debate on related issues (from polygamy to surrogacy) should all cast grave doubt on the idea that the church could somehow incorporate same-sex nuptials into its view of marriage without transforming that view beyond all recognition.

And since that wider transformation is something that Bottum definitely does not seek, I’ll conclude where I began: His essay is mostly correct in its diagnosis of why and how the Catholic vision of marriage has lost ground in the culture, but mostly unpersuasive about what kind of engagement the church should seek instead. I don’t blame him; it’s a hard problem to solve. But the preemptive surrender he proposes cannot be the answer.

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Douthat manages to insinuate that gay marriage represents a culture that is pagan, post-christian, atomized, post-familial, libertine, corrupt, corrupted.

Like many Catholic theologians I would be ready to argue that those who commit to gay marriage are enacting basic Christian values, expressing a sense of community, linking with the common good, exchanging immature libertinism for mature liberty, and standing over against the corruption of homophobia and hypocrisy in which the Church has been so deeply sunk.

Thank you, Joseph.

As a gay Catholic, I felt like I needed a shower after reading that.

"THE POINT IS this: If Catholics are to continue contending in the American public square, if they are going to choose active participation over catacombs and lifeboats, they need to have something to say to actual Americans about actual American debates."

As often happens Douthat is right about fundamentals.  But here, I think, he falls short of what else is needed.  He sees the need for debate, but debate includes not just conclusions, it includes premises -- reasons/evidence supporting the asserted conclusion.  Unfortunately, in the same sex marriage debate the official Church's reasons are much too general to be persuasive.  it's main premise against SSM seems to be that SSM eventually leads to the corruption of marriage.  But what are the Church's *reasons* for saying that?  I've been trying for years to get my conservative friends to offer real evidence that having SSM couples in our midst corrupts the marriages of the heteros.  How has even one hetero marriage been affected for the worse by one (or more) same sex one? How, how, how???  I have yet to get a credible answer. The Church in effect is saying, "Just don't!"

If Douthat wants to avoid calling SSM "marriage" because he thinks that it is so essentially different that it needs a name of its own, then fine -- but that is a semantic or taxinomic problem, not a moral one.

 

I hope we can be nicer to Ross here than he is used to in NYTimes comments.

Here is the problem that I'm seeing. I think that deep down Douthat and other conservatives recognize that their is nothing implicitely wrong with two men or women in a monogomous relationship, raising a child, receiving the social recognition of marriage (which in fact, will help their children - which we all want).

The problem is that the Church cannot admit being wrong about marriage - it would be seen as a major blow to divine authority. We believe that the Holy Spirit guides our interpretation of Holy Scipture, and therefore does not allow us to err. If we acknowledge this error, what does it say about all the other teachings. Perhaps we should all become Protestants and believe what we will?

For those that take this kind of Inerrent view of the Church, there is a big problem here. I'm not in favor of abandoning those that defend orthodoxy (in some cases, at great pains) by radically revising Church teaching. But as more and more people come to recognize that there are many decent (and holy) gay families, I hope this does not tear us apart. How do we reconcile tradition and our moral convictions?

>>If Douthat wants to avoid calling SSM "marriage" because he thinks that it is so essentially different that it needs a name of its own, then fine -- but that is a semantic or taxinomic problem, not a moral one.<<

 

We call males and females different names. We even have a special name for gay females, because it is often useful to distinguish female gays from male gays. For the life of me, I can't understand why same gender marriage can't simply be given its own name ("twainage" was a good suggestion by a thoughtful gay writer who agrees with me). Same rights, privileges, responsibilities -- simply a different name for what in Western civilization is a newly recognized institution.

 

Just call it by a different name and virtually all the lingering consternation and opposition would evaporate.

 

That said, I truly wish the institutional Church would stay the heck out of secular politics. Let the Church inform its members and let its members participate in the political arena according to their own judgement, but enough of the culture wars. Lead by example. Teach by teaching. But no more of these Proposition 8 crusades.

 

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

"The logic of Bottum’s argument..."  The logic.  Sweet Jesus, if logic were the primary path to salvation and a joyful life most all of us would be lost.  This is particularly true of those so stubbornly convinced of their own erudition and righteousness they are incapable of grasping how little logic exists in the beauty of belief.  That's what love is, you know. A convinction about a belief.  And that is the grounding upon which a marriage is built.  Those who rightly find compassion and wisdom in the best of Catholicism would do well to leave the bastardization of reason to the lawyers.  They do quite well on their own.

Just a question: Why is Douthat described as a "conservative columnist", while Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter is described as such without an epithet (i.e., "liberal columnist"?  I think that in answering that question, we would be exposing the strong heterodoxical tendencies of Commonweal and hence, be making sense of response statements to Douthat such as:

" Like many Catholic theologians I would be ready to argue that those who commit to gay marriage are enacting basic Christian values, expressing a sense of community, linking with the common good, exchanging immature libertinism for mature liberty, and standing over against the corruption of homophobia and hypocrisy in which the Church has been so deeply sunk."

 Wow. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. If that is the substance as to how "Catholic theologians" reason about the issue of SSM, truly there is lot more "reform" that needs to be done within the institutions that harbor such naive ramblings. 

... sed tunc Iulianus imperator mortuus est ...

And so it will be again.  

A generation is condemned to trying to make circles into squares and compelled by public outcry to attest that  the flavor of wine is "red" ... 

Just becasue a wine happens to be red  does not give the color any taste -- muich less do you find the flavor of wine wherever you find "red."
 

I think really Bottum's view is that there is no legitimate case which can be made against same-sex marriage.  Really, what would such an argument be?  Cutting through all the academic blather, it comes down to the purpose of marriage.  if it is soley for procreation, than sure, same sex marriage makes no sense, since procreation isn't possible.  But here's the thing.  Nobody who is married, especially nobody in the western world in 2014, would for a minute accept that as the purpose of marriage.  And whether they would have acknowleged it or not, it never was the reason for marriage.  Economic and social factors always played major, arguably primary, roles. 

to me, the sad part of Douthat's argument to me is that he appears to be saying that regardless of wether it makes any sense, and he comes darned close to saying that the Catholic Church's argument makes none, the Church should make it anyway just to show the flag against the pagans!  It is a rather sad and depressing world view.  There is an old saying that when you have the facts, you argue the facts. When you have the law on your side you argue the law.  And when you have neither you yell and pound the table.  Douthat seems to think the Church should spend its energies pounding the table.  There is and will remain a role for the Church in the public square.  The problem is that for too long it has sided with the wrong people on the wrong issues.  I think the current occupant of the Chair of Peter has outlined a very different set of priorities.  Arguing for the things Francis has listed as priorities, things like fair treatment of immigrants, living wages, protection of the environment, those are exactly the places where Catholics can and should be contending in the public square and where long held Church teachings can and should have something to say to "actual Americans about actual American debates."

Isn't there a middle ground between giving Catholicism legal force and hiding in the catacombs? Supporting the right of people to choose their relgion doesn't require that we stop trying to persuade people to convert. Similarly, the Catholic Church (if not Catholics themselves) has continued to argue against contraception even though bishops seem have acquiessed to it being legal. Accepting gay marriage being legal is accepting the ability of people to make their own choices for their own lives. Accepting this doesn't require that we no longer try to persuade others to change their behavior and choices, but it does mean that we no longer try to force them to change.

Just to follow up on my earlier comment, retreating from the public square on those arguments where you have either:

A. lost the battle, or

B. have a limited argument to put forward,

is a long and, I would argue, honorable tradition.  It is, in effect, what happens all the time in a functioning democracy.  Indeed, inmany respects democracy depends on it.  And the Church does it all the time, too.  For example, the Church's position on the solar system,  which Gallileo got into trouble for questioning, was not not "changed" for centuries, though it was both wrong and ignored for most of those years.  The Church simply gave up making the argument.  Same with slavery, which the Church endorsed in the mid-1800s.  By 1890, slavery was no longer tolerated in the west.  It no longer made the pro-slavery argument.  It simply left the field quietly, officially changing its teaching long after the issue was no longer important. But nobody in 1940 bothered to argue that the Church's official position was pro-slavery.  it didn't matter any more.   We have a similar situation here.  Same sex marriage has won.  Some day, probably after it is no longer even a question, some pope will issue some form of correction.  But in the mean time, the Church will quietly retire from the field on this particular argument, knowing it holds neither a winning hand nor a legitimate argument. 

Perry Turchi,

The Catholic Church is far more catholic than you are giving it credit.

Just call it by a different name and virtually all the lingering consternation and opposition would evaporate.

Larry ... you really can't be serious, can you?  I appreciate a good joke as much as the next person, but ......

I can gar-on-tee you that neither consternation nor opposition would evaporate no matter WHAT alternative name for marriage equality would be acceptable to those not involved.

I think that the "separate but equal" doctine was put to bed by the SCOTUS in "Brown VS Board of Education" in 1954 and ultimately the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Tell you what:  let same-sex unions be called marriage and all others, matrimony.  That should make Catholics and others happy as clams.  Right? 

 their is nothing implicitely wrong with two men or women in a monogomous relationship, raising a child, receiving the social recognition of marriage (which in fact, will help their children - which we all want).  

The basic problem with this argument is its fundamental falsehood.  The children can NEVER BE their children.  At best, only one can be the actual parent, the other is at best a stand-in for an actual parent who is absent. 

If the Magisterial wants Catholics to obey the teaching that SSM and by implication homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, they will have to use a different argument. The magisterium condems same sex acts, in a civil or sacramental-church marriage, for the following reason:

1. they are contrary to the natural law, the principles of which are reflected in human nature itself;

2. they close the sexual act to the gift of life; and,

3. they do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.

As to "1" above, the essential order of nature must be respected as a promotion of man's dignity. However, the Church does not recognize homosexuality as an essential order of nature. They assert that it is an "objective disorder of a universal heterosexual orientation", and not natural. However, they don't provide any scientific explanation or refute the fact that no prominent scientific thought-leader organization (e.g., the american psychiatric and psychological associations or the national institutes of health) who have studied this issue has concluded that a same-sex orientation is an objective disorder.

As for "2", the Church condemns homosexual acts because they close the sexual act to the gift of life. However, this is contradicted in principle when the Church says that marital acts of infertile couples or menopausal women are not immoral. Nor are sexual acts immoral if they are objectively non-procreative by intention, end and choice as when couples deliberately restrict marital acts to infertile times to avoid pregnancy. 

Finally, as to "3", my biggest issue is that the magisterium has no adequate answers to those born with a same-sex orientation, something that they do not "choose". They do  not have the same choices that heterosexual do, namely, to marry or be celibate. They only have one "required" choice, to must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. The church calls this "heroic virtue" but what large segment of the population must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence, and not have a choice of marriage? 

Lifetime sexual abstinence imposed or forced upon same-sex individuals by authority is an unreasonable and unnecessary burden that must be addressed by the magisterium.

 

 

How has even one hetero marriage been affected for the worse by one (or more) same sex one?

Anne, no one is an island.  Everyone is affected by the behaviors they observe.  

An example is the broader acceptance of homosexual activity by younger age groups.  This is a distinct change behavior of our children and they are the fruit of hetero marriages, so it certainly has had an impact.  And the church still holds that all sexual activity outside of marriage is gravely sinful.  AIDS and STD's are public health tragedies that would be much reduced simply by more the chaste lifestyles which the church preaches.

But people today are willfully closing their eyes, ears and minds to those arguments.  The idea that I should be able to do what I want because it isnt affecting you is fundamentally false because all humans are social animals impacted by others.  

 

 

With respect to the issue of "marriage" itself, the magisterium may never agree that a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship between two individuals of the same gender is a "marriage" in the RCC, but to object to a civil marriage or union is another issue. 

The RCC may not recognized a civil marriage, but what is the rationale for calling it immoral if the agents would live like "brothers and sisters" (albeit an unlikey event)? I would argue that the magisterium might say that a civil marriage is morally permitted under these circumstance and for economic and social reasons. However, this brings us back to the issue I raised in my pervious blog comment about the need for a convincing argument about the morality of same sex acts in a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relaionship. 

 

 

 

Finally, as to "3", my biggest issue is that the magisterium has no adequate answers to those born with a same-sex orientation, something that they do not "choose".

 

The logical conclusion of this statement is that these persons do not have a free will.  They do not have the ability to choose not to have sex, nor to have sex with someone of the opposite sex, but that they MUST have sex with someone of their own sex because they are made that way.  They have no free will.....

Bruce,

There is a significant difference between a forced and imposed requirement (by authority) and a voluntary human choice. I don't doubt that some of us, for example, divorced and widowed persons voluntarily "choose" to practice celibacy. However, most people who are divorced "choose" to remarry especially if the person is young and not old. Most single people "choose" to get married, and many widows "choose" to remarry. All of them, the divorced, widows and single people, have a "choice"...to remain celibate or marry.

On the other hand, the RCC refuses to grant people with a same-sex orientation such "choices", the "freedom to choose"...they are "required" to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Couples with a same-sex orientation cannot enter into a marriage and express their love sexually, as heterosexuals can.

A lifetime of sexual abstinenced "imposed" by authority upon every Catholic born with a same-sex orientation is not an act of free choice, but a requirement for their salvation.  It is an extremely burdensome requirement that is not practical for the overwhelming percentage of those born with a same-sex orientation. What large segment of the population is required to practice celibacy and not have a choice between celibacy and marriage?

Celibacy and a lifetime of sexual abstinence must be voluntarily chosen, not forced upon a person, for it to work. Celibacy is a gift from God given to few "individulals" in the population. It is not given to a large specific segment of the population, namely those born with a same-sex orientation (some say 1%- 5%+ of the population).

My point is simple. It is unreasonable and extremely burdensome and impractical to require "every" person born with a same-sex orientation to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation (save for those who choose to become celibate priests). The magisterium wants us to believe that same-sex people should voluntarily choose a lifetime of sexual abstinence as and expression of "heroic virtue" and that God will freely give the gift of celibacy to all who are "required" to practice it. 

 

 

Robert P. George and company have written one of the best arguments against the redefinition of marriage called (appropriately) What is Marriage?

@Perry Turchi,

I don't disagree that there are good arguments for the RCC 's definition of marriage. What I find unpersuave is the consequences of such a definition and the requirement of a lifetime of sexual abstinence for those born with a same-sex orientation, as I have explained in my previous comment.

What this means is that without a rational and convincing pastoral approach for people born with a same-sex orientation, the doors of the Church will be closed to them for all practical purposes. 

I wish I had the answers to these comples issues. However, if the RCC, through the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family, might find a solution to the denial of the sacrament of reconcilation and Eucharistic reception to the divorced and remarried (as Cardinal Kasper is proposing), then why not a resolution to the moralitity of sexual acts of same-gender couples who want to be able enter into a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship?

 

 

Dear Jim,

You say:

"I think that the "separate but equal" doctine was put to bed by the SCOTUS in "Brown VS Board of Education" in 1954 and ultimately the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

This is an oft-made, but entirely odious analogy. Separate but equal meant what it said, to wit, physical separation. We aren't talking physical separation (save for the fact that virtually no one feels that religious institutions should be required to perform "union" ceremonies which conflict with their well-established religious beliefs).  What we are talking about is semantics, as in "what's in a name?" And, yes, I do maintain that virtually all (meaning greater than 90%) of the lingering hostility to same gender marriage would evaporate, were it called by a different name, in recognition that it is obviously something different -- just as lesbians are a different sub-set of gay individuals from gay men.

Right now, we are simply having an academic argument, because the battle has been won by those who insist that the official, legal government term for gay unions is to be gay marriage.  Maybe the answer, as you suggest, is for heterosexual couples to adopt the term "matrimony," though, I'm sure, if this caught on, the same gender couples would insist on using this, also.

Let's just abolish all gender differences.  Stop using the words "men" and "women" and let's just call everyone "persons."  That would then eliminate this particular form of separate but equal, also.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

As I understand it, the Chtholic Church does not recognize as a marriage any that was not performed "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy pirit." Thus my marriage, even though it was to a woman, is not recognized as a marriage by the church, because it was performed by a rabbi. Nor would a marriage by a justice of the peace be.

Yet the church does not attempt to change the law that permits civil marriages and marriages by non-Christian clergymen to be recognized by the State. It ought to take the same attitude to same-sex marriage: the State has the right to recognize as a marriage any union it chooses to, while the church can decline to do so. I cannot see why the church cannot stay clear of a debate on same-sex marriage, as it does not seek to ban civil marriage in general. It certainly does not hurt the church's faithful that some people marrying outside the church are in same-sex unions to a greater extent than that there are people marrying outside the church in the first place.

Bruce,

Are we not real children of God? Is our adoption limited, false?

Larry Weisenthal's arguments fall flat upon even the most cursory examination.

"Just call it by a different name and virtually all the lingering consternation and opposition would evaporate." Really?  Even by the Catholic heirarchy?  Even by those who are posting on here arguments about "STDs" and "AIDS" as excuses for opposing same-sex marriage?  I don't think so.  Such an argument -- an argument for giving same-sex relationships some form of legal recognition albeit not called marriage -- could have been made the the Church 10, 15 or 20 years ago and it might have had some resonance.  It wasn't.  In fact, those most strongly opposed to same-sex marriage were also most vociferous in opposing even domestic partnership registries up until the last couple of years.  Here in Virginia, the state constitutional amendment that forbids recognition of same-sex marriages also forbids recognition of any other legal relationship by another name which would attempt to provide any of the same characteristics as marriage to same-sex couples -- and its passage was strongly supported by the Catholic heirarchy only a decade ago. So the "just use another name" argument appears to be nothing more than a last-ditch effort to snatch some modicum of victory from the jaws of impending defeat.  

"Separate but equal meant what it said, to wit, physical separation."  Actually, that's not what it meant at all.  There was no physical separation of the races in the South during days of segregation -- blacks (that wasn't the term used) and whites interacted extensively on a daily basis.  Of course, blacks were always in a subservient role during those interactions. But more significantly, as the courts held, separate (facilities, institutions, etc.) is inherently UNEQUAL.  Because the whole idea behind "separate" was to ensure there would NOT be equality -- otherwise, why separate?  And that's the inherent problem with the argument for giving us gays "marriage by some other name" -- the reason for the other name is to make sure we are not treated equally.  Case in point: a few years back, a city in Arizona which offered health care benefits to spouses/partners in same-sex domestic partnerships was facing a budget shortfall.  One of the cuts proposed (and, if memory is correct, enacted) was to eliminate those domestic partnership health care benefits. Note that the decision wasn't to reduce the city contribution to ALL family coverage. Nobody suggested that they eliminate health benefits for Catholic spouses, or for spouses in families with last names starting with "G".  No, that would have been seen as unconscionable.  But because it had a different name, spousal benefits to gay couples was a "different category" that could be eliminated without being "discriminatory."

That is why -- given the history of the Church and other homophobic forces in our society -- I and others like me are unwilling to accept anything except full-fledged civil marriage recognition.  You on the other side of the issue had your chance to show your goodwill and good intentions back when it mattered, and you failed to do so.  There's no reason we should trust you to have good intentions toward us now when you try to relegate us to second-class status.

 

Christians have married inside the church building for less than half the history of Christianity.  Only in the face of the Protestant revolt did the Council of Trent eventually assert a monopoly of the Church over weddings.

Procreation has never been the only function of marriage, according to Christian doctrine.  Following St Paul, the prevention of fornication has always stood alongside the raising of children.  Relatively recently, the Catholic Church has followed the Protestants in adding mutual comfort.

Does SSM promote or oppose fornication?  Are those with a same-sex orientation to be denied mutual comfort? 

Is it regarded as necessary for the Catholic Church to perform same-sex weddings?  After all, there's been no rush to remarry the divorced.

There is a significant difference between a forced and imposed requirement (by authority) and a voluntary human choice

Mike

Yes there is a difference between forced and voluntary choice.  The church is not forcing homosexuals to abstain from sex, it is simply teaching that engaging in homosexual acts is not in their own best interest because it put their immortal souls in danger. The individuals still have the freedom to choose how to act. But the argument that they are born with homosexual desires and therefore they should engage in homosexual relationships ignores their free will to act differently. Rather it posits they are forced to engage in homosexual sex because of their makeup and they cannot choose differently ie they lack free will.  

And the church also teaches that everyone who engages in sex outside of their first marriage needs to remain celebate to save their immortal soul as well. No one said its easy to save your soul.

Hi Tom (Lewis): Three comments and I'm out; here is my third.

You cheapen the history of the civil rights movement when you state that giving a unique name to gay marriage would be akin to separate but equal schools.  No; separate but equal was physical separation of the races in the schools. "Marriage" versus, e.g. "twainage" would be a simple and accurate semantic distinction.

Second, you quote old data. Conservatives used to be opposed to "civil unions." Today, "civil unions" are the preferred solution to the equal protection dilemma among conservatives. It would be accurate to say that conservatives today are rapidly moving to positions held by mainstream liberals (e.g. Barack Obama, Joe Biden) only a half decade ago.  Years ago, Pope Francis, in his prior capacity, expressed a willingness to support civil unions, if somewhat reluctantly. I stand by my assertion that simply making a semantic distinction between same gender and opposite gender unions would, at this point, cause most of the ill will to dissipate.

Lastly, I deeply resent the implications of the following statement: "You on the other side of the issue had your chance to show your goodwill and good intentions back when it mattered, and you failed to do so.  There's no reason we should trust you to have good intentions toward us now when you try to relegate us to second-class status."

Me -- on "the other side of the issue?" What other side?  I've always been in favor of equal protection under the law.  I've always favored civil unions, conferring the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage, as is amply documented in public internet discussions going back as long as this has been a front burner issue.

I simply feel that there are obvious differences between same gender and opposite gender unions (e.g. male/female inherent biological inequality versus male/male and female/female biologic equality being one of several important differences).  Fidelity is a bedrock principle of traditional marriage, dating to the the Code of Hammurabi and the Abrahamic religions, where the condemnation of adultery became ingrained.  It's been documented that fidelity is a more relaxed concept in male/male unions than in male/femaie marriage, where the average first marriage endures beyond 20 years and were the average number of lifetime adulterous dalliances is 0 to 1. The point is not to condemn the laudable goal of promoting commitment and fidelity; it's simply recognizing that there are obvious differences and that there is a particular risk to women and children should traction be gained from the suggestion of Dan Savage that traditional marriage would benefit from the gay marriage model of greater tolerance of adulterous affairs.

Again, it's just an academic thought experiment at this point. Gay marriage is here to stay.  Millennials will have the opportunity to do the future research studies to ascertain whether or not gay marriage had overall positive, neutral, or negative effects on traditional marriage.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

How much opposition is enough?  Many people who read the Washington Post's blistering editorial that Obama was cutting and running from Afghanistan by proposing to end the war after 15 years -- probably the longest deployment of American troops in active combat -- and asked themselves that question.  How do you know when it is over from the point of public policy?  Did the church move on over policies affecting divorce and contraception?  Yes, it did. 

One difficulty of Ross's logic here is that he seems to think that not becoming a "separatist" community is simply a function of the willingness of the church to keep engaging in opposition, rather than winning or at least influencing the debate.  I don't actually think that is true.  You are marginalized when yor views are marginal, and shouting those views loudly won't make you less marginal, it might make you more so.  Just ask members of the Westboro Church.  I do think that many in the  hierarchy appreciate this much more so than Ross does or is willing to admit.  It will matter to the Church that its views are not normative within society, as has clearly happened with contraception.  If you accept that these views will not or cannot change, it is a very difficult dilemma you have to face, and Joseph Bottums was willing to engage that dilemma, however inadequate you find his suggested solution, and Ross Douthat is not.

Larry (Weisenthal),

You cheapen the gay civil rights movement when you say it's only about a "unique name" for our marriages. It's about being relegated to a separate -- and inherently unequal -- institution in the eyes of the law, and it can't be ignored that the attempt to relegate us to such status is in the context of a long history of both religious and civil persecution of my people.  In that respect, the fight for LGBT rights -- including marriage rights -- is akin to the black civil rights movement of the 1950's, 60's & 70's.  Please note that I said "akin to" -- not "the same as." The "physical separation" part of segregation was but one tool in the overall scheme to keep blacks subjugated and repressed.

As to your second point, it is almost exactly the one I was making.  When it mattered -- when conservatives (and the Church) could have affected the debate by urging the adoption of civil unions -- you (collective pronoun) did the opposite and opposed ANY form of legal recognition of our relationships.  A few of you (again, collective pronoun) did offer my side "advice," telling us (sometimes grudgingly) that you "wouldn't oppose" us if we would settle for second-class status for our marriages (the current Pope being only one such example). So now, as you point out -- after the battle has been lost, when it's too late to affect the outcome -- conservatives have generally adopted a position that they "would have supported" civil unions, and the name "marriage" is the only issue.  Sure sounds like revisionism to me . . . last-ditch efforts to make themselves sound more "tolerant" than they actually were.  You (in the singular pronoun sense here) may be an exception to the rule (I'll take your word for it about your blog posts), but I ask you to do a little introspection: how much time, money, effort and "ink" did you devote to urging legalization of same-sex civil unions, and how does that compare to how much time, money, effort and "ink" you devoted to opposing same-sex marriage?  If you are honest with yourself, I think you'll find the source of your "deep resentment" -- you are offended because I hit the nail on the head, that virtually all of you who support civil unions instead of marriage (both now and in the past) have done so and are doing so not out of a desire to improve the lives of gay couples, but rather to head off full equality for us.

Incidentally, I wonder how long you've considered this a "front-burner issue."  For me, it has been front-burner for 41 years, which is how long I've been married to another man without having any recognition of him as my next-of-kin for legal purposes.  Please forgive me for considering this more than an "academic thought experiment" for people like you to toy with.

As for your entire point about fidelity (going quite beyond the 3 points you said you were making, and introducing a totally different line of attack), I would suggest the following.  First, the "bedrock principle" about fidelity in the distant past was always about the woman -- because in male-dominated societies, it was important that the man know that the children of his wife were his own and not someone else's. So laws against adultery forbade a married woman from having sex with someone other than her husband, and  forbade a man from having sex with a woman married to some other man.  Second, your data about lifetime adulterous dalliances among heterosexuals is wildly off the mark -- recent DNA tests have shown that, in women who have had 3 or more children, in a significant percentage of cases (over 10%, I believe) at least one was fathered by someone other than her husband. -- and certainly not all adulterous dalliances lead to pregnancy!  Separately, I would point out that it's not single men who keep female prostitutes in business! Third, the "tolerance of adulterous affairs" issue among heterosexuals is one that needs to be addressed independently of the gay marriage debate -- whether it is better to immediately sue for divorce when one's spouse is discovered to have "cheated" (as so many in our society do, having "zero tolerance" for infidelity") or whether it is better to try to stay together (i.e., show some tolerance for infidelity) as was done by Hillary Clinton.  I would be interested in your take on that -- are you pro-divorce in such cases?

Tom

What the Roman church (what's left of it) does for itself is it's own business.  Too bad, though, it is so poorly equipped to deal with reality, and chooses so quickly the self-indulgences of malice, arrogance, vanity, and wilful ignorance.  For the rest of us, though, what it has to do is to stop demanding that the law impose its (idiotic) belefs on everyone else.

Bruce,

 

Do you hae any idea how insulting your position is to married men and women who adopt children?  Not only is it insulting, it is flat out wrong- as the experience of millions of such adopting families has proven. 

 

Hi Tom (Lewis) continuing. I'm literally sitting in 2D on a Frontier Airlines plane. We have reached the going around and around point, but I do need to defend against your charge regarding "wildly off the mark." Alas, must wait until much, much later.  I can quote actual social science peer reviewed published research.  Subjects who receive DNA paternity testing are a highly selected/skewed subset.

Thank you for trying to maintain a courteous tone.  I do understand that this is an emotional issue for you. I only caution that good people can have legitimate concerns about potential impacts on traditional marriage which do not in any way connote or equate with homophobia.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach, CA

Charles Lacina,

The sacrifice of adoption on the altar of opposing same sex marriage infuriates me like few other things.

Do you hae any idea how insulting your position is to married men and women who adopt children? 

 

Charles, married heterosexual couples should be applauded.  They are providing a home to children who are effectively orphaned.  But that is not the case for same-sex couples who attempt to have their own children.  Since that is a biological impossibility, they are treating that child like an object by make a conscious decision prior to conception to procreate an orphan with respect to one of its parents.

I'm sorry you and others might have been insulted, but feelings are not a reliable indicator of Truth.  They also do not constitute a counterargument.

Bruce, your comment was that "[t]he children can NEVER BE their children.  At best, only one can be the actual parent, the other is at best a stand-in for an actual parent who is absent."  While perhaps it was not your intention, such statements are very hurtful to families formed through the adoption of children in that they relegate such families to a second class status.  I can assure you that adopted children ARE the children of their adopting parents.  First, our nation's laws recognize no difference between adopted and biological children (they have equal rights of inheritance for example).  Second, and more importantly, families formed by adoption are capable of being every bit as loving and committed to the well-being of the children as biological families.  Regarding your comments as to how children become part of families, I would note that some heteosexual married couples also use assisted reproduction (such as sperm and egg donors), yet they are still considered the child's parents.  I would note further that same sex couples often adopt children who otherwise would be homeless (not all same sex couples chose to use assisted reproduction techniques to become parents). 

For the official church to condone any fiber of same-sex union, other than loving our neighbors in spite of their choices, not only rejects its own doctrine and the dogma on which it is based (dogma on natural law) it turns a knife on itself. 

If the Church is infallibile in its official teachings on faith and morals (as Pope Pius IX declared in1878), then the argument of same sex marriage is merely one threat to the core of its constitution.  As Dr. Ludwig Ott defines it in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, "Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible teaching authority of the church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastca).  These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper." 

Hard to erase such stone etching without losing face. Problem is, it's impossible to reconcile our present day fact-based knowedge of human biology, genetic pedispositions, anatomy and adaptation of species with the Church's anitquated but unflinching natural law theory.  More importantly, many of us Catholic mothers and fathers can not reconcile natural law doctrine with Jesus' message.

My hope is that more Catholics dig deeper to understand how doctrines, dogmas and theology came to be.   My own digging was rather breathtaking. I had no idea how loose an association so many church beliefs and doctrines have with Holy Scripture, but more importantly, with the message Jesus gave his life to convey. 

 

     

       

Charles,

There is nothing that I wrote that is false.  Its biologically impossible to have two mommies or two daddies and all the legislators and judges in the world cannot change that fact.  In that sense, the children can never be theirs.  And every child will know that even if their 'parents' tell them otherwise.  Frankly, even children adopted at birth by heterosexual couples often search for their biological parents. Its scary and hurtful to the parents who adopted and loved the child but it happens quite often.

Nancy Feldman,

The Church is not infallible in its teachings on faith and morals. For a teaching to be infallible, it must be within the spheres of faith and morals. This does not mean that every teaching on faith and morals is infallible.

it's impossible to reconcile our present day fact-based knowedge of human biology, genetic pedispositions, anatomy and adaptation of species with the Church's anitquated but unflinching natural law theory.

 

I disagree.  Church teaching can easily accomodate whatever biological, genetic or anthropological reason for homosexual orientation.  In a fallen world, we all have disordered desires.  Alcoholism, for one, is known to run in families and it certainly reflects a disordered desire for alcohol.  What the Church teaches, is that with God's grace, we can exercise our free will and rise above these disordered desires.  Our society has been corrupted by the vile and banal theory of "If it feels good, do it".

Mr. Douthat holds that the Church should not stop making public argument here. Though Mr. Bottum may be right in insisting that it's too late, I suggest that the Church would be better served by urging that she start engaging in public argument.  And cease the other kinds of argument that have been so prevalent.

I live in Minnesota, and survived the embarrassing - perhaps even scandalous - mode of Catholic argument that accompanied Archbishop Niensetdt's misguided campaign in favor of a constitutional ban of sam-sex marriage that made it onto the ballot primarily because of his lobbying efforts.  The campaign failed, which led directly to legislative enactment of same-sex marriage the following year.

The campaign began with polls indicating majority support for the Archbishop's amendment.  The voters listened to his arguments, and were convinced only to change their minds to eventually vote convincingly against him.  I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the Church at a local university and was stunned by the absence of truly public argument.

I became convinced that there was virtually no theological argument in the campaign.  The archbishop's 'side' was heavy on the theological, but ever so slight on argument.  The liberal Catholic 'side' engaged in much argument, heavy on political theory and personal anecdote, but ever so light on the theological.  It was 'us too' Catholic liberalism, countered by coercive theological nonsense.

How on earth do you have a Catholic argument without the question having ever been raised - on either side - whether (a) heterosexual love/'marriage' and (b) homosexual love/'marriage' might be analogous?  That they might best be understood by considering similarities-in-difference.  Liberal Catholics averse to difference talk here, granting the presumption of univocity, that (a) and (b) are, at heart, the same.  Conservative Catholics eschewing any acknowledgment of similarities, insisting on equivocity, insisting that to speak of same-sex 'marriage' is meaningless.

If Catholics argue with each other, without even the slightest advertence to the keynote form of Catholic reasoning - analogy - what possible contribution do we have to make to truly public argument?  The answer is none.

I attempted to make this argument to the archbishop in a lengthy letter, to which his chancery responded with one of those form letters so common to politicians.  Not sure my effort is of any interest or value, but it did attempt a form of public argument that could make both a 'liberal' and 'conservative' position genuinely Catholic.  Should anyone be interested in consulting that effort, it can be accessed at the following link, under Files/Letters/A Letter Comes to the Archbishop:

http://methodicanarchist.keepandshare.com/

Bruce,

You claim "that the Church is not forcing homosexual to abstain from sex, it is simply teaching that engaging in homosexual acts is not in their best interest because it puts their immortal souls in danger."

When the Church says that a specific large segment of the population born with a same-gender orientation must abstain from sex for a lifetime...it is imposing a moral requirement without the choices offered to all heterosexuals. The choice for people born with a same-gender orientation, in your opinion, is to have sex or not. That is not a realistic choice because single people are told the same thing but have another choice...they can marry and have all the sex they want. What large segment of the population is required to practice sexual abstinence for a lifetime as a requirement for their salvation and do not have the choice of marriage?  

According to Paul, marriage was a remedy for concuspicience. Those who could not be like him (celibate) should marry and not be drawn into sin (fornication). 

What you are not addressing is the fact that the gift of celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence is a gift from God given to few "individuals", not to a large segment of the population that are "required" to practice celibacy for their salvation. Celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence must be voluntarily chosen, not imposed upon individuals for it to work. When you restrict the choices of people born with a same-gender orientation, you restrict the freedom their choose. This is exactly what is happening.

Those born with a same-gender orieintation are not forced to engage in homosexual acts. They voluntarily choose to express their love for another of the same gender in a committed, faithful, loving and lifetime relationship...like heterosexuals do. However, they are not given this "choice" because the Church/magisterium does not morally permitt them this choice. 

Their "free will" to choose is being limited and restricted by a human/church construction of a morally binding imperative for their salvation. The church/magisteriium is pitting the choice of salvation with a mandatory moral requirement of celibacy. There is no realistic choice here unless one is choosing damnation. Lifetime sexual abstinence is not a moral binding requirement for the salvation of heterosexuas. They can enter into a marriage and have sex. Same-gender couples don't have this choice and freedom. Your argument is conflating the issues under discussion.

As for the divorced and remarried, I predict that the Synod on the Family will change the pastoral application of the moral norm and morally permitt them access to the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception under certain conditions, as Cardinal Kasper has been teaching and preaching. This is clearly another subject but you brought it up, so I had to respond.

 

 

 

 

Larry,

" I only caution that good people can have legitimate concerns about potential impacts on traditional marriage which do not in any way connote or equate with homophobia." 

Exactly what are the "legitimate concerns"?  What are the supposed "potential impacts"? Since there is no empirical evidence suggesting any negative impacts, there is (imho) only one explanation for why you would be worried about such possibilities while not equally open to the idea that there might be positive impacts.  And that one explanation is deep-seated homophobia. 

I do know there are different levels of homophobia, just as there are (and were) different levels of racism.  Yours is clearly a much softer strain of homophobia than that of, for example, Westboro Baptist Church -- in the same sense that someone who merely supported school segregation was a "softer" racist than the ones who led lynch mobs.

But sometimes, it's actually the softer form of bigotry that is the more dangerous -- because it legitimizes and empowers the more virulent.

I say this not to insult you, but to urge you to more-closely examine your own motivations for your positions.

@Jonathan Vitale: Thank you for this insightful comment. I understand the push for recognition of homosexual relationships, but we cannot treat a major change to Church doctrine as a trivial thing. How exactly we should respond I don't know, and it doesn't seem like you do either. And I kind of doubt that Mr. Douthat does as well.

@ Mark Barberi: The way I understand it all Christians are called to celibacy. Of course, many hope to only practice celibacy temporarily, in preperation for marriage. But for some people this simply won't be in the cards, even though they may want it, and in that case loyalty to Church teachings that will mean a lifetime of celibacy. So all Christians must be prepared to be celibate for a longer period then they may hope for, possibly a lifetime. I'm not saying this as an argument against gay marriage, but treating chastity as a virtue only given to a few and which the rest of us don't need to worry about seems wrongheaded.

"Just a question: Why is Douthat described as a "conservative columnist", while Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter is described as such without an epithet (i.e., "liberal columnist"?"

Ross Douthat isn't just a conservative columnist at the NY Times, he's the conservative columnist at the NY Times. It's his job description. It's probably how he introduces himself at parties: "Hi, I'm Ross Douthat. I'm the conservative columnist at the NY Times." I hardly ever see him described simply as a "columnist" without someone tacking "conservative" in front of it. I wouldn't worry about it.

"Arguing for the things Francis has listed as priorities, things like fair treatment of immigrants, living wages, protection of the environment, those are exactly the places where Catholics can and should be contending in the public square and where long held Church teachings can and should have something to say to "actual Americans about actual American debates."

A good point. But don't forget that Pope Francis has spoken out strongly against abortion as well.

Warren Patton, 

My name is Michael Barberi, not Mark Barberi. I assume this was a typo.

You said that all Christians are called to celibacy, at least for a temporary time as in the preparation for marriage. I agree. However, when you assert that for "some people" this is simply won't be in the cards is without substantiation. The "some people" you are referring to are people born with a same-gender orientation. I ask again: What large segment of the population is morally required to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation AND do not have the choice of marriage?

Your reasoning seems to be: we must all be loyal to the Church teachings...and that means a lifetime of celibaby for same-gender persons. Hence, all Christians must be prepared to be celibate for a longer period, and possbiy a lifetime. Wow. I guess all Catholics should also be prepared to obey every teaching of the magisterium because they said so, and regardless of the reasons.

As for virtue, I never said that chastity was given to few individuals. Truly all the virtues are given to all Christians, but a virtue when practiced should be the mean of the virtue and not ipso facto the extreme of it (as Aristotle and Aquinas has taught). Nevertheless, your undertanding about what I have said is wrong. To repeat, I said that the gift of "celibacy" (e.g., lifetime sexual abstinence) is a gift from God given to few individiuals, and not to a specific large segment of the population merely because they are "required" (by authority) to practice it. This is quite different in the case of the "few" who voluntarily choose celibacy as a mandate for the priesthood. It is also quite different in the case of the "few" people who want to remain single for a lifetime. It is also different in the case of single people who voluntarily and "temporarily" choose sexual abstinence for in preparation for marriage. Perhaps you might want to rethink what you said.

All I can discern from your argument is an argument about authority. In this regard, it is intellectually unpersuasive and a weak philosophical and theological argument.

 

 

 

 

On almost any issue -- like this one (SSM), or birth control, or abortion -- we all love jumping to general discussions or arguments. More and more, I'm thinking we should move back to the specific, the personal, look at our self, our soul.  That should be enough to keep us occupied.  If one is against gay marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex.  If pregnant and against abortion, don't have one.  If against abortion and you impregnate someone, support her sufficiently so she feels a welcoming environment for giving birth.  If against artificial BC, don't use it. 

Let's give up these general discussions at least for the summer.  We all need a vacation.

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About the Author

Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times and the author, most recently, of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press).