A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Engagement or retreat? Joseph Bottum responds

Right now on the homepage, Joseph Bottum takes his turn in our special feature, "Engagement or Retreat? Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage." Bottum responds to Ross Douthat and Jamie L. Manson, who themselves were responding to Bottum's controversial Commonweal piece from last summer, "The Things We Share: A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage." An excerpt from Bottum's response:

Sometimes same-sex marriage has been described as a natural outcome of the removal of sex from the realm of morality. Sometimes it has been praised as a wonderful transgressive rebellion, good because it helped undo bad Western norms. Sometimes it has been described as a useful expansion of an old idea, helping preserve the marriage culture. Occasionally it has been promoted as a way of returning ethics to sexual relations, drawing gays and lesbians away from support for the demoralization of sex, to which, it is claimed, they were forced by the repressions of a premodern morality that lasted into the modern world.

In other words, the arrival of legal recognition of same-sex marriage was over-determined in America. And that’s why I think it makes a terrible object for the Catholic Church to pick as the synechdoche for all the objectionable things in contemporary society. Our problem as Catholics isn’t that same-sex marriage somehow uniquely represents Western society’s recent turns; our problem is those turns themselves: the disenchantment of the world, the systematic effort to hunt down and destroy the last vestiges of old metaphysical and spiritual meanings in the world.

Read the whole thing here; read Douthat here, and Manson here.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Friends:  I think this topic has been beaten to death in Bottum's origional piece.

Will any minds changed based on this current triad (if I can use the term)?

The RCC has got to own up to the fact that secular, civil marriage is up to the voters and courts in this land.  Religions will remain free to accept/reject/ignore/fume and fuss about it all they want, but it's just a matter of time before the SCOTUS finally acknowledges the reality of marriage equality as an equal protection matter.

This is off topic, but First Things fans might be interested in the move of Peter Augustine Lawler's FT column to National Review.  (FT has financial problems.)  Lawler's first article at NR, "Being Postmodern and Conservative" is an attempt to re-define "conservativism" for today's circumstances.  It's an important sign of the times, I think --  that a leading conservative finds such a redefinition necessary.  It's an interesting article, but needs a whole different thread.   (And maybe "liberalism" needs redefinition too?)

 Being Postmodern and Conservative | National Review Online

Would it be helpful to introduce into this conversation Michael Hanby's essay, "The Brave New World of

Same-Sex Marriage," from The Federalist Blog?

Yes, it is always helpful to be reminded of consequences. Others have made similar arguments--Leon Kass, as I recall. The problem is that advocates of gay marriage don't seem to believe this will happen or don't seem to believe they have a responsibility for technology devised for infertile heterosexual couples.

It's only helpful if you can explain why marriage equality should be restricted because of the possible misue of technology, the use of which is not restricted to gays or even married people.

A bizarre unexpected consequence in a few preschools in France : this year Mothers' day and Fathers' day are being replaced by a single Parents' day. 

Last year I laughed at the notion that granting gay couples the ability to marry would take anything away from heterosexual couples. This year I hear about this Mothers' day affair, and am taken by complete surprise. Does gay marriage mean that everything including some kind of official recognition of mothers (or of fathers)  will now have to disappear or be replaced by some gender-neutral version? 

I've yet to see a single reasonable argument against marriage equality.

"Does gay marriage mean that everything including some kind of official recognition of mothers (or of fathers)  will now have to disappear or be replaced by some gender-neutral version? "

Imagine this sentence reworked as this ...

Does gender equality mean that everything including some kind of official recognition of women (or of men)  will now have to disappear or be replaced by some gender-neutral version?


Right.  I suppose the problem is not with gay marriage but with some who use it as an excuse to campaign against... against what? Gender? Motherhood?


I don't think anyone's against motherhood ... everybody who exists had a mother :)  But things are changing.  That's to be expected and not a bad thing.  Sometimes it can be hard to get used to, though.

Claire --

If a child has two mothers, then it should celebrate Mothers' Day, and if two fathers, then it should celebrate Fathers' Day.  I really don't see the problem.

So then, why replace mothers' day and fathers' day with a single parents' day? 


Maria --  Exactly.

It seems to me that Western culture, as it learns to appreciate diversity, still has trouble sometime dealing with differences, a problem rooted in the silly metaphysical notion that different thing can somehow be "equal".  The old apples and oranges problem.  As such they can't be equal.  That's like saying sweet is equal to purple or high to square.  It's also, I think, part of the problem that some feminists have with "the equality of the sexes".  We can be equal in our likenesses, but not in our differences.  Equality just doesn't apply in some matters.

The reproductive technology issue raised @May 31, 2014 - 1:34pm  should be of interest (and concern) to everyone, straight or gay. As the article points out, this is a largely unregulated technology controled largely by medical specialists, insurance companies, and sperm and egg collecting companies. The article goes on to point out the generally unregulated arena of genetic research. By unregulated, of course, is meant unregulated by law or government bodies. The moral or ethical restraints that might have once served as restraints are weak.

Arguments for and against reproductive technologies often pivot on "compassion" for the person(s) unable to conceive or bear children. Naturally "compassion" has prevailed over time (semen donors, then egg donors, in vitro fertilization, frozen embryos (and fights over who "owns" them), etc. Where once married couples were candidates, "compassion" has moved the technology on to single women, surrogate mothers, lesbian couples, and now gay couples. The genetic manipulations forecast in the articles (three-parent embryos, etc.) may be beyond scientists now, but when the technology is mastered, "compassion" will once again be the prevailing argument. Oddly none of this is subject to the regs that control experiment on humans (i.e., embryos, babies, etc).

The reasoning in that article starts from this statement:

Opponents of same-sex marriage [...] maintain that partisans of ‘marriage equality’ redefine marriage as an affective union which makes the birth and rearing of children incidental to its meaning, a result of the de-coupling of sex and procreation in the aftermath of The Pill. But this is only half true. Since married couples normally can and typically do have children, same-sex unions must retain in principle some form of the intrinsic connection between marriage, procreation and childrearing if they are really to be counted as marriage and to be truly ‘equal’ in the eyes of society and the law.

But the "since married couples normally can and typically do have children" is weak, and everything else in that article is predicated on that. It's like a house of cards that falls if the basis does not hold; and I am dubious about the assertion that marriage in its current form has an "intrinsic connection" with procreation and childrearing. 

"Normally" and "typically"; weak? How so? It implies that that's what many married couple do, but not all.

The pivot, "same-sex unions must retain in principle some form of the intrinsic connection...." is the point of his argument. Is it true? Not true? Why? Why not? That's what raises the question about the expanded use of reproductive technologies, ne c'est pas?

If there was no such thing as marriage equality, those reproductive technologies would still be delevoped and used, so to bring that up as an argument against marriage equality is disingenuous.  The same is true of the "de-coupling of sex and procreation" ... it's not just that not all married couple want to have children, many people who want children no longer feel the need to be married ... "For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage" ... ... and that is not related to marriage equality.

Children are born outside of marriage. People get married with no intention of having children, or not for a very long time. People get divorced after having children. People get married or remarried at a later age, when they will no longer have children. Children are raised by a single parent. Etc. There are all sorts of things that wreak havoc with the traditional "marriage, procreation, childrearing" sequence, to the point where that sequence is no longer the norm, and the connection that used to be intrinsic is lost. And so, I buy the idea that marriage is being redefined to center on love between the spouses and, perhaps, mutual commitment. - In fact that's how the acceptance of gay marriage so quickly becomes such a straightforward matter.

So the "pivot of his argument" is precisely where he loses me.

Not that I like all aspects of that redefinition. I see too many scenes, in airports and train stations, of young children asking one of their parents why they cannot have both parents together, or of unaccompanied minors crying as they say goodbye to one parent before boarding to go back to the other parent. It's a ghastly way to raise the next generation, but that's the new norm, and threats on families and human beings, real as they are, are not to be imputed to gay marriage.

Claire:  "threats on families and human beings, real as they are, are not to be imputed to gay marriage."

Nor are gay marriages or gay couples free of such threats or absolved from such responsibilities.


Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment