Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage
"There have been few changes in our moral, sexual, and legal culture more precipitous or, in some ways, more dramatic than the normalization of homosexuality and the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage." So wrote Commonweal's editors in "The Truth about Marriage" in the aftermath of two 2013 Supreme Court rulings that fundamentally altered the legal view on marriage between two people of the same sex. Although the editors noted the magazine's skepticism and caution regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, they also noted Commonweal's stance on defending the rights and dignity of homosexual persons both in society and in the church.
Through the years, the magazine has engaged the twinned issues of sexuality and marriage, with articles and essays from contributors on both sides of the question, always carefully and thoughtfully argued. This page features some of Commonweal's most important pieces on Catholicism and same-sex marriage, including editorials, analysis, and blog posts; we will update it with new material as the larger debate continues.
In the summer of 2013, 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. 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. In May 2014, we invited Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, and Jamie L. Manson of the National Catholic Reporter to comment on Bottum’s argument, and we asked Bottum to respond in turn to what they had to say.
Commonweal published "two views" on homosexuality and the church in the summer of 2007: one from theologian Luke Timothy Johnson and another from freelance writer and Patheos contributor Eve Tushnet. Johnson cautioned against "scapegoating" homosexuality as the greatest of sexual vices ("If the church condemns the bath-house style of gay life, it must also condemn the playboy style of straight life"), and argued that Scripture cannot be used as a way to justify condemnation. Tushnet cautioned against making one's experience infallible, saying "experience is itself a kind of text, and texts need interpreters," and that the "only approach that has helped me understand at least parts of the church teaching on homosexuality is the theology of the body."
In 1991, Commonweal published Jean Bethke Elshtain's "Against Gay Marriage," in which she wrote that excluding the concept of family from society's "intergenerational ideal" risks our becoming "so vapid" that we will no longer be able to hold moral standards. Then, in 1994, Sidney Callahan confessed that she was "coming out of the closet" as a person who "believed homosexuals should be allowed to marry," and told why.
"Same-sex marriage may prove to be a mistake or a failed and eventually abandoned experiment, but it is not an existential threat to the church or to Western Civilization." That was the editors' assessment in August 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor ruled that in defining marriage as between one man and one woman, the Defense of Marriage Act violated the “equal liberty” rights of same-sex couples; and in Hollingsworth v. Perry let stand a lower court’s decision to strike down California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage. The magazine then featured responses from contributors Michael J. Perry, Marc O. DeGirolami, and Richard W. Garnett on the rulings.
In recent years, our blog has featured a spectrum of opinion on Catholicism and same-sex marriage. Featured here are posts from Lisa Fullam, who asks just what counts as the kind of "unjust discrimination" the U.S. Catholic Bishops refer to in their document on homosexuality "You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself"; Keri Horan, who offers a view of same-sex marriage from generation Y ("What's the big deal?"); Matthew Boudway, who agrees "with the opponents of same-sex marriage: the state’s interest in marriage is principally about its interest in the welfare of children"; and Eduardo Moisés Peñalver and Paul Horwitz, who look at how some states are using legal arguments for religious freedom to disrupt same-sex marriages, and how such a strategy inevitably invites further litigation.
Below you'll find a collection of reviews from Commonweal of books that deal with the subject of marriage in modern times. Andrew Koppelman reviews What is Marriage? a philosophical case against same-sex marriage whose authors Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert P. George, all proponents of New Natural Law Theory, argue that heterosexual marriage is a kind of universal human good, “a distinctive kind of bond that has its own value and structure, which the state did not invent and has no power to redefine.” 2. Andrew Sullivan’s Love Undectable, reviewed by Gilbert Meilaender, is a collection of three essays: one on Freud and the modern debate on the “normalcy” of homosexuality; one treating the death of his friend to AIDS and the what it means to “survive” this “plague,” and his final essay is on friendship, on how souls “strictly speaking” can unite. 3. Mark Sargent reviews David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage in which the author critiques not the legal recognition of same-sex marriage but the way in which the debate surrounding it has focused too much on individual rights and not enough on marriage as an institution. 4. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead reviews Marriage at the Crossroads, a collection of perspectives from sociologists, legal scholars, and others on how marriage itself is reshaping society, in two ways: by integrating gay and lesbian Americans into the mainstream, and by its fracturing along class and educational lines, contributing to rising economic inequality. “In sum,” Whitehead concludes, “marriage today is like a highly selective college. It is a sign and symbol of personal achievement and social advantage.”