Joe Biden on Same-Sex Relationships

Joe Biden came out in favor of equal civil rights for gay and straight unions/marriages on "Meet the Press yesterday. HuffPo has the story.On one hand, Biden's remarks, strictly parsed, do not move beyond the current stance of the Obama administration. And it seems clear that Biden had no intention of doing so. But he did say:

I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction -- beyond that.

Back in '03, Paul J. Griffiths made the case on Catholic grounds in Commonweal. Without challenging the magisterium's stance on marriage in the Church, he showed how Catholics might support civil same-sex marriage. His wrap-up:

I conclude that Catholics may support the legalization of same-sex marriages, together with the progressive disentanglement of sacramental marriage from state-sponsored contractual marriage. It is likely that such support, together with the argument and clarification that would accompany it, would clarify Catholic teaching about marriage, help Catholics to live in accord with it, make it more attractive to non-Catholics, and so, in the end, conform the body politic more closely to Christ by making the church more seductively beautiful. This is a prudential judgment, of course, correctible and fallible like all such.

Two points: 1. Terminology: Can we call it "marriage" for straights and "unions" for same-sex couples in the civil realm and not fall afoul of the Caetchism's insistence that unjust discrimination against LGBT people is wrong? And don't reply that civil marriage is for having children: civil marriage is open to straights regardless of their intentions regarding children. Since increasingly civil unions grant all the same rights and duties as marriage, why shouldn't the same word be used? As the ornithologists say, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...Biden's "I don't see much of a distinction" can be read either to say OK to the union/marriage duality we have now, or as invoking that same venerable apothegm of avian biology in favor of just calling it "marriage" in the civil realm for gays and straights alike. 2. Catholic opinion is now currently narrowly in favor of civil same-sex marriage: about 52% say yes. And overwhelmingly (69%) Catholics favor civil same-sex unions. In 2009, the USCCB called civil same-sex unions "a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society." In the same document, they warn that contraception "has the potential to damage or destroy the marriage. Also, it results in many other negative consequences, both personal and social." I'm beginning to wonder whether magisterial teaching on same-sex marriage will go the way of magisterial teaching on contraception: widely known and widely ignored by the faithful in their daily lives, in their relationships with people close to them and in their prudential choices in the voting booth. And, of course, I'm bracing for magisterial push-back to Biden.

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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