As one of the “self-described Catholics [who are] more accepting of homosexuality than members of many other religious groups,” and as an academic who has taught constitutional law for three decades, I found the June 20 editorial (“Marriage, California Style”) deeply disappointing. First, the Catholic Church’s “unambiguous” opposition to same-sex marriage has no stronger moral foundation than California’s onetime prohibition of interracial marriage. Second, Commonweal’s comparison of the California Supreme Court’s marriage decision to Roe v. Wade strikes me as wholly inapt.

It is particularly fitting that the Supreme Court of California—the first state court to recognize that interracial-marriage statutes violate the guarantee of equal protection under the law—has joined the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in recognizing that state statutes prohibiting same-sex marriage also violate equal protection. While the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe rests not on a clear constitutional premise but on a judicially constructed “right of privacy,” the marriage case in California has solid underpinning in the equal-protection clause of the state Constitution. One can only hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon accept the reasoning of the Massachusetts and California decisions and confirm that the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution precludes any majority in any state from barring gays and lesbians from full enjoyment of the fundamental right to marry.

Eugene, Ore.



I was very disappointed by your editorial on the California Supreme Court decision. On no other issue would your journal appeal to tradition in so mealy-mouthed a manner. Celibacy, the ordination of women, collegiality, birth control—on none of those would you appeal to tradition. You stand convicted of homophobia.

New York, N.Y.



The legal debate about same-sex marriage will be played out in voting booths and in the courts for a long time to come. Even if those of us who advocate same-sex marriage prevail, religious communities will not be forced to change their norms for marriage. If anyone attempts to force Christian communities to bless gay marriages, I and other Californians will vigorously oppose it.

Still, religious proscriptions masquerading as cultural norms should not be imposed on those who do not accept them. I have yet to hear a persuasive explanation of how my thirty-six-year relationship with my partner diminishes family stability or the value of anyone else’s marriage. I recommend a familiar solution: Anyone who wants to get married should have to enter into a state-sanctioned civil union that confers all the legal rights and privileges that come with marriage. After that, anyone who wants a religious ceremony can have one. This is what most of Europe has done for many years, and life as they know it has not come to an end.

Piedmont, Calif.



So “the voices of citizens, not judges, should be decisive.” Really? Even when civil rights are involved?

In the 1920s, Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that mandated every child had to be sent to a public school. It was sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan. Left in effect, it would have eliminated parochial schools in the state. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the election result, even though the right to send one’s children to parochial schools was not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. As it happens, polling now indicates that the voters of California are likely to allow same-sex marriages to continue by defeating another ballot measure this fall. But I do not subscribe to the notion that fundamental civil rights—and the California Supreme Court held that marriage is such a right—should be subject to the tyranny of the majority.

San Francisco, Calif.



As the letters above demonstrate, and as we wrote in “Marriage, California Style,” “these are difficult issues, where people of good will often disagree.” Barbara Bader Aldave endorses the finding of the California court, and further argues that a right to same-sex marriage can be found in the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Our old friend Tom Higgins makes a similar point about the role of the courts in protecting basic civil rights. Courts in Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, New Jersey, and Massachusetts concur with Aldave and Higgins in finding a right to same-sex marriage (although most ruled that “civil unions” were the legal equivalent). Courts in New York and Washington rejected such claims. At the same time, twenty-seven states have passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman. California may do so this fall. Clearly, the legal question is not as cut-and-dry as Aldave and Higgins assert.

Whether same-sex marriage fundamentally changes the institution of marriage or merely broadens access to it remains the question. Aldave argues that “opposition to same-sex marriage has no stronger moral foundation than California’s onetime prohibition of interracial marriage.” By any measure, however, gender differentiation, with its implicit recognition of the community’s interest in procreation and childrearing, has always been more fundamental to the purposes of marriage than racial differences. Racial differences were rightly judged irrelevant to those larger purposes. Yet as California’s Justice Carol Corrigan wrote, recognizing a right to same-sex marriage changes “the definition of the marital relationship, as it has consistently been understood, into something quite new.” Many persuasive advocates for the moral rightness and social benefits of same-sex marriage, such as the journalist Jonathan Rauch, concede that having the courts impose same-sex marriage is a mistake. “Gay marriage is a significant change; it’s a big change,” Rauch notes. “It’s not something you necessarily expect people to jump into.”

Randolph Trumbach accuses us of homophobia and of a mealy-mouthed deference to tradition. Whether mealy-mouthed or not, Commonweal embraces many “traditional” positions. One of the traditional practices we strive to keep alive is the intellectual necessity of making distinctions and the courtesy of not questioning the good faith of those with whom we disagree.

Jim McCrea notes that the end result of the same-sex marriage debate may be the complete separation of civil and religious marriage. That is indeed a strong possibility. Whether that would be a beneficial development is harder to judge. The decline of marriage in Europe, and the subsequent plummeting of birthrates, is hardly encouraging. Commonweal has “traditionally” been a strong advocate for the mutual enrichment of the religious and secular realms. It is not at all clear to us that the institution of marriage, which remains indispensable for the nurturing of children, can flourish without the vigorous support of both civil society and religious communities.


In his exchange with Justus George Lawler (“Doctored Texts?” July 18), John Connelly cites my observation in The Pius War that Cardinal Pacelli with Pius XI “took control” of L’Osservatore Romano. In Connelly’s view this means “Pius XI and Pacelli collaborated” on a “major commentary” in the Osservatore in which Pius XI allegedly “came out in 1938 against racial intermarriage.” He bases this judgment on a November 15, 1938, New York Times article that translated and summarized an unsigned article in the Osservatore. Having obtained the original articles, I do not find this a plausible interpretation of the texts or the issues.

Both Cardinal Pacelli and the pope signed their names on “major” statements, or put them in official italics. This was not done here. To say they “took control” of the paper does not mean they preapproved, much less wrote, every word or opinion that appeared in it. Both Achille Ratti (Pius XI) and Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII) were adamant foes of racism; neither one ever published an official document discouraging Catholics from interracial marriage, in spite of what the anonymous article in the Osservatore assumed. Pius Xl’s views on interracial marriage were clearly stated by the New York Times in an article published the day after the one cited by Professor Connelly. It reads: “The pope had objected to the new regulations decreed Thursday prohibiting marriages of Italians ‘of the Aryan race with a person belonging to another race.’ The Osservatore Romano called the decree contrary to the Concordat.”

Weston, Conn.


If only John Wilkins’s “Bishops, Not Altar Boys” (June 6) could be read from every pulpit and printed in every diocesan paper. It voices in a careful but straightforward way the distress many of us feel over the abandonment of the Second Vatican Council by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops. The council ranks with Nicaea and Trent in authority and transforming power. To ignore or oppose the council is to abort the ongoing action of God’s Spirit.

Wilkins’s view is far from isolated. Cardinal Carlo Martini’s recent and prophetic call for honest implementation of the reforms of Vatican II was compelling. But what will happen? This is more than a question of who is right and who is wrong on neuralgic issues like contraception. This is a matter of denying people the life-giving and transforming power of truth.

San Diego, Calif.



Thank you for Gerald J. Beyer’s thoughtful article “Yes You Can” (June 20), which does well to highlight the importance of the church’s social-ethics tradition. The prolife movement must remember that there is life after conception and that there are significant social problems that require the illumination of the social-ethics tradition. The evils of unjust war, torture, racism, and poverty are also destructive of life and the common good.

Eagles Mere, Pa.



That David Carlin’s “Two Cheers for McCain” (May 9) would stir disagreement is not surprising, but the responses of three readers in the June 6 issue are remarkable. One wants to read David Carlin out of the Democratic Party (“Not a Democrat”); one sees no reason to get uptight about a presidential candidate who supports abortion on demand, but apparently wants to read Carlin out of the church on the grounds that he is less Catholic than the pope on Iraq (“Presidential Powers”); and the third, and most inscrutable, detects an “anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic” tone in Carlin’s article (“A Cosmopolitan Church”).

David Carlin’s credentials as a Democrat and his contributions to the party are beyond question, so if he has not already left the party, I hope he continues to fight the good fight. One letter writer’s view that “he is a Republican, and we don’t miss him” is not likely to be shared by Democratic candidates for House, Senate, and state offices. They know there are many other Democrats who will vote for McCain for the reasons outlined in “Two Cheers for John McCain.”

Washington, D.C.



Most of what is called Catholic in Shakespeare—references to saints’ days, allusions to the Eucharist, historical interest in miracles—was part and parcel of mainstream English Protestantism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Likewise, most of what is called Protestant in Shakespeare—the profound influence of the Bible, stress on Pauline doctrines, and veneration of marriage—was available in Catholic Christianity. John T. Noonan argues that “the Bard’s deepest commitments” matter to our study of his plays (“Was He or Wasn’t He?” July 18). They do, but as the most scrupulous Shakespeareans have found, Shakespeare’s discoverable religious commitment was simply to a middle-grounded and standard English Christianity. As Huntington University’s Jack Heller noted at a recent conference on Shakespeare and Christianity, Shakespeareans would do well to start taking the phrase via media seriously as a description of the Church of England—and of Shakespeare’s religion.

Kalamazoo, Mich.
The writer is a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature at Western Michigan University.

[See Letters, September 26, 2008 for a reply to the above.]

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Published in the 2008-08-15 issue: View Contents
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