You may remember the controversial essay from Joseph Bottum we published last summer, “The Things We Share,” in which the former editor of First Things wrote it was no longer prudent for American Catholics to oppose the legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage. We’re continuing the conversation in “Engagement or Retreat? Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage,” in which Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, and Jamie L. Manson of the National Catholic Reporter comment on Bottum’s argument.
In [Joseph Bottum’s] view, “American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”
I would take that further. As someone preparing to enter a same-sex marriage with my partner of five years, I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true….
Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.
Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples. Many childless couples have demonstrated that their relationships can also be fruitful and life-giving. So why must same-sex couples be regarded as incapable of marriage? … Rather than making procreation and genital complementarity the fundamental criteria for marriage, we should instead be asking whether spouses are a visible, tangible sign of God’s loving presence in our midst.
An excerpt from Douthat:
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. …
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.