1. What are we to think of gay marriage? Personally I favor, or admire, loving and faithful gay relationships, and think civilly protected unions are a necessity of justice. Should they be called marriage? On the civil front, it is argued that not to call them marriage amounts to inequality and discrimination. I feel there is a touch of PC absolutism about this, but I recognize that many gay couples do sense that nothing less offers their relationship respect and recognition. On the ecclesiastical front, the idea of celebrating gay marriages sacramentally seems not to be on the radar screen at all. Even the blessing of gay couples, in the Catholic world, can happen only in private, if at all.
Is the refusal to call civil unions marriage a transgression against the natural right to marry (a right defended by the Church), like the old laws against marriage between blacks and whites or marriage between black slaves? (Did the Church condemn those laws at the time?) The question is certainly one that should be discussed openly, and to which surprising answers might emerge. Churchmen seem more comfortable taking an absolutist stand on principle with little consideration for the concrete needs and prospects of the human beings involved. There is a deep ungraciousness here: gays have suffered dreadfully at the hands of the Church for two millennia, and the Church should show the same sensitivity in intervening in their affairs as it does, or sometimes does, in dealing with the Jews.
2. I received an expert and illuminating essay from Aidan O’Neill, QC, from which I would like to quote two paragraphs:
‘What then of Proposition 8, the referendum initiative which reversed the May 2008 decision of the California Supreme Court in which the court had held that the California State legislature’s refusal to designate the legally registered relationships of same-sex couples as “marriage” was unconstitutional? The California court’s majority decision was based on their finding that “retaining the traditional definition of marriage and affording same-sex couples only a separate and differently named family relationship will, as a realistic matter, impose appreciable harm on same-sex couples and their children, because denying such couples access to the familiar and highly favored designation of marriage is likely to cast doubt on whether the official family relationship of same-sex couples enjoys dignity equal to that of opposite-sex couples.” This claim of “appreciable harm” inflicted does not appear self-evident to me, particularly when set against the background of the court’s further finding that California’s domestic partnerships legislation afforded same sex couples “virtually all of the same substantive legal benefits and privileges, and imposes upon the couple virtually all of the same legal obligations and duties, that California law affords to and imposes upon a married couple”. Had I been on the bench for the case I suspect I would have joined with the lone dissenter, who found the distinction in nomenclature between same sex domestic partnership and opposite sex marriages to be constitutional (always against a background of actual equal protection as between the two sorts of relationship). And I would have exhorted these legally registered same sex couples to “rejoice in the difference of the sameness that your domestic partnership is based upon”.’
‘Notwithstanding my putative dissent from the decision of the California Supreme Court that there should be one legal regime of marriage open to both opposite sex and same sex couples I would still have voted against Proposition 8 which sought to overturn it. How then to reconcile those two positions? There is, it seems to me, an important distinction to be drawn between the conferring and the deprivation of rights, and the different procedures appropriate to each. A bare majority popular referendum, such as Proposition 8, is on this analysis a procedurally unjust way of removing rights which have been conferred, albeit by court decision, upon a minority. Such use of a popular referendum exemplifies the tyranny of the majority. Put not your trust in demagogues. If you are going to remove rights, once established, of a minority or specific group of the citizenry, then procedural justice requires that this be done only after full and proper and reasoned debate and by a decision by an enhanced majority, attended by suitable procedural safeguards. Principles derived from the rule of law and respect for human rights suggest that – distrustful of the power of the incited mob – such a supermajority be of the legislature rather than of the electorate. These principles of procedural justice exist precisely to afford protection to the relatively powerless and to the dispossessed. So were I to be on the California Supreme Court when the anticipated challenge to the very lawfulness/constitutionality of the Proposition 8 referendum itself comes before it, I would vote to uphold this challenge and to strike down the result of Proposition 8. I would rule, instead, that any proposed deprivation of what the court had declared to be the constitutional right of same sex couples to marry in California be considered in law as a constitutional revision rather than a constitutional amendment. This would therefore require that any attempt once again to exclude same sex couples from marrying be approved by a two-thirds majority of both of the houses forming the California State legislature, or by a properly convened Constitutional convention. We live in constitutional, not direct, democracies after all; and checks and balances have to exist on the baser instincts of the populace as much as upon their instruments and institutions of government. As Pope John Paul II observed in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor a democracy without values can easily turn into a thinly disguised totalitarianism. But one of those democratic values which the Church has to learn to appreciate is natural justice and due process. The California Catholic hierarchy’s support for the Proposition 8 campaign showed, once again, how the bishops still don’t get it. Put not your trust in prelates.’
3. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Dublin, writes:
While stressing, as I have consistently done, the Christian teaching on the mutuality of the sexes as fundamental to the understanding of marriage, I am fully aware of the need to protect the rights of a variety of people in caring and dependent relationships, different to marriage. (Irish Times, Nov. 28, 2008)
Unfortunately, it would be wishful thinking to read more than the most minimal liberalism towards gay couples into this statement, as a press release from the Dublin Diocese Communications Office, November 22, 2004, makes clear:
‘In comments, reported in the Irish Independent on the 16th of November, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin stated: “I recognise that there are many different kinds of caring relationships and these often create dependencies for those involved. The State may feel in justice that the rights of people in these relationships need to be protected.” He further commented “I have a wide range of relationships in mind. I do not exclude gay relationships but my main concern is with all caring relationships where dependencies have come into being.”
‘The thrust of Archbishop Martin’s comments, in response to a specific question from an Irish Independent reporter, was to indicate his firm view that the most appropriate way to address questions of inheritance and property entitlements of gay men and women was to consider them from a perspective altogether different from that of marriage and the family, namely in the context of various other non-marital caring relationships where dependencies emerge.
‘It is a matter of regret that, in both the headline and the opening paragraphs of the article, the thrust and intent of the Archbishop’s comments were not accurately represented. Nothing in Archbishop Martin’s actual comments, which are outlined above, supports the claims that he was advocating “spousal rights” for gay persons, much less marriage or civil unions.
‘It is a matter of record that Archbishop Martin has frequently repeated in his homilies in Dublin parishes, including twice over the current weekend, his emphasis on the uniqueness of marriage: “The family, based on the mutual and exclusive love of husband and wife, constitutes a value which is unique and irreplaceable for the community. The State and society have obligations to protect the family and to ensure that families have the necessary support to carry out their role.’
The Archbishop does not exclude gay relationships from civil protection, but he does not advocate spousal rights for gay persons, and is positively against civil unions. There is a big contrast between this murky and bureaucratic handling of gay people’s aspirations and the warmth of former President Mary Robinson in inviting Dublin’s gay community to a celebration at her residence.
Similar murkiness pervades Archbishop Roger Mahony's attempt to reassure gay Catholics after the Church's successful backing of Proposition 8: the combox reactions show Catholic homophobia at its most ferocious and intransigent, as well as the disgruntled reactions of gays:
It seems to me that churchmen should no longer pretend to give lessons to the gay community but should rather humbly learn from them. Consider that, with no help whatever from the Church, gays and lesbians are now so appreciative of the values of love and fidelity that they are increasingly adopting monogamous unions as their favored lifestyle. The Church has made no effort to provide guidance or to dialogue with its gay flock, perhaps because closeted clergy were too terrified of such openness. Official documents ranted against homosexual orientation as a disordered condition and prescribed continence. In practice, as many clergy knew from their own experience, this pushed gays into either crippling loneliness or dangerous promiscuity. I am inclined to wonder if the phobia against gays built up in the Church over the last two millennia did not always have something to do with the mindset of a celibate clergy. (‘Sodomy’ at one time was known as ‘the clerical vice.’) Was it because clergy struggled so much with homosexual desire or had so many secrets to conceal that they spoke of gays in such demonizing tones?
Yes, the Church has lost credibility on this topic. But the Gospel has gained credibility, thanks to the way in which gay and lesbian couples have rediscovered and courageously enacted its core values.
The Church forbids many to avail of the right to marry, either as being incapable of marriage or as bound by prior engagements. In the past the Church has witnessed and blessed countless marital unions in which one or both parties were homosexual, refusing to take seriously that this could be a contra-indicator of the couple’s prospects of happiness. I do not know if at present homosexual orientation is considered as making a marriage invalide. The Church has proclaimed itself ‘expert in humanity’ and claimed a particular expertise on marriage. But in its handling of gays, both unmarried and married, this expertise has not been apparent. The push for gay marriage catches the Church unprepared. John Paul II could see it only as a manifestation of evil, and could bring no expertise on humanity to bear on it. The premises for a possible dialogue between the Church and the many gays and lesbians seeking same-sex marriage are being undercut by such reaction and absolutism. Nervousness about compromising the authority of the Magisterium, as in the case of artificial contraception, is destroying a culture of dialogue within Catholicism and replacing it with a stony, calculated, bureaucratic method of control.
4. In First Things, November 2008, René Girard gives a rather papalist interview in which he says this:
‘I do not see why the expansion of the use of the word marriage to homosexuals would help the situation. I am favorable in principle to whatever can help destroy the prejudices. But I also understand a legitimacy to the desire not to change the significance of such words as a marriage. I feel moderate on these questions. I feel it would be better to try to quiet the situation. I don’t see the need for some great language revolution. These things seem very important at certain times, but once the change of language is accepted they can become insignificant rapidly.’
It is true that in the climate of political correctness certain words become fetishes and are waved as a magic wand, until they lose their power, become an encumbrance and are dropped again or even discovered to be subtly oppressive. Even the triumphantly successful and liberative word ‘gay’ has come under attack and people want to promote abrasive and indigestible ‘queer’ instead. The campaign for gay marriage may be an effort to sweep away homophobia in one immense tsunami of acceptance. But it may also unnecessarily provoke a backlash.
5. Lisa Miller argued in Newsweek that the Bible is actually on the side of gay marriage. See: http://www.newsweek.com//id/172688 http://www.newsweek.com/id/174435. Blogger Daniel Larison wrote: “In a fallen world, everyone has a predisposition to act contrary to our true nature, but in no other case that I can think of do we pretend that indulging such a predisposition is inevitable, much less something to be embraced and approved.” A combox contributor characterizes his comments as “Smug, hateful, and vicious,” adding: “Anti-gay Christianity is going the way of pro-slavery Christianity. It has far less support in the text of scripture.” http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2008/12/08/the-worst-kind/ Andrew Sullivan also replied: “a Christianity resistant to truth and terrified of love is the real objective disorder.”
Miller's article has been fisked by the belligerent Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: http://robgagnon.net/NewsweekMillerHomosexResp.htm.
Miller's article has been fisked by the belligerent Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: http://robgagnon.net/NewsweekMillerHomosexResp.htm.
Gagnon, as usual, relies entirely on the letter of various scriptural texts yet remains entirely blind to the spirit. He goes to great pains to show that the love of David and Jonathan was not in any sense homosexual, but he misses the point that their friendship and intimacy are warmly celebrated, and that it is to this very celebration that loving same-sex couples are now convincingly pointing as a model for their own choices. In fact the solution to the alleged problem of homosexuality is a simple one, though obfuscated by 3,000 years of false teaching. The solution is that some men and women have a vocation to love people of their own sex,, as Archbishop Jefferts-Schori points out, and that a faithful life-partnership is the most constructive and moral and rewarding way to live out this vocation.
Some samples of Gagnon's rhetoric:
It is hypocritical of Miller to emphasize as a basis for affirming homoerotic unions such things as inclusion of those on the margins, defying social convention, the presence of “mutual joy” and love as a sufficient prerequisite, and building community and togetherness while rejecting out of hand all adult-committed forms of incest and polyamory. She cannot produce any scientific study showing intrinsic measurable harm to all persons who have ever engaged in incest or polyamory. Therefore, given her beliefs, she should be willing to affirm at least some forms of incest and polyamory. Or drop her argument for homosexual practice as absurd.
Race or ethnicity is a primarily non-emotive condition that is 100% heritable, absolutely immutable, primarily nonbehavioral, and thus inherently benign. Homosexual “orientation”—which is no more than the directedness of sexual urges at a given period in a person’s life—is an impulse that is not 100% heritable (i.e. no purely deterministic mechanism for homosexual development has been discovered but at most only congenital or early childhood risk factors), is open to some change (i.e. certainly at least the raising or lowering of the intensity of impulses; if the Kinsey Institute is to be believed, some limited movement along the Kinsey spectrum from 0 to 6 is normal over time), is primarily behavioral (i.e. it is a desire to do something), and therefore cannot be regarded as inherently benign.
6. Keith Olbermann argues against Proposition 8 by pointing to the blessings of marriage as such and the cruelty of denying them to anybody. Pertinacious Papist replies: http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2008/11/special-comment-on-gay-marriage-keith.html. I should like to comment on the reply, as it reflects where conservative Catholics stand and the problems with their stand (comparable to the problems of the so-called ‘teaching of contempt’ that bedeviled the Church’s relationship with Judaism over the centuries).
PP: The power of Olbermann’s rhetoric comes from his transposition of homosexualist (yes, it’s an ideology) relationships into an analogous context of racial egalitarianism where he can appeal to good will and love. What this diverts us from, however, is attending to the nature of the reality with which we are dealing. Abraham Lincoln asked how many legs a dog has if you call a tail a leg. His point, of course, is that wishing a tail were a leg doesn’t make it one, any more than thinking the world is flat flattens it. If reality is no more than an arbitrary construct we fashion with words, then of course you can call it anything you want. Call a tail a “leg,” call the earth “flat”; it doesn’t much matter. If reality is not an arbitrary construct, however, it matters a great deal how we describe things. It’s for this reason that Confucius wrote at length about the importance of the “rectification of names.” He was suggesting, in effect, that there’s such a thing as linguistic morality. One can misuse the names of things and thereby commit an injustice in his use of words.’
COMMENT: On the applicability of the name ‘marriage’ this argument might suffice to absolve the California voters of the charge of discrimination thrown at them by Olbermann and many others. However, the gay community, faced with a mile-high mountain of derogatory epithets, has been to the fore in rectifying names, and most of their rectifications have carried the day – not because of ideological bullying or craven political correctness, but because the names they have used have turned out to fit the phenomena so much better than the horrible inventions of misguided religious and scientific ideologies. Whether the name ‘gay marriage’ will stick in the same way remains to be seen. Some rectification of Pertinacious’s own name-calling is in order. To call loving gay relationships ‘homosexualist relationships’ that express an ‘ideology’ is to impose a dehumanizing grid. It is reminiscent of the way hard leftists in the past would denounce marriage as a bourgeois ideological stronghold. To say that calling such relationships marriage is as much a misnomer as to say the earth is flat entails of course a cynical negation of the human phenomenon of love between persons of the same sex.
PP: ‘If reality were nothing more than a construct, then I suppose it would be “unloving” and “unjust” to say that gay couples cannot call their relationship a “marriage.”‘
COMMENT: A touch of straw man, sorry, straw person argument here. No one believes that reality is nothing more than a construct. The quarrel is simply about whether stable gay unions can fitly be deemed marriages or not.
PP: ‘However, if reality is more than a construct, if it is independent of us, if it is possible for us to be mistaken in how we understand reality, then it is a matter of utmost importance how we describe it; for then it is possible to mis-describe it and run into a wall where he thinks there is a door.’
COMMENT: Sound philosophy, in the style of Dr Johnson kicking the stone, but rather sweeping in regard to the particular application. We need to think long and hard before extending the word ‘marriage’ beyond its traditional ranges of application. We might examine past and foreign cultures that have given recognition to gay relationships and see what models they found appropriate – not that these models, from Classical Greece or Medieval Japan or wherever, would be transferable to our world, but that they can help us to think more flexibly about the variety of human relationships and their social recognition.
PP: ‘The word “marriage” stands in a millennia-long tradition where it was assumed to describe a reality not of our own making. That is, a marriage was assumed to involve a conjugal relationship between persons whose parts were designed to fit one another, just as clearly as a “male” pipe fitting is designed to fit a “female” fitting.’
COMMENT: Here we get to the basic staple of standard anti-gay discourse. But it is also risks being anti-heterosexual in that it sets up heterosexual marriage in crassly biologistic terms. Marriage is a cultural institution and its relation to its biological aspect is by no means as direct, transparent, univocal and homogeneous across time and cultures as this vision suggests. Even Scripture has a rich, varied, culturally specific vision of marriage (including polygamy) that eludes the one pipe/one fitting model Pertinacious finds so illuminating.
PP: ‘There was nothing arbitrary about supposing this. Marriage was understood to be grounded in the objective biological nature of the reality being described. The design of mutually compatible parts was imprinted within the very nature of a man and a woman, just as clearly as an acorn is imprinted with the design that will make it grow into an oak.’
COMMENT: The procreative dimension of marriage is not actualized in all marriages, which remain nonetheless valid. The unitive dimension of marriage can be actualized even without sexual intercourse, as in Josephite marriages, and there is no guarantee that the use of the language of sexuality for unitive purposes in marriage is confined strictly to the fitting together of parts. A couple who had given up vaginal intercourse and contented themselves with kissing or cuddling would not thereby cease to be married. So while I agree that there is a biological core to marriage that is not found in gay relationships, I suggest that the fringes of marital reality allow for much that is only distantly related to this core. In practice, of course, the total human experience of gay couples and heterosexual couples is very similar. It is an experience of living together, of intimate sharing, of growth in love. The biological mechanics do not loom as large as Pertinacious thinks.
PP: ‘On this understanding of marriage, it makes no sense to call a relationship a “marriage” where the parts don’t fit and the immanent purposes of the parts cannot be fulfilled. What is “loving” about telling a same-sex couple that they can be “married,” when the reality proposed is a metaphysical impossibility? Certainly they can pleasure each other as though this were the end for which their parts were designed; but only by ignoring the fact that pleasure is merely a by-product designed to facilitate the deeper end of procreation, an end metaphysically incapable of realization by a same-sex couple.’
COMMENT: The Church today does not regard sexual pleasure only as designed to facilitate procreation. It also sees it as promoting the unitive end of marriage. To call the impossibility of same-sex procreation ‘metaphysical’ seems to me superfluous; why not just say ‘physical’? Perhaps Pertinacious wishes to distinguish between the ‘physical’ impossibility of an aged or barren heterosexual couple procreating from the ‘metaphysical’ impossibility of a homosexual couple procreating.
PP: ‘This is exactly reversed in a same-sex relationship, just as it is in the culture of recreational sex: pleasure becomes the proper end or purpose of sexual relations, and offspring becomes an “accident.”‘
COMMENT: No, the proper end or purpose is unitive, i. e. love, as many gay couples testify. If recreational sex were all they wanted, they would not be so anxious to marry. The odd idea that same-sex couples make offspring an accident of their sexual relations makes little sense to me.
PP: ‘One might say: “What does it matter what same sex couples call their relationships? It’s a free country. Let them describe themselves however the hell they want. What do I care?’ While it’s de facto true that one can’t necessarily stop anyone from using words any way they wish, the important thing is to see how this denatures a language for the whole society. But that’s not all. A denatured language fails to describe reality accurately.’
COMMENT: A valid enough point. However, while reality is not entirely a construct, language clearly is. One can agree to use the same term in analogous or equivocal manners. Language is changing all the time. It is not impossible that the word ‘marriage’ could be used in an analogical sense to cover relationships which show an analogical participation in the blessings of marriage listed by St. Augustine, viz. fides, proles, sacramentum – mutual fidelity, creativity (in the absence of procreativity), and reflection of Christ’s love.
PP: ‘If Jim Jones is offering his followers grape juice laced with cyanide as if it were Holy Communion, is it “loving” for the parent in the know to tell his children that it’s simply “Holy Communion”? If the Emperor has no clothes, is it “loving” to go along with the apparent consensus which insists on imagining him clothed? Of course not. But that’s what is precisely what is happening, and what Olbermann is promoting, with this talk about same-sex “marriage.” Actually, it’s just pitiful -- as pitiful as the Emperor standing naked yet thinking that he’s elegantly clothed. One might find it funny if it were not so unsightly.’
COMMENT: This is very much in the eye of the beholder. I know several same-sex couples who do not at all inspire this kind of pity in me, but rather the same sort of admiration and congratulation that married couples inspire. To think that homosexual unions are such a parody of heterosexual ones that to compare them is like comparing the Eucharist with cyanide is way over the top.
‘America remains a country in which there are more guns, more murders, more pornography, more promiscuous sex, more abortions, more adultery, more broken marriages, more single-parent families, more child abuse, more drug addiction, more drug overdoses, more pedophiles, more gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, more lawsuits, more bankruptcies than anywhere else in the world. So which of these things is so good for society that it should be given left to flourish unchecked?’
COMMENT: Here categories of human beings are numbered crassly along with bad ‘things.’ Of course society should favor the flourishing of human beings and discourage the flourishing of bad things such as violence and abuse. The idea that a permissive society produces homosexual orientation is of course false; what it does produce is more openness and honesty about orientation and more opportunities of living it out, a quite different matter.
PP: ‘It’s impossible to legislate without imposing somebody’s morality on someone. The question is what sort of government and legislation will we have? Government cannot coerce moral conversion, but it can regulate behavior. What government should do, INMO, is to make it difficult for evil to flourish by penalizing vice, and to make it easier for good to flourish by rewarding virtue.’
COMMENT: This comes from a comment on the following clever but radically prejudiced article from Rod Dreher: http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2008/11/on-gay-marriage-no-tenable-com.html. Pertinacious clearly identifies gay marriage with vice, purely and simply, and sees the function of law to eradicate vice. Here he shows no concern with the value of freedom of conscience, treasured in Catholic theology since Vatican II. Scorning the phrase ‘consenting adults’ he amalgamates activities that are clearly harmful, such as suicide and drunk driving with consensual sexual behavior (which he characterizes as the crime of one adult corrupting another!). America has long experience with the puritanical ideal of the law’s function, and has, like most advanced countries, rejected it. This rejection is not based on moral laxity but on legal and philosophical principles, foremost of which is respect for human freedom.
PP (http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2008/12/behold-future.html, quoting http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2008/12/newsweek-on-gay-marriage.php): 'The article [a Newsweek response to Lisa Miller] does end on a note with which I wholeheartedly agree, however, at least on the surface. She quotes a pro-gay priest as saying `if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us.' Amen, So he would. But not with the tawdry bauble of passing social acceptance; rather he would reach out with the love of the Father for those who are unlovely, offering them life in abundance, not through some intense but illicit orgasm; rather through the forgiveness and newness of life that comes from life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even as the church must dismantle erroneous hermeneutics and defend the authority of scripture, so she must also reach out with the love of the gospel to the dirty, the immoral, the things that are not, with the light of the gospel. With what does the Christ of Ms Miller reach out? A piece of paper and the promise of a few years of companionship, perhaps some great sex, and then what?'
COMMENT: So gays are unlovely, dirty, immoral, things that are not? Gay unions are a few years of companionship followed by some unnamed fate? No mention of love, fidelity, mutual support, or any of the other virtues gay couples practice just as heterosexual ones do.