Saturday, November 1, 2008

California Catholics Should Oppose Gay Marriage

My fellow California Catholics will face a big decision Tuesday: whether to affirm or deny the traditional definition of marriage. The state’s voters will consider Proposition 8, an initiative that would overturn the state Supreme Court’s May 15 ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the state’s Catholics will likely play a pivotal role in its outcome:

Catholics, who make up nearly a quarter of likely voters, also could make a difference, DiCamillo said. Catholics opposed Prop. 8 by a 48 to 44 percent margin, but that's down from 55 to 36 percent a month ago.

When the Proposition 22 same-sex marriage ban was on the ballot in 2000, Catholics were split almost evenly in the final pre-election poll, DiCamillo said. But exit polls showed Catholics actually voting for Prop. 22 by 15 points.

"The Sunday before the election could be important, since people may hear priests and ministers preaching against same-sex marriage," he said.

My family and many of my friends still live in the Bay Area, and I am familiar with the arguments against Prop. 8. The chief argument is that marriage should be defined by an individual’s desires and wishes. In its majority opinion, the California Supreme Court wrote,

These core substantive rights include, most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish – with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her live – an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage.

In the words of gay writer Andrew Sullivan, the terms of the court’s decision are a “watershed.” Previous marriage law had distinguished between gay and straight. The court’s ruling doesn’t. It posits that “the individual citizen … is defined as prior to his or her sexual orientation.”

Sullivan gets it half right. The court’s decision is a watershed, but not for the reason he described. The logic of the court’s decision, that of contractual law, is a common one in the legal world. Multiple parties discuss terms of a deal and sign a contract. Landlords and tenants operate on these terms, as do employers and employees. Whether the parties involved are gay or straight is irrelevant; the individual comes first.

What makes the court’s decision a watershed is not its logic, but rather its application.

Marriage had not been treated under the law as a purely private affair. It was understood to have private and public purposes. Marriage wasn’t just about the parties’ happiness; it was also about a common good – the begetting and proper raising of children. The gender of the parties, therefore, mattered. One party should be female, the other male. (Unsurprisingly, the California ruling severs the cord between marriage and children; as Sullivan notes, it establishes a definition of family “in which reproduction and children are not necessary.”)

Supporting this traditional understanding of marriage is reason enough to oppose gay marriage. As any Catholic knows, our private actions should be oriented toward the common good, especially as they the most vulnerable members of society. Just consider the consequences of no-fault divorce laws, which are governed by a contractual logic similar to that of gay marriage. These laws have harmed millions of children since their imposition 40 years ago. As Adam Thomas and Isabel Sawhill noted, if family structure had remained unchanged from 1970 to 1998, the child-poverty rate would have been 13.9 percent rather than 18.3 percent.

But there is also a specifically Catholic reason to oppose same-sex marriage. As Pope Benedict XVI points out, traditional marriage promotes authentic human freedom. It does this not as gay marriage does, by denying the real differences between men and women. Rather, it does this by affirming those differences and embracing them for their unitive and procreative ends. After all, what makes humans more free than becoming God-like, begetting children, and ensuring the future of humanity? As the California Catholic Bishops wrote in their statement in favor of Proposition 8,

we need to recall that marriage mirrors God's relationship with us-and that marriage completes, enriches and perpetuates humanity. When men and women consummate their marriage they offer themselves to God as co-creators of a new human being. Any other pairing-while possibly offering security and companionship to the individuals involved is not marriage. We must support traditional marriage as the source of our civilization, the foundation for a society that can be home to all human beings, and the reflection of our relationship with God.

The differences between the two types of marriage should be clear. Gay marriage represents, as Pope Benedict notes, “anarchic freedom.” Traditional marriage represents authentic freedom. This is in no way means that Catholics, or anyone, should disparage gay couples and their legitimate feelings. Yet California Catholics should understand the true nature of marriage, realize its implications, and vote accordingly.

Mark Stricherz


The Pursuit of Happiness said...

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Unknown said...

The issue is one of civil rights under law and not of religious belief. As CA Senator Diane Feinstein states voting yes on prop 8 and denying marriage equality to all is discrimination. Catholics' civil rights were denied in the US from its founding and up to the last century in the South. Catholics and all fair-minded persons should vote no on Prop 8.

Michael Bindner said...

There is nothing in Canon Law which allows legal discrimination against homosexuals, even if the Church (incorrectly) regards homosexual orientation disordered (they didn't get the memo that God created them that way or were not paying attention when the distiction was made between what is normal (average) and acceptable).

Overturning equal protection is likely also seen as a way to prevent an overturning of gay marriage prohibitions. I can see why the Church would want to oppose it, however they are wrong in doing so.

Celebrating the Sacrament of Marriage (which exists between two people whether there is a celebration or not) allows the families of the couple to participate in their exclusion from the life of the couple while at the same time including eachother. By exclusion, I draw on the Gospel verse often used against gay marriage - and incorrectly so. Allow me to paraphrase it. "When a man shall take a spouse, he shall leave his family and the two shall become one flesh." This is not really about sex, but about the new legal entity. When I was married, my family lost all of its rights to the disposal of my possessions and person. My brother, who has a partner, does not have the same rights to shut out his family because he is gay, even though such a transfer of rights is appropriate. The Church cheats both my family and the family of his spouse (also Catholic) by not providing us a way of acknowledging and celebrating their Marriage, which is now only before God and not the community.

Not celebrating Gay weddings also denies the Church the authority to distinguish between gay promiscuity and gay monogamy. This is a violation of the fifth commandment, since the Church cannot but intend harm to gays by keeping them outside the moral order in a way that could lead to their deaths, either because promiscuity is a heart wrenching way of life or because the risk of fatal disease is high - while there is no risk of such heartbreak or disease with a monogamous healthy partner.

The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath. That simple truth applies to all moral reasoning and is, in fact, a key tenant of natural law. The extent to which the Church ignores that is the extent to which it loses its legitimacy before God and man and commits the sins of the Pharasees.

djr said...

Despite my opposition to legal prohibition of same-sex marriages, I'm afraid I can't accept the arguments on offer here for the position I support. Perhaps I'm wrong to reject them, but I offer these objections as a friend, rather than an enemy, of the position that those arguments support:

1. The distinction between a civil rights issue and an issue 'of religious belief' is a category mistake. It is true, I believe, that secular laws should not invoke or rely upon religious reasons for their justification. Thus objections to the legality of gay marriage based on sacramental theology are out of place. Yet the most serious opponents of gay marriage do not rely on specifically religious reasons to support their position. Catholics in particular are taught that morality does not depend for its content or for its justification on revelation, but can be recognized and justified by reason. If the non-religious arguments made by opponents of same-sex marriage are correct, then there is reason to prohibit same-sex marriage. One cannot dispose of those arguments by saying that the issue is one of civil rights, because part of the issue is over whether or not one has (or should have) any right to same-sex marriage in the first place.

2. The idea that homosexuality is morally neutral or even positive because 'God created [homosexuals] that way' is ludicrous. If God created homosexuals 'that way,' then God is likewise responsible for all genetically based dispositions. Unless there turn out to be no genetically based (or otherwise 'natural' in the sense that current biology suggests that homosexual orientation is 'natural') dispositions to do harm to oneself or others, then it is obvious that nothing follows from the fact that a disposition is 'natural' in that sense. Even if it does turn out that there are no obviously bad dispositions, it still does not follow that they are neutral or positive simply by virtue of being 'natural.' Conceptually, one might have a genetic predisposition to sexual aggression, but only a fool would suggest that sexual aggression is therefore acceptable. To think otherwise is to have a badly mistaken view of what 'natural law' is.

3. The argument seems to be: the Vatican is wrong about homosexuality, therefore it is acceptable. Of course, if what the Vatican is wrong about is that homosexuality is not acceptable, then this is perfectly true. But the fact that the Vatican adduces flawed or mistaken arguments for its position does not entail that its position is false. Furthermore, whatever religious reasons one might invoke to defend homosexuality will play no legitimate role in justifying secular law.

To my mind, all sides on this issue need to do some re-thinking. Accept this as my meager contribution.

D said...

The State should never have any say over what God or the Church will deem to be a valid marriage.

My husband and I went down to the courthouse to get married, but it wasn't until we completed the Sacrament that our marriage was real. The state should have NO rights to assign benefits based on marriage. I will be voting NO on this proposition in good conscience until the State is able to provide equal benefits to all people or remove all benefits for all people equally.

When you marry in the church, you do not get any benefits above that of your single counterparts. You do not get into heaven faster, you do not get better seating in the church and God doesn't give you bonus points. Marriage is a calling and only the Church can validate who is and who is not called to the Sacrament.

The State never will be able to validate a calling. Catholics will not be required to perform gay marriages in their church much like they are not required to marry Jews, Muslims or Shintos in our churches or in our Sacraments.

The "marriage" we're talking about in Prop 8 is not the sacrament. It's not about doing what I want to feel happy.

It is 100% about civil rights and the attached federal benefits which are denied if gays can't use the word "married." Prop 8's marriage is not sacred, it's a legal contract. Unlike a marriage in the Sacrament, Prop 8's "marriage" can be easily dissolved - this is called a divorce which despite Jesus' very clear statement telling us that what "God has joined together, let no man put asunder," is still very legal and very popular. People who regularly violate all 10 of the Commandments are legally allowed to get those benefits from marriage so long as they are man and woman. Something seems out of balance.

Two Catholic homosexual gay men who are best friends who participate in the Sacraments, who have made the choice to abstain from all sex, who do not co-habitate and are in good standing with the Church can not talk to one another to ensure that as best friends they share legal benefits and enter into a legal contract so that when one is in the hospital with no children or family of his own, he can be sure that his best friend can visit him and be his beneficiary should anything go tragically wrong. Even if they wanted to do it for such a shallow reason as to simply share a federal tax return, it should be allowed. They know they will never marry in the Sacrament and do not feel called to marriage by God, but they see the benefit of the legal union with the person they trust the most. I personally know men like this.

Two "Catholic" straight people, who are sex-buddies, who don't go to Mass, who use contraception and perhaps even had an abortion and are in very poor standing with the Church can in one moment drive down to the courthouse and sign a couple of papers and be entitled to a whole host of California and Federal benefits and in 3 months divorce and do it all over again.

Prop 8 is about a constitutional amendment which will prohibit equal access to federal benefits. That's discrimination. I refuse to be a part of any sort of legislated discrimination even if I'm not directly affected by it. Your YES vote may not affect you, but it will affect thousands of men and women who will now be branded as second class citizens.

Michael Bindner said...

Homosexuals report that their sexual orientation is not a choice - it is innate. How can the Church expect gays and lesbians to trust us with the words of eternal life when we cannot trust them when they report this basic fact about themselves?

It is true that not all genetic markers are good. Mostly, they just are. It is up to us, through discourse, to determine which are good and evil. That is the essence of natural law morality.

As I concluded, the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Condemning pederasty and promiscuity are clearly things we should be doing. These are different things, however, than recognizing and celebrating monogamous gay unions. In fact, if we do the latter, perhaps are credibility is higher when we do the former.