A favorable confluence of time and energy now allows me to write about something that up until now I considered a daunting task. I address this more to fellow Catholics, but also broadly to anyone else who can read and has thought about the matter of gay marriage.
I’m a Marine Corps Vietnam vet who has deep regrets about that war—mostly I regret that we didn’t kill twice as many of those murdering totalitarian bastards.
And I’m a death penalty advocate who thinks we should run it like a barbershop—two chairs, no waiting.
OK Bob, we have established that you are no William Buckley, & thanks for indulging every stereotype about conservatives except homophobia. Hall goes on to voice his opposition to a proposal to ban gay marriage in his new home state of Wisconsin.
Trust me, no true heterosexual wakes up and thinks, Hey, I’m really angry with my partner. I think I’ll try dating someone from my own gender from now on. So who has destroyed traditional marriage in America?
How about men—and increasingly women—abusing their spouses? How about the heterosexual trend toward infidelity, led by the example of our highest elected leaders? How about men fathering and then abandoning children to poverty and state support? How about a large number of straight people deciding serial marriage and divorce is a cool lifestyle?
Doing something about those trends would really protect marriage.
The anti–same-sex-marriage amendment isn’t going to help my marriage by so much as a red whisker. If you think it will protect your marriage or any marriage, that marriage is already shot.
This is a poor argument. I forget the actual term for the technique he employs, but arguing in favor of something by deconstructing the alternative implies that what you support cannot stand on its own merit. Is the best argument for free enterprise, the greatest creator of wealth known, that it won’t inhibit the vows of poverty for the Franciscan Friars? Hardly.
After thinking about this issue for a number of years, and seriously examining the underpinnings of my own sensibilities on the matter (such as the presupposition that a marriage intrinsically involves a husband and a wife), I think that on the whole, Catholics can support gay marriage in good conscience, regardless of whether they buy into the Vatican’s stance on the sinfulness of homosexual acts or not. This is not the convoluted leap you might initially think it is. It helps more than it hurts, and I am dubious as to whether or not it actually hurts at all.
We first have to recognize the distinction between the Sacrament of Marriage and the marital contract. Marriage as a sacrament, blessed by the Church, is not what those who support gay marriage seek. Nor is it sought by people married in civil ceremonies, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, all other denominations of Christianity, or any other type of marriage. The Church does not recognize those marriages (a divorced person who was married outside the church skates through Pre Cana in comparison to one married in the Church. Short of annulment or death of the spouse, they are out of luck for the rest of their life), but it certainly doesn’t oppose those unions. So from a sacramental point of view, there is no threat to Catholic Marriage (the weaker argument) and we have no recorded substantive explanation to oppose any union outside the Church. That is, unless Catholics suddenly want Canon law to be the law of the land, which would be unprecedented and untrue.
From all that I can see, this is an equal protection under the law issue, more related to fair housing, fair taxation, life & death and custodial decisions, inheritance, and other matters of civil law that have more in common with lawful contracts than sacraments. In America, you can leave your estate to your spouse, cat or college. You can name Michael Schiavo or Jack Kovorkian to be the guy in charge in your DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. You can go out and form all sorts of proxy corporations to shield yourself from tax exposure. These things are done all the time, legally and without even reaching the radar of the bridge club gossip. Those in a marital union have these and many other rights bundled in their civil contract. Gay people have to do this stuff a la carte, if at all, for obviously far more money (OK, that might be debatable for those of us that know the costs of marriage, but it varies with your choice of spouse), with the nagging fear that:
a) They missed something that might bite them in the rear eventually, or
b) Their arrangement, or parts of it, will be encumbered or denied by some statute.
Let’s just take the bedroom out of the equation for a moment. Would we deny these rights to an Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, who, though straight as arrows, had lived together for 40 years and were the closest thing to family after that time? Who should make the decision to pull Oscar’s plug, Felix, or 2rd cousin Mel from Omaha? I also recall an "All in the Family" episode where Edith, recognizing that her departed cousin’s partner was more deserving of inheriting a china set than she, tells Archie that the partner was her cousin’s real family. Before I get accused of taking my moral teaching from TV sitcoms, let me remind you that art imitates life, not the other way around (nor do I think that the moral teaching of the Augustinian Fathers at Villanova or those of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion at JF Kennedy Catholic High were lacking in clarity). We can deem whomever we want as our custodian, our heir, and our beneficiary, but if they are the same gender as we, there are barriers that would not otherwise exist were it not for society’s attachment to the status quo. More on that later.
If economic justice is important to you, then Catholic conservatives and Catholic liberals alike can agree that anything that stimulates growth & productivity, while not raising government spending, is a good thing. I’ll share something with you I have learned by having gay clients. Couples, no matter how you mix them, buy homes. And washing machines. And paint. And lawnmowers. And cars. And Computers. Marriage stabilizes the hell out of the economy. Anytime you give tax incentives or allow a group of any kind to buy in bulk, whether it is insurance, mortgages, legal services, or anything else, productivity increases. This goes hand in hand with allowing gays to have civil marriages. If the economy benefits, everyone wins, which is especially crucial to the poor. Christ said to feed the hungry, and there was no small print attached.
There are some devout Catholics that view supporting gay marriage as condoning sinful behavior. This is the same argument used to oppose condom distribution and many other sex education issues, but I don’t have all day. I can understand that if in one’s conscience they have a problem with supporting something as sinful, even if done passively, it creates a moral crisis and is no small issue. To those people I would answer that we must, as imitators of Christ, aspire to the best proportionate morality we can under the circumstances. Is lying bad? Is it bad to lie to SS officers about the Jews hiding under the floorboards? Is killing bad? What about the maniac who just broke into your house and is strangling your daughter? When Jesus cured the Roman guard’s daughter he didn’t discriminate. We are obligated by the Beatitudes
and other teachings of Christ to treat the least of His brothers as we would Him, with, from my reading of the scripture, no prejudice for personal lifestyle. Nor should we deny rights, the exercise of which help everyone economically, because of something that we wouldn’t otherwise care about if we weren’t told.
There is no type of legal or civil contract that I know of that the Church opposes. And I could make a list as long as my arm of sinful things that the Bishops may preach against, but would never try to outlaw. So why the opposition to allowing gays to obtain a civil & contractual bundle of rights we would not begrudge to heterosexual couples, even same-sex straight couples like Oscar and Felix or my two departed, spinster great aunts? Moreover, if there is a legal arrangement we should argue against, let me suggest former multi-millionaire and VP candidate John Edward’s having formed an S corporation to skirt $600,000 in Medicare taxes
as a start.
As I see it, there are two hang-ups here from the great middle of the citizenry who still resist gay marriage. One is a resistance to change. Status quo, in a real sense, contributes to our continued existence. In the not too distant past, when we ate what we killed, those with antipathy about change did not live long enough to begat descendents. We evolved this way. The fight-or-flight reflex to change accounts for the survival of our species. Put another way, in a non-scientific context, as sure as Augustine and Aquinas said in their writings, it is our intellect, reasoning, and ability to make enlightened distinctions that elevate humans above animals and validate our divine creation. We can get our minds around this and in doing so we can edify our Creator. Does this mean that if you believe homosexual acts to be sinful that allowing gays to marry means you have changed your morals? Certainly not, and not more than denying constitutional protections to any other lifestyle you disapprove of, like people who use artificial contaception. Think what you want, but let it be between them and God, not between you and their civil rights.
The other hang-up is all the energy we place on the word "marriage" for reasons that I assert are more tied to religious and sacramental reasons than mere linguistics. I again state that gay marriage is not the Sacrament of Marriage. It is a civil contract. If you dislike the use of the word marriage, let me remind you that we marry bottles of wine, ideas, and many other non-sacramental abstractions that already water down the word. If that bothers you, then I would point you in the direction of Mr. Hall’s argument. Call it what you want, civil unions, domestic partnerships, letting men schminkle men and women gerblatz women, but the common vernacular will bubble to the surface inside of about 2 hours.
At the end of the day we have to reconcile ourselves to edifying the rights of others and how we treat them before we appoint ourselves (or, God help us, the government) as judges of lifestyle. Christ had no vetting process for mercy or compassion. Rights are inalienable for all, not just heterosexuals. Regardless of how you feel about any lifestyle, simply allowing people to have rights that benefit us all on a number of levels should not be subordinated to confusion about moot sacramental implications, objections to nomenclature, or, for that matter, aversion to well thought out change.
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