Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The Real Question of (Gay) Marriage

The Washington Post's On Faith religion blogs are asking whether New Hampshire's new law is a legitimate solution to the gay marriage question. The law simultaneously recognizes gay marriages, authorizes ceremonies to perform them, and protects authorized marrying agents (ministers, rabbis, and perhaps court clerks, etc.) from lawsuits stemming from refusal to perform them. I wrote the following response to one write-in respondent, LorenInCA. Because the WaPo often does not permit my responses to post in a timely manner, I have decided to post it here, on my own blog.

LorenInCA wrote, "The only equitable solution is to pull marriage away from the churches, codify it as civil institution, and allow each church to solemnize unions as they see fit and exclude any persons who don't share their particular credo." In doing so, I believe that she represents a growing consensus among those who do not object to gay marriage.

The question has been put all wrong. What prerogative has the state to "pull" away from religious bodies an institution that has always, until very recently and then only by a minority, been conceived as an essentially religious institution. It is no coincidence that less religious people marry their lovers less frequently or not at all. An argument to pull bar mitzvahs and baptisms away from religious institutions makes the point more obvious. It has been in the regulation of inheritances first, then of divorces, and most recently of taxation, that civil authority has codified marriage at all. The first case dates to ancient times, to be sure, but the civil codification of divorce and taxation (vis-a-vis marriage status) is certainly an innovation of the most recent century.

So I would like to ask LorenInCA upon what basis s/he would nullify the First Amendment's anti-interference clause in order to remove an essentially religious concept and institution from the religious bodies among which it grew up.

Secondly, I'd like to point out that the oft-used analogy between the homosexualist lobby-agenda and the African-American civil rights movement is a very, very weak one. Discrimination is a vital part of human life. We daily discriminate between things we will put into our bodies, for instance, and things we will not. The steak goes in, the styrofoam in which it is packaged does not. And so forth. But the key achievement of the civil rights movement in the U.S. was legally to exclude irrelevant or arbitrary criteria from civil decision-making processes. Specifically, but not only, racial characteristics (and then sex) were to be excluded as legal criteria for making decisions where they were, naturally speaking, irrelevant.

So refusing sale of a home to an African-American family on the basis of their race/ethnicity is forbidden, because it is not a relevant factor. Relevant factors in the sale of a home include income, credit history, etc., but not skin tone or hair color.

On the other hand, I, a balding white man, cannot model hair care products intended for African American women. Is that unfair discrimination? Of course not, because the factors mentioned, though superficial to my character, etc., are directly relevant to my natural ability to do the job.

It is in this legal context that we must position the question of gay marriage. And to address the question we must first ask, rather than assume, the question, "What is marriage? What is it for? What does it do?"

The religious context in which marriage arose has always posited marriage as stable location in which a couple could raise the offspring of their sexual union. That's all. It is not a question of whether Adam and Steve love each other; people do not need marriage or other institutions simply to love each other. The question is whether a gay couple meets the criteria natural to a marriage as it has always been conceived. I think the answer is fairly clear.

Moreover, the question is not one of whether Adam and Steve can inherit each other's property at death, visit each other in the hospital, name each other as beneficiaries of insurance policies, or appoint each other with power of attorney in the event of incapacity. All those questions have been settled decades ago by contract law. Of course they can do any of those things. There are tax benefits to marriage conferred by the government, again, originally to facilitate family stability and the rearing of offspring.

The ready availability of almost all the rights of marriage through contract or other arrangements makes me think that gay couples don't actually want marriage. Many homosexuals have spent most of their lives being scorned by those around them, from hurtful cries of "faggot" on the playground to devastating abandonment by their families that so often accompanies "coming out." I think that they want acceptance and approval.

And that's fine. I can accept gays living as they wish, and approve of them as persons, without reorganizing society to suit their demands. Moreover, as a grown man, I am not going to acquiesce against my conscience because they (or anyone else) may call me mean, cry really hard, label me a homophobe (which is a funny label, coincidentally - of what, exactly, is one supposed to be afraid?), or make bad historical analogies to the civil rights movement.

I stand on my conscience. Marriage is a religious institution, to be left to religious institutions for governance, and is oriented toward the rearing of the offspring of the married persons. It exists for no other reason, and ancillary benefits are themselves oriented toward that purpose. It is not fearful to refuse a demand or to defy public pressure or coercion. Society must not tolerate the hateful treatment of homosexuals, but nor should it let itself be guilted or bullied into acquiescence by them.


Anonymous said...

Coretta Scott King, herself, apparently is one making "bad historical analogies to the civil rights movement" stating, "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood."

Thy Handmaid's son said...

Right, just so. Thanks for your comment.

And the bad analogies are so easy to make because, like all analogies, there is some true connection in them. Everything is at least a LITTLE like anything else. What makes the use of an analogy bad is that the ACTUAL similarity between the two things is overextended.

In this case we can see where the analogy is overextended. It is true that prejudice against homosexuals is bad, and in that sense is like prejudice against blacks or whoever else. Those two prejudices are really similar IN THAT WAY. True. But whereas denying blacks the right to marry whites (and vice-versa!) springs from an artificial misconception about race, denying men the "right" to marry other men springs from a correct understanding of the nature of marriage.

The nature of marriage has been significantly blurred in modern peoples' minds though, by divorce and contraception. If marriage is stripped of its permanence and biological fruitfulness, and even of its monogamy, what have we left?

Gay marriage.

Saying that two people cannot marry is not a denial of their humanity, or else we would be continually denying the humanity of first and second cousins, of minor children, and of the mentally incompetent.

Attractive-sounding rhetoric without careful thought is tearing down our country.